Letters, June 1999: "Eight Questions" Answers

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In response to "Eight Questions for the Free Mumia Movement" (April 1999), I believe the massive organizing efforts around Mumia Abu-Jamal's case is very simply an awful indicator of the state of our democratic process.

By that I mean I don't think we should underestimate the organizers around the campaign to free Mumia or their commitment to freeing all political prisoners or to changing this fucked up system we call justice. To focus on Mumia's quasi-celebrity status (the videos, the CD's, posters, etc.) would be to buy into the propaganda put forth in the fantasy land of Walt Disney's 20/20, the crap that ABC and Sam Donaldson want us to believe about Mumia's supporters being leftist, bitter freaks who all want to date Mumia and want him and his dreads in a Guess ad.

While I believe you raise valid questions (questions I've asked myself during this effort), the reality is that I and others operate on Mumia's behalf with a very grim knowledge and an equally grim curiosity.

The knowledge is that Mumia's case is one of, if not the most, blatantly unjust cases in the American courts that we know about right now and a man could stand to die because of it.

The curiosity: what would it take to free someone from this system - innocent or guilty - based on the constitutional right to a fair trial before a jury of one's peers and an unbiased court - none of which Mumia received.

The case is complex and complicated, and quite often leftists fall into the trap of asking whether or not Mumia is "worth saving," most recently around the issue of whether or not Mumia's politics are pure enough to embrace the queer community, since John Africa's teachings promote heterosexuality as "natural." But even being at least a little queer myself (if that's possible), I don't think that's the issue at hand.

Unfortunately, Mumia's case, like the Scottsboro Boys and the Move 9, is a litmus test and will go down in history, one way or the other, as a testimony to the status of the American government and how much power the people actually have.

Unfortunately, if we are to disempower "this rotten ass system," as Move likes to call it, it will take masses of people to embarrass the fuck out of individual supreme courts and police departments and, my sense is, it will happen one case at a time, one prisoner at a time.

Thank you for bringing these questions to light and for resisting!!!

In solidarity,
Fran J. Harris

"What would happen to the Free Mumia Movement if evidence suddenly turned up that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mumia is guilty of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner?" Since it is a broad-based movement with no central leadership, nobody can predict this. But I can tell you how I would react. If Mumia were demonstrably guilty it would not change the fact that he did not receive a fair trial and that he was convicted not on the basis of whatever indisputable evidence turned up twenty years later but because his political beliefs scared the jurors. If Mumia is guilty he is still a symbol of the racism and failure of our justice system. I would not abandon him.


Mumia is a "cause celebre" because he is the only political prisoner on death row. This lends urgency to his case. While many Mumia supporters may not realize or acknowledge it, by supporting Mumia they are supporting all political prisoners. Do you honestly believe that if the movement to free Mumia is successful, that it will not be a success for all political prisoners? If you'd stop painting "The Movement" as a monolith, you might begin to see that great numbers of us want justice for all political prisoners. I know I'm not the only one in the movement who wants to see all prisons abolished.

I'm all for struggling against our court and prison system. Meanwhile Mumia is a real person about to be murdered by this same system. Victory for him is victory for all who suffer in the gulags. I guarantee you that if Mumia is freed, myself and thousands of others will use that victory to continue struggling against prisons and police. I hope you'll be there with us.

Dan Tenenbaum
Seattle Mumia Defense Committee

Thanks for your response, Dan. First, I am not surprised by your answer. There are certainly many committed people in the movement who would not abandon him. However, in the end, what's most important, I am sure you would agree, is not what you as an individual would do under those circumstances but what direction the movement as a whole would take. Here's a couple of question for you: Should the movement, as a matter of both principle and political strategy, publicly state that it would demand Mumia's freedom, regardless of his innocence or "guilt"? Does it trouble you at all that a potentially large number of your movement comrades would discontinue support of Mumia if he were "proven" to be "guilty"?

Second, it is important to point out that Mumia is not a "symbol" of the failure of our so-called justice system but of its success. The U.S. justice system has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with social control. It is working exactly the way it was intended to.

Third, our justice system is not "racist," it is anti-Black. It is administered by people who would most likely bristle if you called them a "racist" but would not bat an eye if you called them "white."

