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National Task Force Established to Free Mumia

report on national meeting of Mumia Abu-Jamal activits
Twenty-five prominent leaders of a broad range of human and civil rights organizations and other progressive groups met in New York City on Oct. 2 to establish the National Task Force to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Jamal, the victim of a racist Philadelphia police/prosecution frame-up trial in 1982, has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for 22 years.

The meeting, held at the Center for Constitutional Rights, saw a reunification of activists who had worked for Mumia’s freedom over the past decade and longer. It also included new forces critical to building a powerful social movement capable of making the political price of Mumia’s continued incarceration too high to pay.

Robert Bryan, Mumia’s lead counsel, accompanied by co-counsel Steven Hawkins, outlined for the meeting the legal status of the case. Currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, at the time of the meeting a stay of proceedings was in place as two lower court jurisdictions had yet to complete various appeals filed by the defense. The Third Circuit had also been awaiting a decision in a critical case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Banks v. Beard.

Since the Oct. 2 meeting, in light of the recent resolution of the Banks case, the Third Circuit has lifted the stay of proceedings, once again putting Mumia’s appeal process on the “fast track.? While Mumia’s attorneys clearly interpret the Banks decision as making it impossible to execute Mumia, the state of Pennsylvania has adopted the opposite view and has filed papers with the court insisting that the Banks decision opens the way for Mumia’s execution.

The complicated set of legal procedures includes at the highest level, the Third Circuit, Mumia’s challenge to a Federal District Court ruling that upheld the racist exclusion of Black jurors from Mumia’s original trial. The defense will also request that the Third Circuit grant “certificates of appealability? in regard to more than a dozen critical issues that the Federal District Court had rejected. With a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Miller El case liberalizing aspects of the reactionary 1996 Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Mumia’s chances of broadening the issues that the court must consider has improved. These include many of the 29 points raised in the original federal habeas corpus brief.

Pending before the lower courts is Mumia’s challenge to the original trial itself. This is based on the affidavit filed on his behalf by court stenographer Terri Maurer Carter, who overheard the “hanging? judge who presided over his trial, Albert Sabo, state in the court’s antechambers in reference to Mumia. “Yeah, and I’m going to help ‘em fry the n•••er.?

The legal update at the New York meeting was followed by a series of reports and discussion designed to bring Mumia’s case before ever broadening audiences and to raise funds for the legal and political defense efforts.

A number of national speaking tours were set in motion as well as the expansion of the present national fundraising list for legal defense from its present outreach of 2000 to over twice that number. Plans were also made to raise funds for the political defense of Mumia, headed by the International Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

A team of internet specialists was established to bring the national communications effort to tens of thousands of people across the country.

The meeting initiated a campaign to generate newspaper and magazine ads detailing the history of Mumia’s case, as well as a major effort to secure resolutions of support from hundreds of national and local political, humans rights, and labor organizations, and from city and state governments.

The resolution approved at last summer’s NAACP national convention demonstrated to participants that the myriad of organizations that had previously supported Mumia’s struggle for justice and freedom must be recontacted and re-engaged in the struggle. The NAACP had urged that all of its affiliate chapters become engaged in Mumia’s defense.

The Task Force was designed to accomplish specific organizational tasks requiring the common efforts of a broad range of groups and individuals. While it will work in close collaboration with Mumia’s formal defense committee, the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ), it was not seen as a replacement for this committee. The latter works in direct collaboration with Mumia and his legal team and determines the strategic line of Mumia’s defense effort.

The Task Force will meet regularly in light of the likelihood that the case will now proceed through the courts at an increasingly rapid pace.

Task force participants include ICFFMAJ leader Pam Africa; Robert Meeropol, Rosenberg Fund for Children; Sundiata Sadiq, past president, Ossining, N.Y. NAACP, Robert R. Bryan and Steven Hawkins, part of Mumia’s legal team; Jeremy Syrop, Free Mumia Coalition NYC youth coordinator; Iyaluua Ferguson, Malcolm X Commemoration Comm.; Heidi Beghosian, Dir., National Lawyers Guild; Linda M. Thurston, social justice activist; Monica Moorehead, Millions for Mumia; Suzanne Ross & Gwen Debrow, N.Y. Free Mumia Coalition; Herman Ferguson, Jericho Amnesty Movement; Anne Lamb, Peoples Video Network; Frank Velgara, Latinos por Mumia, Pam; Suzanne Ross & Gwen Debrow, co-chairs, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC; Clark Kissinger & Debra Sweet, Refuse and Resist; Michael Tariq Warren, former member Mumia’s legal team; Mark Taylor, Educators for Mumia & Princeton Theological Seminary, Iglesia San Romero de las Américas-UCC, NYC; Frances Goldin, social activist and Mumia’s literary agent; Cleo Silvers, Labor for Mumia; attorney Leslie Jones & Jason Corwin, upstate New York reps., ICFFMAJ & Native Youth Movement; and Jeff Mackler, representing the Northern California-based Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

*The article above first appeared in the November 2004 issue of Socialist Action newspaper.
 
 


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