Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Political Prisoner for 40 years

In December 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with the murder of a police officer. In a farce of a trial, Mumia was sentenced to death. After numerous appeals, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole. He has since battled serious health complications from diabetes, for which he was denied adequate treatment in prison, and contracted COVID in April 2021. The international campaign for his freedom is ongoing.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was a member of the Black Panther party in his youth, and later became a reporter who covered police brutality. As a reporter, Mumia spoke up for MOVE, a communal Black liberation organization that was harassed by Philadelphia police for years, culminating in brutal police raids in 1976, 1978 and 1985. The 1976 raid ended in the police killing a baby and avoiding all responsibility for the death. In the 1978 raid, after one of the cops was accidentally killed by police fire, nine MOVE members were accused of murder.  The MOVE 9 were sentenced to prison for 30-100 years. Mumia defended MOVE throughout this ordeal, which earned him the wrath of the police and the overtly racist Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo.

In 1981, Mumia was accused of murdering a police officer. Despite many inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case, he was sentenced to death row. At the beginning of the 1982 trial, the trial judge was overheard to say he was going to “help them fry the ‘n—r’.” Many organizations such as Amnesty International as well as individuals have decried this mockery of justice. A federal court overturned the death penalty sentence in 2011, but Mumia is still serving a life term in prison.  In 1985, while Mumia was on death row, the MOVE compound was bombed in yet another police raid, killing eleven people including five children. Nobody was charged with any of the murders of the MOVE members.

Both Mumia Abu-Jamal and the MOVE 9 were framed for the killing of police officers. Not only was there no strong evidence during the trial to implicate Mumia, even more evidence has emerged after the trial that makes it very clear that he is innocent and was framed by a corrupt police force. In 1982, the year Mumia was convicted, more than thirty police officers went to prison for corruption, and a third of them were involved in handling his case. It was standard procedure for Philadelphia police to extort false testimony from witnesses, as they had done in Mumia’s case.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is 67 years old and has been incarcerated for 40 years. He has published numerous books about institutional racism and is pursuing his second graduate degree from prison. The documentaries In Prison My Whole Life and Long Distance Revolutionary have been produced about his life and activism. The ongoing fight for his freedom is one current in the larger struggle to free all political prisoners and to end systemic racism.