By Betsey Piette
Lots of media were on hand Oct. 21 to record the moment whenPennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett put his signature on the “Revictimization Relief Act” – dubbed the “Silence Mumia Law” by civil rights activists. The problem was that none of media could hear Corbett speak. Nearly 50 protesters standing a short distance away from Corbett’s press conference at 13th and Locust Sts in Philadelphia drowned him out with constant chants of “Our brother Mumia is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” and “One term Tom!” (photo above, from Philadelphia Magazine online, Oct. 21, 2014)
In what would seem to be a Hail Mary effort to revive his failing reelection bid, Corbett, his political business allies and the Fraternal Order of Police cynically set up shop on a sheltered portable stage at the location where Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner was shot and killed in Dec. 1981. Political activist and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who happened upon the scene, was framed by police for the shooting and subsequently served over 30 years on death row before being released into general prison population in 2011. Abu-Jamal maintains his innocence.
The same movement that has steadfastly fought to free Abu-Jamal responded with less than 24-hours notice to turn out on a weekday to confront the state’s latest effort to silence him. They were joined by prisoner rights groups and civil liberties forces that see the anti-Abu-Jamal law as a blanket attack on the constitutional rights of all prisoners, and a dangerous precedent at a time when more attention is focused on mass incarceration.
Several protesters wore orange prison-style jumpsuits and carried signs depicting the activities that would be banned under the legislation intended to muffle Mumia. One read “I spoke out against abuse in prison, now Corbett & FOP want to silence me.”
Demonstrators also linked the efforts to silence Abu-Jamal with the government’s militarized response to those protesting police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. since the police murder of unarmed African-American youth Michael Brown. One chant today was “From Ferguson to Philly, we say NO! Killer cops have got to go!”
A large hand lettered sign carried a statement given by Abu-Jamal to prison radio in response to the bill. It read “I welcome Gov. Corbett’s signature on an unconstitutional bill that proves that the PA executive and the legislature don’t give one whit about the constitutions of the Commonwealth or the U.S. It proves that they are the outlaws,” signed Mumia Abu-Jamal.
“Having failed to kill Mumia in the street in 1981, and having failed to execute him during his over 30 years on death row, the FOP and the government of Pennsylvania continues to try to silence him, this time by extinguishing his speech,” said Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.
The demonstrators who turned out today made it clear that the state’s efforts are in vain. They stayed in the street for an impromptu rally that went on some time after the Corbett forces abandoned the area. A day of activities is also planned for Oct. 22 to broaden the movement to free Abu-Jamal and in observation of the national day against police brutality and mass incarceration.
EMAJ Notes also this, from years-long Philadelphia activist for Mumia, Lee James:
“We did so well. Listening and watching I felt we do have a movement here and it gets stronger everytime they come at us. New people, new determination – it was truly power to the people. They had to come out in such force and it truly meant nothing. They have nothing. We spoke of Ferguson, Palestine, prisoners, MOVE. . It was our people all over the world. Thank you all – and to the future, Lee.”
. . . and FROM PROFESSOR JOHANNA FERNANDEZ OF EMAJ AND THE CAMPAIGN TO BRING MUMIA HOME:
“Simple words can’t really capture what happened today. In the face of their antiseptic, proto-fascist ceremony, our side resounded with spirit, volume, color and poetry. People who were walking by wanted to hear more from our side, than from the white-man-march of 20 put on display by the cops and their followers.
It was truly a moment of the people and there were so many beautiful moments: our group trickled-in, a few at a time; but right at the start of the proceedings, when I looked back I saw that we had grown strong and I could see an abundance of colorful signs and banners with the beautiful Free Mumia NOW banner in front, which was photographed quite a bit by the media. And then there was that moment of fear at the beginning of the proceedings right before we broke the orchestrated ceremonial silence of the event and started chanting, strong, Brick By Brick, Wall by Wall, We’re Gonna Free Mumia Abu Jamal. The chants kept rolling throughout the proceedings and at some point Bro. Kamau decided to lift up our voices by pulling out the bull-horn (great idea!), which he used for a bit before the cops ask us to put it away. And then half way through the ceremony, Ramona couldn’t take it anymore and she broke out in speech and started exposing the contradiction of the term “victim relief,” in a city that dropped a bomb on the MOVE house. There was also a moment when a passerby said something about her son being in prison; at some point when we realized that the Bill was being signed we booed the Governor and before long Pam emerged from the back of the crowd with a liberated bull horn to tell us that this charade of a bill was a sign of weakness on the part of these fools in power and that they just went ahead a dragged themselves into a fight that they are most certainly going to lose. We got a kick-ass lecture from Tony, about the special role played by the people at the bottom of society during Philadelphia’s constitutional debates at the birth of the nation and we heard from a Brother whose imprisoned nephew was framed by the courts. We were so bad-ass that they didn’t quite know what to do with us as we bum-rushed their parade.
There were so many other classic moments; but above all this was another one of those moments of truth when the Mumia movement did what it had to do: confront power head-on in the streets — and it was beautiful.
I’m proud to be in this struggle with all of you.