Monday, December 12, 2011

Just / Unjust

Helicopters circled Philadelphia’s Independence Mall.

Throngs of motorcyclists commandeered the foot of the National Constitution Center at Arch Street between sixth and fifth streets. 

Spotlights engulfed the historic landscape. 

Engines revved in protest.

Friday, December 9, 2011 marked the thirtieth anniversary of slain Officer Daniel Faulkner and the contentious incarceration of his alleged murderer Múmia Abu-Jamal. During the twilight hours of December 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner pulled over William Cook, Abu-Jamal’s brother, as part of a routine traffic violation. According to witnesses, Abu –Jamal rushed the scene; gunfire was exchanged, resulting in the critical wounding of Abu-Jamal and the death of Faulkner. Detectives found a gun registered to Múmia Abu-Jamal at the sight with correlating shell cases speckled nearby.

Abu-Jamal’s case has drummed support both internationally and nationally from academics, social scientists, and activists who regard his sentence as criminally baseless. He has been championed as a political prisoner of an unjust social system.

The supporters of Múmia Abu-Jamal rallied on Friday. They occupied the National Constitution Center to mark a three-decade journey for justice. They gathered to ‘Free Múmia’ and honor the recently executed Georgia prisoner Troy Davis. The thousand-plus assembly included notable speakers Dr. Cornel West, Professor Michelle Alexander, Ramona Africa of MOVE, Professor Michael Coard, Professor Vijay Prashad, former Algerian political prisoner and activist Louisa Hanoune, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Professor Lenox Hinds, urban activist and hip hop artist Immortal Technique, and Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka who recited his infamous poem “Somebody Blew Up America.” Múmia Abu-Jamal closed the standing-room only event. He addressed the crowd through a  muffled connection from SCI-Green maximum security prison in Southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Only three days earlier WURD 900 AM's Barbara Grant interviewed Múmia Abu-Jamal. Less than twenty-four hours later, on Wednesday, December 7, 2011, both Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Maureen Faulkner, the deceased officer’s widow, held a press conference to announce the discontinuation of the 30-year quest for the death penalty.

No longer an inmate of death row, Abu-Jamal is to be released into the prison’s general population, a placement Maureen Faulkner believes fitting for a man whose guilt she’s affirmed and never contested.

Maureen Faulkner’s sentiment is shared by the dozens of off-duty Police Fraternal Order and Hells Angels Motorcycle Club members outside of the National Constitution Center. They are gathered in opposition to the pro-Múmia rally inside. Their chromed vehicles, bull horns, and virulent chants caused an audible raucous intent on one thing - disruption. Múmia Abu-Jamal was a “cop killer,” a “militant,” a “thug.” 

“It was a travesty of justice ma’am," said one of the bikers. "I’m here because what they’re doing inside of the National Constitution Center is a travesty of justice.”

Local African American DJ and Múmia Abu-Jamal supporter, Dwayne Anthony Crosby, exited the center to approach the protesters. They crowded him. He performed a minstrel dance as they chanted. Their chants intensified. He danced some more.

An older silver haired woman questioned Crosby’s support of Faulkner’s "murderer." It was not Abu-Jamal's innocence that Crosby professed, but rather the racialized handling of Abu-Jamal's trial and the pressurized upbringing of Black youth. Crosby enounced the second-class status of Múmia Abu-Jamal in America as a travesty of justice.

Before the trial awarded him infamy and martyrdom, Múmia Abu-Jamal was a celebrated journalist in the city of Philadelphia. He was elected president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and designated “the voice of the voiceless." He became the journalistic insight into the MOVE anarcho-primitivist and touted a resume of high-profile interviewees, including Julius Erving, Bob Marley, and Alex Haley.

An author and activist, Múmia  Abu-Jamal’s most notable works were written post-incarceration - “We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party,” “Live from Death Row,” “All Things Censored,” and the most “The Classroom and The Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America" co-authored with Dr. Marc Lamont Hill. 

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill attended the rally that night. Hill utilized the rally to highlight the racialization of criminalization in America. He questioned a nation whose prison industrial complex disproportionately marginalizes persons of color. 

Twelve years after President Eisenhower warned Americans of the pitfalls of the ‘military industrial complex’, according to investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, January of 1973 marked the beginnings of the ‘prison industrial complex’. Schlosser defines the prison industrial complex as “a set of bureaucratic, political, and economic interests that encourage increased spending on imprisonment, regardless of its actual need. The prison industrial complex is not a conspiracy, guiding the nation’s criminal-justice policy behind closed doors. It is a confluence of special interests that has given prison construction in the United States a seemingly unstoppable momentum.”
“The State doesn't have feelings - it has interests," that “every Black body caged in the United States of America is a political prisoner.” - Dr. Marc Lamont Hill
Loïc Wacquant, French sociologist and Professor of Sociology at University of California Berkeley, accuses Schlosser of overstating the economic factors of incarceration. Wacquant points to urban sociology, poverty, and racial inequality as the culprits of African American over-representation in the United States penal system. 

Misconceptions of America's stratified social landscape fuel chasms within communities. The National Constitution Center’s blog released two responses to the rally. One published by Baruch College professor Johanna Fernandez, “Múmia Abu-Jamal: Martyr” and one by filmmaker Tigre Hill, “Múmia Abu-Jamal: Murderer.

A persisting divisiveness still envelops Officer Faulkner’s death and the subsequent trial of Múmia Abu-Jamal. 

Divisiveness still plagues the nation. 

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