CONTACTS: Dr. Taylor (847 708-2479) Dr. Fernandez (917 930-0804). Sent today to major print and radio/TV venues in Palm Springs, CA
LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR DR. RAUL RUIZ (November 5, 2012)
In the last days of Dr. Ruiz’s campaign for U.S. representative from California’s 36th District in California, opponents have attacked Dr. Ruiz for statements he made while a medical student in 1999, clipping out brief segments from the speech to aid their video attack. In particular, the attack-ads focus on Ruiz’s words of support for two well-known prisoners in the U.S: (1) Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist who has been in prison since 1977 for the shooting deaths of two FBI agents that occurred on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and (2) African-American journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was jailed in 1981 for the shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer.
We as scholars working for intelligent and principled defense of people like Abu-Jamal and others imprisoned for often political reasons, find nothing onerous about Dr. Ruiz’s 1999 statement. We work in an organization, Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal, an organization that has enlisted the support of over 500 scholars in support of Abu-Jamal, and in support, too, for the many others unjustly imprisoned in this country. In various forums and venues, we have represented every level of education in this country, and institutions of higher education all across the United States.
One of us, Mark Lewis Taylor, Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary,* has been studying these two cases for over fifteen years. Another, Dr. Johanna Fernandez, a professor of American History at Baruch College (CUNY)* and a Fulbright Scholar, has also reviewed the case for that length of time, and interviewed Abu-Jamal numerous times. Dr. Tameka Cage-Conley, independent scholar/writer in Pittsburgh and a 2010 Fellow at the August Wilson Center, has also visited with Abu-Jamal and written and taught on his case for the past decade.
We make the following affirmations on behalf of Dr. Raul Ruiz:
(1) Simply to support Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal in no way also suggests any support for killing police officers. To the contrary, to raise questions about the justice of imprisoning these two men is to defend justice in a most principled way, because it assures that the right persons have been convicted for the killings. These were very controversial cases, still highly contested ones, and they took place in racially-charged historical contexts and when official corruption had been documented as a pervasive problem.
(2) Extensive exculpating evidence for Peltier and Abu-Jamal has come forward in both these cases, pointing to law enforcement corruption, prosecutorial misconduct, and partiality of judicial review. Thus, Amnesty International in 2010 placed Leonard Peltier’s case on its “Unfair Trials” list. In 2000, Amnesty International also called for Abu-Jamal to be granted a new trial. So flagrant have been the abuses of Abu-Jamal, and so unconstitutional was his 30 years of confinement to death row (now he still languishes in prison, with a Life sentence), that Desmond Tutu has called for Abu-Jamal’s “immediate release.” Human rights organizations worldwide have been vocal and persistent in making similar calls for Peltier.
(3) We have reviewed the audio and transcript of Ruiz’s statement at the 1999 rally for Peltier and Abu-Jamal. If statements made by candidates during their student years are to be taken as grounds for judging fitness for public service today, we see nothing in this statement that in itself would disqualify Ruiz. His statement was not then, nor is it now, an uninformed statement. Nor is it incendiary. It is ludicrous, and surely only just a base charge of political gamesmanship, to claim that Ruiz’s words as a youth prove he would not support prosecution of those who murder police officers. On the contrary, we find Ruiz’s 1999 statement to be that of a young man of conscience, who is sensitive to the potential for injustice in any system, and then courageous enough to point the way toward a more just world.
Mark Lewis Taylor, Ph.D.
Princeton Theological Seminary*
Maxwell M. Upson Professor, Religion & Society
Johanna Fernandez, Ph.D.
Baruch College, CUNY, American History
2012 Fulbright Scholar
Tameka Cage-Conley, Ph.D.
2010 Fellow, August Wilson Center for African American Culture
*Institution names given only for identification purposes.