Mumia, Pro and Con

<p>Marc Cooper thinks Mumia Abu-Jamal makes a poor poster boy for the anti-death-penalty movement. That opinion has earned him the ire of zealous Mumia supporters — as well as a surprising number of accolades from other progressives. The MoJo Wire invites you to get in on the conversation. <p><font face="geneva, arial,sans-serif">Read the article that sparked the debate: “<A HREF="/reality_check/mumia.html"><font color="cc000">What’s Mumia Got to Do With It?</font></A>” Read last week’s responses <A HREF="/talkback/cooperfeb14.html"><font color="cc000">here</font></A>.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Osage Bell
New York City

The one point that Cooper failed to respond to in Clark Kissinger’s piece is whether or not Cooper has ever talked to a good sampling of the youth who’ve become inspired by the fact that Mumia was, in fact, a Black Panther at age 15 and, despite how it was used against him during his sentencing trial, Mumia continued to stand strong, keep writing, and keep fighting for the people. You should come to an Act Your Rage, a free, monthly open mic put on by the Youth Network of Refuse & Resist! in New York, Boston, Chicago, and other cities, and actually listen to why so many young people–some who never would have considered themselves activists–have come forward to dedicate their lives to stopping this execution and changing the current political climate in this society. And all this because of who Mumia is.

Ask them about Philly Freedom Summer. Every summer since 1995, youth travel to Philadelphia from all over the country for two weeks to bring out massive support for Mumia. Ask these multinational young people — who range from big city punks, to youth from rural towns who’d never done anything political before, to college students, to seasoned activists — how it changed their lives, and how it was talking to people about Mumia that had a huge part in that. Ask some of them how they’d never before questioned the “justice” of our criminal justice system or the death penalty til they read Mumia’s book, “Live From Death Row.”

You’ll find that they’re not all “self-described (‘ill-informed’) anarchists who … have boonswangled the rest of the world into believing Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner,” as one man suggested.

You may believe you already know these “flaky” young “cult-groupies,” who’ve decided to “submit” to Clark Kissinger, MOVE, or Mumia, but I dare say they’re not the monolith that mainstream media (including you) have made them out to be. The people who support Mumia range from those who are simply against the death penalty and maybe don’t feel the need to know every piece of evidence or memorize every witness, to those who see the travesty of his trial like you, to people who don’t care about guilt or innocence and believe he ought to be out on the streets just because he’s a revolutionary. You could ask many of these kids if they think Mumia’s innocent and they may give the same answer you did — “I don’t know.” And that’s precisely why they’ve dedicated their time to fighting the execution.

As a link to the spirit of the 1960s, Mumia represents the possibility for change and the role of youth in that change. From middle-class kids in the suburbs to kids who face police harassment everyday in the city — we all see our futures wrapped up in his for many reasons, but basically– if they can execute Mumia on the flimsiness of his trial, what will it mean for us? If his politics can be used against him, what precedents will that set for us?


Marc Cooper responds:

This proves my point. I find very little appealing about mobilizing anyone — young or old — around the case of one individual whose innocence is dubious.

For the umpteenth time I will repeat that Mumia got a bad trial. That makes him legally innocent. But not morally. I am pleased that Mumia has one of the best criminal defense attorneys in America on his side. I sincerely hope that Mumia exercises all of his legal options to fight for all of his rights. But that alone is not worthy of a mass political movement.

The Free Mumia movement is way too much about Mumia’s case and far too little about the mass application of the death penalty. I refuse to patronize young people just because they are young. They deserve the truth as much as anyone else. I am also old-fashioned enough to believe that the truth is always in order.

I have little to no confidence in the criminal justice system to reveal the truth. I have almost as little confidence in the leaders of the Free Mumia movement. How about agreeing to educate young people on the inequity and barbarity of the death penalty, period? What is so difficult to understand about that?

Feb. 14, 2000

Ellen M. Harper

As one of the 80 percent [of Americans] who support the death penalty, I think Mumia’s case is very good one for death penalty opponents, because it moves me. It causes me to question the criminal justice system. It causes me to question my support of capital punishment.

My concern with capital punishment is that the system is flawed and racially biased. It is only cases like this that show me just how flawed the system is. If the system were corrected, I would probably support the death penalty in some cases. Maybe that’s not your goal, but your absolutist position does not move me.


Marc Cooper responds:

I get a little impatient with letters like the above. Ms. Harper supports the death penalty, but is moved by Mumia. She “questions” the criminal justice system and her support of state murder, but she opposes my “absolutist” position. She’d like the system to be corrected so she could more freely support the murder of just some of the condemned.

Wow! What better argument for precisely an absolutist position! We need to educate people on the absolute issue. Let’s bring this back to Mumia. What happens to the Free Mumia movement if Mumia does get a new trial, if he gets a fair trial, and if he gets convincingly convicted? They will face two choice: Either give up, or argue that no matter what the evidence, Mumia has to be innocent. The rest of us will be opposing his execution regardless. The rest of us who are absolutists — absolutely!

Feb. 16, 2000

Fabian Gastellier

I don’t know you, but I would like to give you a big HUG for your article about Mumia. Not that I want him to die: NEVER! I am an abolitionist and will always remain so. But people are dying every single day without a single supporter or a single line in a newspaper. Here in France, people are so manipulated that if you ask a personality to say something about some other possibly innocent convict, they answer: yes, but what about Mumia? When the widow of our former President, Mrs. Danièle Mitterrand went to Pennsylvania to visit Mumia, I was appalled.


Marc Cooper responds:

Thank you for the hug and support. But mostly thanks for your ability boil down into so few words what I clumsily was trying to say. Every person rallying for Mumia is on person fewer rallying for the other nameless 3,500 death-row inmates in America.

Whatever needed to be accomplished in terms of generating publicity for Mumia has already been achieved. He’s better known than Jesus. He has top-notch legal counsel. So? Now what? Are his supporters going to continue making him and his case an obsessive cult? Or are they going to start spending some of their energy on all the other prisoners, including, say, “confessed cop-killers?

I would also like to take a moment to put a challenge to the readers: I have been heavily attacked for having the temerity to suggest that Mumia is not the best icon for the anti-death penalty movement. But where is the outrage around C. Clark Kissinger? Here we have the leading, most vocal supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal strenuously arguing in favor of public executions staged in sports stadiums. Am I the only one who thinks it outrageous? I hope not. I know not.

Read last week’s discussion with Marc Cooper.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend