Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: Justice for Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: Justice for Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal

Article excerpt

THE LAST WORD: Justice for Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The American criminal justice system is, in part, an institution designed to perpetuate Black oppression. It is no accident, for example, that nearly one-quarter of all young Black men between the ages of 18 and 29 years old in the U.S. are either in prison, on probation, on parole or awaiting trial. It is no accident that African Americans and Latinos convicted of crimes routinely receive much longer prison sentences than whites who commit the same crimes.

But the outstanding element of coercion within the system of legal punishment remains the death penalty. As criminal justice scholar David Baldus observed several years ago, any Black person is 4.3 times more likely to be given the death penalty than any white person under the same circumstances. Since 1900, thousands of African Americans have been executed either by prison officials, by police or lynched by white mobs, all for the defense of white supremacy. In the past century, the total number of white Americans executed either for the murder of a Black person or the rape of Black women is less than five.

It is in this repressive context that we must consider the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. An outstanding African-American radio journalist and political commentator, Jamal established a strong following in Philadelphia in the early 1980s. Jamal's reports documenting widespread police brutality and political repression in that city were broadcast nationally on National Public Radio and other networks. In 1981, Jamal was arrested and charged with the killing of a police officer, Daniel Faulkner. Jamal had been shot by the police at the scene and then was beaten into critical condition.

The prosecution's case against Jamal was anything but strong. Four eyewitnesses described a person fleeing the murder scene; Jamal had been so severely injured that physically he could not have run. Ballistics experts failed to match Jamal's legally registered gun to any bullets at the scene or in the officer's body. One eyewitness at the trial could not identify Jamal as the shooter and was ordered by the prosecution not to talk with the defense. …

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