Revenge as “Finding Peace” and “Closure”
Maureen Faulkner’s Crusade to Have the Alleged Killer of Her Husband Executed –
In one of the most monstrous miscarriages of justice in the United States, nine young men who were later to become internationally known as the “Scottsboro Boys” (this in itself a sign of the times as some of them were hardly boys but young adults) were accused and convicted of raping to white women near the village of Scottsboro. Most of them were sentenced to death. Since then, a vast literature has documented that they were all innocent, as the crime in question had never even happened.
One of the men, Andy Wright, was paroled in 1950 after almost two decades in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Surrounded by reporters, the man who had served 19 years for a non-existent crime said, “I have no hard feelings toward anyone.” Asked about Victoria Price, the young woman who had falsely accused him and, different from the other woman involved, always refused to later recant her lies, he commented, “If she’s still living, I feel sorry for her because I don’t guess she sleeps much at night.”
Or consider the case of Amy Biehl, a young American woman who did social work in during the transition of that country from apartheid to parliamentary democracy. She was stoned and stabbed to death by a violent anti-white mob, and four of the men involved were sentenced to long prison terms. Even so, the parents of Amy Biehl found the moral greatness to forgive the killers, support their parole, and even enter into close personal relations with them.
A third case one could quote here is the case of the Los Angeles member of the Black Panther Party (BPP) Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt (now Geronimo ji-Jaga) who spent 26 ½ years in prison because the FBI, with the help of a government informer and agent provocateur, knowingly framed him for a particularly heinous murder he had absolutely nothing to do with. After his release, he told a reporter that in prison “I found freedom, my understanding of freedom. […] I found it in the depths of the worst holes in San Quentin and Folsom prison.”
Just as many other prisoners released from long stints in jail or even on death, unjustly convicted for crimes they were innocent of, ji-Jaga shows remarkably little desire for revenge. He certainly hasn’t forgiven the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department for doing the dirty work that cost him his freedom for a quarter century, but today, he spends most of his time in fostering social self-help projects in his old home Louisiana and his new one, .
Similar reactions to the experience of harrowing injustice and ordeal abound, even though of course they are far from universal. Yet there is another, totally different approach, and unfortunately, it is this approach that is to be expected from the Tigre Hill film Barrel of a Gun coming out on September 21, at least judging by the previous statements of some of the most prominent participants and the two trailers available at the time of writing.
I have analyzed the first trailer for Hill’s elsewhere and shown it to be an astonishing combination of inaccuracies, absurdities, and outright lies.
The second one, putting the slain Police Officer Faulkner’s wife Maureen center stage as the ancillary victim, doesn’t even purport to deal with any facts of the case, but carries a purely emotional message, and the message is that neither Danny Faulkner nor his widow Maureen will ever find peace unless the life of Faulkner’s purported murderer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, is snuffed out in the same deliberate way as Faulkner’s life allegedly was on December 9, 1981.
Lingering in the background of this trailer are two premises, which I will now examine in turn.
The first premise is that for some reason, Mrs. Faulkner has more knowledge of the events that led to the death of her husband than other people, even though she, too, was not present at the scene. Thus in her book coauthored with the Philadelphia talk show host Michael Smerconish, Murdered by Mumia, Maureen Faulkner she claims to exactly know the facts of the case and how Abu-Jamal allegedly killed Officer Faulkner.
Even though the question of Abu-Jamal’s guilt or innocence has already been extensively treated elsewhere, it needs to be pointed out that Maureen Faulkner’s claim to superior knowledge of the facts collapses on even the most superficial inspection of her book, a telling fact given the enormous resources in terms of access to the files of the DA’s office she and her co-author Smerconish could rely on while writing it.
At the time it appeared (2007), I intended to write a review, but quickly gave up because just flipping through it at random turned up so many egregious mistakes that writing a detailed critique could easily have ended up in another book. To illustrate, even the few pages of the brief – but central – chapter 4 of the book called “The Facts” contain two incredible bloopers.
