By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Former Black Panther, published author, and award-winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal has been incarcerated for more than four decades and Sacramento hasn’t forgotten.
“Free Mumia Day” was hosted by the Neighbor Program at the Shakur Center in Oak Park on April 22. Abu-Jamal’s grandson, Jamal Mumia Hart III, traveled from the Bay Area to discuss his grandfather’s ongoing fight for freedom. He also spoke about the “Love Not Phear” campaign which works to centralize activist efforts to free Abu-Jamal.
The event drew numerous community members and organizers, including Akinsanya Kambon (formerly Mark Teemer) of the Oak Park Four, daughter of Black Panther Field Marshal Don Cox Kimberly Cox-Marshall, and the People’s Collective.
It opened with a drum circle, spoken word, and a screening of “Justice on Trial: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.” The film, directed by Kouross Esmaeli, set the stage for Hart to speak.
“The fight for Mumia is the fight against police corruption, police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct – it’s a fight against elderly abuse,” said Hart, 35. “My grandfather just survived double-bypass [heart surgery]. He was sent to a hospital handcuffed to a bed. And the doctor prescribed a cardiac diet [that] the prison isn’t interested in fulfilling. So he’s suffering in prison.”
Abu-Jamal, now 69, is a native Philadelphian convicted in 1982 of first-degree murder of a police officer and sentenced to death. His sentence later was overturned and he is serving life without the possibility of parole at SCI Mahanoy in Frackville, Pennsylvania. He maintains his innocence and continues to advocate for a new trial.
Early the morning Dec. 9, 1981, an altercation occurred between Abu-Jamal, his brother William Cook, and police officer Daniel Faulkner. The altercation left Abu-Jamal shot in the chest and Faulkner fatally shot in the back and head.
The high-profile 1982 court case, in which Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death, has drawn scrutiny over claims of police, prosecutorial and judicial bias and misconduct.
After almost two decades on death row, a federal judge in 2001 denied his request for a new trial but overturned the death sentence and granted him a resentencing after finding jurors were given incorrect instructions. In 2011, Abu-Jamal was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after the prosecution stopped its pursuit of execution.
The Neighbor Program, the Pan-African Socialist organization that hosted Free Mumia Day, provides education through its Political Prisoners Program on incarcerated activists still seeking justice.
“People can’t get free if we don’t even know that they’re captured,” said Neighbor Program founder Jordan McGowan. “We’re continually trying to find ways to help people. Whether that’s raising awareness or raising money to put on [incarcerated folks’] books. To continue to uplift folks is hard work.”
The Neighbor Program’s K-8 independent-study school, the Malcolm X Academy, also was educated about Abu-Jamal. Students watched films, read excerpts from his books, and wrote letters to Judge Clemons requesting a new trial.
People also can support by sending letters to Abu-Jamal himself, who is dealing with the recent denial of a new trial, said Hart.
“He’s been crushed by this ruling and is trying his best to stay above ground,” Hart said. “Him being [denied a new trial] because of corruption feels like a vendetta more so than a legal case. This case is 90% political and 10% legal. The legal facts would have got anyone else off – except for Mumia Abu-Jamal. We call it the ‘Mumia exception.’”
Hart went on to describe his grandfather as an “academic.” Before his incarceration, Abu-Jamal was a radio journalist who served as president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, landing interviews with famed writer Alex Haley and acclaimed artist Bob Marley in 1979.
Since being incarcerated, he has published several books, including his prolific memoir “Live from Death Row” published in 1995 and 2017’s “Have Black Lives Ever Mattered?”
When asked what people would be surprised to know about his grandfather, Hart said his grandfather is a “massive comic book dork.”
“To me, he’s just this goofy dude who likes to tell jokes,” Hart said. “At this point in my life, he’s my purpose. The freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal is my purpose. … Mumia will be free, but it’s going to take all of us.”