The engines of the "Free Mumia Abu-Jamel" movement continue to drone on. The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamel by J. Patrick O'Connor is the latest installment of the movement's efforts to free the convicted murderer of Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner. While proclaiming the innocence of Abu-Jamal, O'Connor damns him with feint pleas.
This book and the movement that it supports are part of what has become a perverse American tradition. A person rabidly contemptuous of the values of this country commits a serious or even heinous crime against a person or symbol of American authority or prosperity. The crime itself generates an orgy of rationalization or even satisfaction from those sharing this contempt.
The perversities of the crime are then compounded as a campaign is waged to undermine justice and free the criminal. This campaign usually entails construction of elaborate conspiracies, the usual charges of police brutality and racism, the creation of a circus at trial, and the ridiculous exaggeration of the virtues of the victim of all this supposed oppression.
To ponder the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and this campaign to free him is to watch summer television reruns. The script is so familiar; the Hollywood faces so predictable; the angst so contrived. To know that we have seen this show before, one has only to recall the campaigns for Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Leonard Peltier, and Tookie Williams to name a few of our canonized criminals.
Nothing can be more exhilarating for the terminally alienated than for the criminal actually to prevail. One commits the crime and walks free, which simultaneously subverts the very concept of justice that sought a proper accounting. The scales remain unbalanced. As unrepentant American terrorist, Bill Ayers, once succinctly put it, "Guilty as sin: free as a bird." And the Abu-Jamal re-runs play on; this time, J. Patrick O'Connor in charge of programming.
For those who do not know the basic facts, here is a brief synopsis. At roughly 3:50 a.m. on December 9, 1981, Officer Daniel Faulkner stopped the car of William Cook [corrected] on a street in Philadelphia. Cook is the brother of Abu-Jamal. Coincidently, Abu-Jamal was parked nearby in a taxi he was driving. Upon seeing an altercation between Faulkner and Cook, Abu-Jamal ran across the street and shot Faulkner in the back. Faulkner was able to get a shot off at Abu-Jamal, seriously wounding him. With the wounded Faulkner on the ground, Abu-Jamal shot him in the head, killing him instantly.
At the time there were only three people in the immediate area of the crime: Faulkner, Abu-Jamal, and Cook. But others were nearby. Within minutes there were statements taken by separate police officers from several different witnesses who identified Abu-Jamal as the shooter. There were only two guns on the scene, Faulkner's and Abu-Jamal's. Ballistics show that the bullet in Abu-Jamal came from Faulkner's gun, and that those in Faulkner came from a gun like Abu-Jamal's. In the presence of a hospital security guard, Abu-Jamal shouted "I shot the m__f__r, and I hope the m__f__r dies."
It did not take much deliberation for the jury to convict Abu-Jamal, and he was sentenced by the jury to death on July 3, 1982. His conviction for the crime has withstood the seemingly endless appeals, post-conviction hearings, and massive publicity campaign.
O'Connor's book is replete with selective use of testimony, distortions, unsubstantiated charges, and a theory that has failed Abu-Jamal in the past. Space does not permit a complete discussion of O'Connor's efforts, so what follows are some representative examples.
- O'Connor's theory of the crime is based primarily upon a passenger that nobody credibly saw in Clark's car, and who supposedly did the shooting. If there were a fourth person at the scene who shot Faulkner, as O'Connor contends, William Cook and Abu-Jamal could have taken a stand and so testified. They both refused to offer any account of what happened that early December morning. Cook refused to testify for his brother at the trial and at three post-conviction hearings. Instead he waited until 2001(roughly 20 years after the crime) to sign an affidavit where he lamely and conveniently blames the crime on a man who died in 1985. O'Connor actually finds this account convincing.
- The heart of O'Connor's case is the supposed vendetta of the police against Abu-Jamal because of his radical views and associations. O'Connor tells us that because of Jamal's chest wound that morning he was "blacking out from trauma and loss of blood." Later he tells us that Abu-Jamal's condition was "critical" and that the doctor said that "if he hadn't gotten treatment right away, he would have died." But if police were so intent on "getting" Abu-Jamal, to the point of orchestrating this massive, carefully coordinated conspiracy, then why take Abu-Jamal to the hospital at all? A little more delay in the police van and he would have died. Officer Faulkner would have been the agent of his own justice, and we would have avoided what has become a costly 27 year circus.
- O'Connor condemns the police for not immediately conducting a test of Abu-Jamal's hands to see if he had recently fired a gun. An honest account would have included the extensive testimony at trial as to why such a test could not be performed and be credible in this case. (It's in the transcripts.) Had the test been performed and had it shown that Abu-Jamal fired a gun, O'Connor no doubt would be complaining about the racist prosecutor's use of a test that could not have credible results.
- O'Connor dismisses the testimony of the hospital security officer who heard Abu-Jamal admit the shooting by quibbling over whether or not the document was the original. He does not credibly explain why she would lie and has never wavered in her testimony. Nor does he explain how the hospital administrator, to whom she reported Abu-Jamal's statement the next morning, could have been induced on such short notice to participate in this portion of the police "frame-up." O'Connor often tries to undermine the credibility of the police by referring to those police who subsequently were disciplined for unrelated wrongdoing. Here, O'Connor depends on an affidavit secured from an imprisoned, convicted felon more than 20 years later, who supposedly heard the security officer recant her testimony. For O'Connor, testimony of those with bad character can be convincing only when they support Abu-Jamal. As we attorneys say, "Res Ipsa Loquitur." ["the thing speaks for itself"]
- O'Connor dismisses ballistics evidence against Abu-Jamal. He does not disclose to his readers that the rounds taken from Faulkner's body had a base unique to the relatively rare, high-powered ammunition in Abu-Jamal's gun. He does not disclose that these bullets came from a gun barrel with the same lands, grooves, and right-hand twist of Abu-Jamal's gun. There were no other guns found at the scene.
- O'Connor refers to Abu-Jamal as "an articulate, compassionate righter of wrongs." But he does not mention the death threat to Judge Sabo made on the record by the "compassionate" Abu-Jamal at his sentencing hearing. I have no doubt that Abu-Jamal felt that he was "righting a wrong" when he shot Officer Faulkner.
O'Connor's agenda is to "Free Mumia." For this campaign, whether conducted by O'Connor or others who support Abu-Jamal, the agenda always trumps the truth. In fact "truth" is defined as any statement or circumstance that furthers the agenda. O'Connor's book contains no footnotes or citations directed to any of the official transcripts because his notion of "truth" does not rise to a full reading of the record. All the better to cherry-pick favorable excerpts or to distort them when verification is made difficult.
Before that early morning of December 9, 1981, Abu-Jamal spent many years nurturing his hatred for the society in which it was his misfortune to live. No doubt his time at what O'Connor calls "ultraprogressive Goddard College" helped nurture his hatred at least as much as his time in the Black Panthers. So that morning he decided to gamble. Abu-Jamal bet that he could brazenly kill a Philadelphia policeman, bully a judge, turn his trial into a circus, hoodwink a jury, and walk away "free as a bird" as Bill Ayers put it. He bet his life on an O.J. jury and an O.J. verdict. He lost his bet, and for that law abiding citizens can be thankful. Only true believers and the ill-informed will find this book compelling.