One of them is that both Cynthia White and taxi driver Robert Chobert “testified that they saw Abu-Jamal run across the street and fire at Danny,” which is patently untrue in the case of Chobert, who actually only claimed to have seen the final, deadly shots at Faulkner. Different from the Faulkner/Smerconish account, Chobert never testified to having seen the beginning of the events, much less to have seen how Abu-Jamal triggered it all by firing at Faulkner. A not unimportant distinction: If Abu-Jamal had indeed fired first (and then, as Chobert indeed claimed in his trial testimony, fired the deadly shots at Faulkner), this would indicate first degree murder and thus eligibility for the death penalty.
The second gross mistake is that Officer Faulkner shot Abu-Jamal in the stomach, not, as actually true, in the chest, a crucial distortion as the version with the stomach fits the prosecution’s theory of the events, which has Faulkner fire at Abu-Jamal as he was already falling down himself after being shot in the back by Abu-Jamal, whereas defense specialists have shown many years ago that Faulkner could not have shot Abu-Jamal in the chest from this position, particularly when one takes into account that the bullet that had entered Abu-Jamal’s chest traveled in a downward angle.
And the rest of the Faulkner/Smerconish book is of exactly the same caliber.
Practically everything put out by Maureen Faulkner since she appeared on the public scene to campaign for the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal seems to make clear that she is less interested in the truth about the horrible event that the sudden loss of her husband certainly was, but in revenge. And if revenge takes precedence over truth, the all important thing becomes, not that the right person is taken to account for the crime in question, but that someone has to pay.
Faulkner’s indifference towards the facts of the case was again demonstrated during the NBC show in early December 2007 following the release of her and Smerconish’s book when, confronted with the newly discovered photos by press photographer Pedro P. Polakoff demonstrating mishandling, manipulation, and misinterpretation of the crime scene at 13th and Locust, she dismissed these as just another instance of BS by Abu-Jamal supporters even though the authenticity of Polakoff’s photos is not in doubt.
While such a stance might seem natural and understandable, it is by no means inevitable. There are many people who rise beyond the mere desire to “have someone pay” to the wish to objectively know the truth about the events that deprived them of a relative, a friend, or a person dear to them. One of these persons is the wife of a guard by the name of Brent Miller in the notorious Angola Prison in Louisiana who was killed in the early 1970s, with two members of the Black Panther Party prison organization, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, accused and then convicted of the deed.
It has long been clear that Wallace and Woodfox didn’t kill Miller or collaborated in his killing, even though they are still in jail for this after almost forty years, and under the most horrifying conditions. And Brent Miller’s widow now says: “What I want is justice, and if these two men did not do this, I think they need to be out!” Given the record of falsehoods and falsifications she has put out herself (in the book she co-authored, but also on other occasions) or gone along with, it seems that Maureen Faulkner will not be able to do this in the foreseeable future.
To sum it up, for such a mindset, in this case most notoriously represented by Mrs. Faulkner herself and the Fraternal Order of Police, the necessity of revenge seems to count uppermost, quite regardless of what the facts are, and of whether those who will finally be subjected to that revenge are the even the “right” targets.
The Privilege of the Ancillary Victim
The second premise of the trailer is that as one of “the survivors” and “victims that are left behind” in violent deaths as in the case of her husband, she is in a privileged position to demand punishment, “closure,” and even the death of the purported perpetrator since only such measures can get her the “peace” she is entitled to.
In this vein, Maureen Faulkner has come to subscribe to something one can only describe as a cult of revenge and death. In part, this is based on assuming for herself and her family a monopoly of suffering, as if the almost 29 years Abu-Jamal has spent in jail and his more that 26 years on death row had been one continuous and uninterrupted party, and as if Abu-Jamal did not have family and friends who are being put through hell together with him, a fact that Faulkner, the FOP, and the major media outlets somehow manage to almost never mention.
As for Faulkner, even in the rare moments when she does register some sympathy, not with Abu-Jamal himself but at least with his relatives, that sympathy is quickly withdrawn, as in Murdered by Mumia where she claims to have at first empathized with Abu-Jamal’s mother Edith during the trial but then to have lost all positive feelings when Edith demanded that Maureen Faulkner be searched before entering the courtroom.
Since nobody else apart from her family and friends deserves empathy or sympathy, this becomes the singular cause of “A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice,” the subtitle of her book, and as a result of this now decade-long stance of Maureen Faulkner (and of the artistic and moral decisions of filmmaker Tigre Hill), the entirely widow-focused second trailer for Barrel of a Gun can be reduced to one sentence: “On account of my unique suffering, I need and deserve to have Mumia Abu-Jamal executed.” The principle of blood vengeance thus becomes reintroduced into the public sphere.
The evil supposedly residing inside Abu-Jamal can only be fought by wiping the man himself off the face of the earth.
Yet once again, as in the case of the distorted view of the facts because of the overwhelming wish to see somebody pay, a life-long determination to seek revenge is by no means inevitable.
On May 21, 1971, the white New York police officer Joseph Piagentini and his black fellow officer Waverly Jones were struck down and killed in a hail of bullets, an act that was later pinned on three members of the Black Panther Party, Herman Bell, Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, and Albert Washington, who were all convicted to life in prison. Washington died in prison in 2000, but Bell and Muntaqim came up for parole in 2004, and the son of Waverly Jones, Waverly Jones Jr., supported their bid to be released. Unsurprisingly, he was furiously attacked for this from police circles, but he stood his ground, and here is part of his response:
Much of what I hear about these men who were convicted does not accurately describe the reality of who they are or have become. Herman Bell was incarcerated for 30 years and never got into an argument or fight yet he’s described as a vicious, unrepentant killer with hatred and malcontent in his heart, also his accomplishments can not go without notice. Jalil Muntaqim is another one that spent his duration in prison as a model prisoner never engaging in anything violent or disruptive. They have also maintained their innocence all the while.
He doesn’t even say whether he himself believes them to be innocent, but rather points to the 1960s’ and 1970s’ extreme anti-Black racism, the police brutality that significantly contributed to the confrontations between Black militants and the police, as well as the FBI’s COINTELPRO program designed to destroy the Black liberation movement, and finally argues: “It may be difficult for people to understand why I chose to stand with these men in their petition for parole but if I had hatred and bitterness and sought revenge where would I begin?”
Maybe one of his reasons was that for him the 33 years Bell and Muntaqim had already spent in jail were simply enough. One would hope to find such a rational and compassionate stance more often in cases such as these. Tigre Hill’s new film will not be the place to look for it.
 For a good and truthful literary treatment, see Ellen Feldman, Scottsboro, W.W. Norton, New York 2008. A thorough treatment of the facts of the case is found in Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro. A Tragedy of the American South, updated and revised edition, University of Louisiana Press , Baton Rouge 2007.
 The above is largely a paraphrase taken from http://www.crimemagazine.com/scottsboro-boys-jim-crow-trial.
 For a fuller account, see Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?, Seven Stories Press, New York 2003 and the sources given there.
 In the series “Living Luminaries” on the Serious Business of Happiness, found on youtube in 2009 and available from the author. And further: The various religious teachers tell you that “you have to let go! To not have an ego, to not be attached to all these things which are causing you to kill you[rself]. But once you reach that, it’s just like a spirit that just exists, of loving yourself.”
 Maureen Faulkner and Michael Smerconish, Murdered by Mumia. A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice, The Lyons Press, Guilford, CT 2008.
 Ibid., p. 22-25.
 Ibid., p. 23.
 As a glance at the trial transcript clearly reveals.
 Ibid., p. 24.
 This trend in the American legal system goes far beyond the present case and is now severely threatening the constitutional principle that justice is a public affair which must not be subjected to private interests.
 Murdered by Mumia, p. 43. Whether the episode happened that way is impossible to determine, but even if it did, according to what people who attended the trial told this author, Abu-Jamal’s family and friends were subjected to a fair amount of threats, harassment, and intimidation during the 1982 trial, a not unimportant piece of background. For the ethical and rhetorical aspects of the book in general, see Mark Taylor ’s review “How Not to Build One’s Case for Justice,” http://www.emajonline.com/index.php?action=4&content_id=201.