>On Mumia

Posted on April 6, 2009 by Joseph

>While many say, “Free Mumia,” I argue, “Spare Mumia’s Life.”

Mumia Abu Jamal is a former Black Panther who was convicted of the 1983 slaying of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. “Free Mumia” has been the rallying cry for left wing and anti-death penalty activists who think that his trial was unfair. The U.S. Supreme Court has just rejected Mumia’s application for a new trial. His death sentence has been vacated, but it remains to be seen whether the U.S. Supreme court will reinstate it.

Frankly, I am not an expert on the case. I do, however, know that it raises high emotions on all sides. To many urban minorities, he is a symbol of a racist justice system. They think that he was essentially framed and convicted by racist cops, prosecutors, and jurors. To many police officers, he is simply a cold-blooded cop killer with a knack for effective PR. They see his cause as an example of left wing disdain for law and order. Indeed he has written a very eloquent book where he indicts the the justice system, the death penalty in particular.

While I won’t get into the details of his case, a cursory view leads me to several conclusions:

1) He probably is guilty
2) He received an unfair trial
3) He should NOT be executed

First, I say he is guilty because there is strong evidence that he was at the scene of the crime, and that the murder weapon belonged to him. It is true that some of the witnesses against him have recanted. Even his strongest supporters, however, when pressed on the factual question of his guilt, try to shift the conversation to the fairness of the trial. I personally cannot be so dismissive of this factual issue. Certainly, I don’t think that we should “free” him without a Not Guilty verdict in a new trial. In some ways, the “Free Mumia” movement has done him a disservice, because it has focused public attention on the factual issue of his guilt, rather than the more persuasive argument that he deserves a new trial. Indeed, demanding his immediate freedom makes it easy to pigeonhole his supporeters as left wing whackos, unconcerned about winning the fair trial they claim he was denied.

What frustrates me most about the “Free Mumia” crowd’s lack of focus, is the fact that there was such a strong case for a new trial. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled that the jury was wrongly instructed. This is why they vacated his death sentence. There is also the issue of recanting witnesses, which ought to be investigated further. Finally, there is the fact that the jury consisted of 10 whites and only 2 blacks. This in itself makes the trial’s fairness highly suspect. But since the Supreme Court has already ruled that he will not receive a new trial, the only issue remaining is whether he should be executed.

I admit that I am generally biased against the death penalty. But even if I favored it as a general policy matter, I would not support it in this case. The bottom line is the irreversible nature of a death sentence. Unlike other forms of punishment, if and when new evidence arises following execution, you cannot simply set the person free and compensate him for his troubles. This means that if the death penalty is to be applied at all, the process leading to it should be virtually flawless and the question of guilt indisputable. This case fails in both regards.

I disagree with calls to “free” Mumia, and feel that he would be in far better shape today had the rallying cry been “New Trial for Mumia.” But now that a new trial is out of the question, freeing him is as well (absent compelling new evidence). Given this reality, activists should change their rallying cry to “Spare Mumia’s Life.” As for the Supreme Court, they should consider the flawed nature of the trial and deny Pennsylvania’s request to reinstate the death sentence.