FROM THE CAMPAIGN TO END THE DEATH PENALTY
The Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) is appalled by the news
that several individuals of leading anti-death penalty organizations
have signed a confidential memorandum stating that the "involvement
of Mumia Abu-Jamal endangers the U.S. coalition for abolition of the
death penalty." The memo further argues that the World Coalition
Against the Death Penalty should not highlight Mumia's case because
doing so "unnecessarily attracts our strongest opponents and
alienates coalition partners at a time when we need to build
alliances, not foster hatred and enmity."
This memo was drafted on December 21, 2009, yet it only recently came
to light following the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty,
held on March 4 in Geneva, Switzerland. At this meeting, a telephone
call came in from Mumia Abu-Jamal, and he addressed the audience. At
this point, several members of U.S. abolitionist groups got up and
walked out in protest.
The Campaign to End the Death Penalty strongly condemns this action
and completely disagrees with the approach to the anti-death penalty
struggle that this memo puts forth.
First of all, we unequivocally support and endorse Mumia Abu-Jamal in
his struggle for justice. We believe in his innocence and see Mumia's
case as fraught with many of the same injustices as other death
penalty cases--racial bias, police misconduct and brutality, and
prosecutorial and judicial prejudice.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on Pennsylvania's death row for the past 28
years and remains there because the courts, under pressure from the
Fraternal Order of Police, have thwarted his efforts to win his
freedom. From his prison cell, Mumia has galvanized an international
movement of support towards his efforts to win justice. He has
written numerous books and articles shedding light on our
prison-industrial complex as well as other historical and current
political issues. He is widely read, known and respected. His
commentaries on prison radio are nothing short of brilliant. He has
helped to educate millions of people about the true workings of the
criminal justice system. But most importantly, he has been an
inspiration to all those fighting to win abolition, lending his voice
of hope, his encouragement and his unfaltering determination to our movement.
So why would a delegation of U.S. abolitionists get up and walk out
of a meeting when Mumia addresses the audience? Shouldn't they have
stood and applauded?
The explanation for this reprehensible action is explained in the
secret memo, which basically puts forth the argument that to have
anything to do with Mumia's case ruins the chances of winning
abolition of the death penalty.
Why? Here is what the memo states, in part: "The support of law
enforcement officials is essential to achieving abolition in the
United States. It is essential to the national abolition strategy of
U.S. abolition activists and attorneys that we cultivate the voices
of police, prosecutors and law enforcement experts to support our
call for an end to the death penalty."
This statement points to a very disturbing direction that we have
observed in recent years among some organizations in the abolition
movement--of compromising our message in order to win the support of
conservatives. This has lead leading death penalty organizations to
downplay the impact of race in the criminal justice system and to
advocate reaching out to law enforcement as a means of winning
abolition of the death penalty.
Those who espouse this strategy ignore or downplay the role that
police play in railroading many poor people and African Americans
onto death row. They ignore the role that police, prosecutors and
judges play as guardians of an unjust legal system that
disproportionately targets the poor and people of color. The outcome
of this strategy has led to the marginalization of prisoners like
Mumia, whose voices from behind prison walls are so important in this fight.
The individuals who drafted the memo go on to identify the voices
that they seek to include: "The voices of the Innocent, the voices of
Victims and the voices of Law Enforcement are the most persuasive
factors in changing public opinion and the views of decision-makers
(politicians) and opinion leaders (the media). Continuing to shine a
spotlight on Abu-Jamal, who has had so much public exposure for so
many years, threatens to alienate these three most important
We in the CEDP couldn't disagree more with this strategy. We believe
the most "persuasive factor" in changing public opinion is to build a
vocal, visible movement that forthrightly puts forward its demands--
instead of working to make our message palatable to the opposition.
Consider the analogies to past struggles. What if Martin Luther King
compromised the goals of integration in order to reach out and try to
win over segregationists? No, he reached out to organize and uplift
progressive forces into fighting for change. That is the kind of
strategy we need.
The men and women on death row across the country--including the
guilty--are not our enemy. The enemy is the system of punitive
thought that portrays them as monsters so that the public can feel
okay about killing them. It is part of the punitive philosophy upon
which the legal system is based--the same system that breeds crime in
the first place, that gives so little support to victims of abuse,
that says it believes in rehabilitation but then won't fund it, that
says it believes in education but then takes money away to build
We reject the logic of having the Fraternal Order of Police as a
partner or ally. The FOP has organized against our efforts to win
justice for Mumia, for Troy Davis, for the Burge torture victims in
Chicago and countless others.
Our approach is based on an anti-racist perspective. We know that the
history of aggressive policing, sentencing and the death penalty has
its roots in slavery--that the tough on crime rhetoric of
lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key is racially coded language.
The Campaign stands completely and unequivocally with Mumia
Abu-Jamal. We also stand by a different strategy to win abolition.
Instead of marginalizing voices like Mumia, we should be developing
more innovative and creative ways to put them forward--and not just
Mumia's, but others, including Troy Davis, Rodney Reed and Kevin
Cooper, to name a few. We need to put the human face on this issue.
We need to build a movement that challenges the racism and class bias
nature of the death penalty--and to point out that these injustices
exist in the broader criminal justice system as well.
In order to build a fight that can win real justice, we cannot
marginalize "divisive" issues like racism. Instead, we have to take
them on frontally. And instead of reaching out to the conservative
elements in society, we should be reaching out to progressive
elements and building bridges there. Let's not forget that the lowest
level of support for the death penalty (42 percent) was in 1966, at
the height of the civil rights movement. Let's work to place the
fight for abolition squarely in the progressive camp, where it most
FREE MUMIA! ONWARDS TO ABOLITION!