Chris Niles

Why has Mumia become such a cause celebre? Whereas many political prisoners and prisoners of war are interned for waging "offensive" (armed) struggle against the fascist powers that be, Brother Mumia's actions were defensive. Therefore, many people, themselves not serious about struggle, find Brother Mumia less threatening; some of the people rallying around Brother Mumia have a vested interest in seeing that the equation of power in America remains intact! In addition, it's chic to be identified as a supporter of Brother Mumia because of the high-profile entertainers and other establishment people supporting Mumia for their own opportunist reasons. It is also in vogue to be seen at Mumia's demonstrations, which often have a sickening carnival atmosphere hovering around them.

What would happen to the Free Mumia movement if evidence suddenly turned up that proved that Mumia is guilty? The vast majority of people who are now rallying around Brother Mumia would suddenly lose their vocal cords! You would no longer hear them calling on the state to give Mumia a new trial or sloganeering for Mumia's freedom. Mumia would be abandoned in captivity just like the rest of yesterday's urban guerrillas.

I have a question for you: What are you doing tangibly to support those "political prisoners and prisoners of war" who have been abandoned in captivity by supposed progressives and revolutionary-minded people?

Ojore N. Lutalo
Trenton, New Jersey
M.C.U. 08625-0861


Thank you for your thoughts. We are always open to improving our efforts so if you have any specific or creative ideas of how an anti-white movement can best support men and women behind bars, send them to us and we will publish them.

Chris Niles

The reason why we have a "Free Mumia!" movement instead of an "abolish the prison system!" movement is probably because the movement hasn't reached that point yet. A healthy movement to abolish prisons is something that you would think of as taking place where the Left is not as fragmented and dysfunctional as it is here.

Re: "4. Is it possible to be consistently anti-white while supporting or being equivocal about the prison system?" Most anti-racist and anti-injustice activists I know do not consider themselves "anti-white" as that term is commonly understood. To most people, "anti-white" means openly hostile to anyone with fair skin and of European ancestry.

I doubt that you will ever become influential on the Left if your main activity consists of carping and hair-splitting and criticizing other Left movements, as you have done in your last two newsletters. This question represents an attempt to impose your ideology and terminology as the terms of debate when the other side has not yet accepted them. How about working with movement people for a change instead of just hectoring them? It would really be more constructive, and it might give your New Abolitionist ideas a wider and more willing audience. This "holier-than-thou" stuff isn't taking. It's what you get done that counts.

Tom Louie
Los Angeles


Where is the "left" not fragmented and dysfunctional? Also, what exactly, in your opinion, is the left? In mine, the "left" is an intellectually and politically bankrupt construct that creates the illusion of political solidarity among radicals, self-proclaimed and otherwise, where none really exist. It is, therefore, a breeding ground for confused political discourses and petty demagoguery. You are no doubt correct to point out that for most people, "anti-white" means openly hostile to anyone with fair skin and European ancestry. But that is an exact measure of how successful the mythic white race has been as an instrument of social control. Even "radicals" are afraid to be anti-white.

As for your accusation that our newsletter exudes an "holier-than-thou" attitude, you'll need to show us the evidence. It is standard leftist demagoguery to accuse anybody who is critical of the "left" of "hair splitting" and "carping." But then again, if you believe that pointing out the differences between an anti-white perspective and an anti-racist one is a waste of time, or that raising questions that make a lot of movement people uncomfortable is unnecessarily provocative, then we are, happily, guilty as charged.

Chris Niles

I'm the editor of the Prison Legal News. On your questions about the Mumia movement, I'll start by saying Mumia is a friend, comrade, and a PLN columnist.

As I see it, a big problem in the U.S. is that no political prisoner has gained significant political support unless they claim to be innocent. This reflects the immaturity of Americans. Ten years ago, Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoner of war Paul Kelley wrote, "What about the guilty?" (Kelley was apart of a PIRA active service unit that blew up Scotland Yard's Old Bailey Courthouse and other government symbols in London in 1973. In 25 years of captivity he struggled for prisoner rights at all levels.) How many people do you know who will speak on behalf of the three Los Angeles POW's still languishing in prison for killing cops? Not many.

A lot of people are opposed to the death penalty and Mumia is a good symbol because he puts a human face on state murder. He's bright, articulate and photogenic.

Anyway, you make valid points but I think the problem is larger than just Mumia's supporters. For what it's worth, virtually no death penalty opponents give a shit or even make a connection with mass imprisonment, prison conditions, and death by incarceration. Their only concern is proactive state executions. Prison activists, by contrast, almost uniformly oppose the death penalty.

Paul Wright
PO Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272

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