The Battle Over Mumia

<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/cooperfeb22.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.

Rafael Renteria

In his reply to C. Clark Kissinger, Marc Cooper asserts: “But Kissinger can’t really be suggesting that Mumia’s arrest at the scene of the murder, a bullet wound in his chest, his revolver near his hand, was conjured up by the cops, can he?”

One wonders if Mr. Cooper reads the daily newspapers in the city of Los Angeles, where he lives. There he will find daily reminders that police in Los Angeles have routinely framed suspects, planted guns, withheld or falsified evidence and have falsely testified against the innocent. He will also find that they have, on more than one occasion, wounded or murdered innocent people and, after delaying the arrival of ambulances and investigators, spent time huddled together doing exactly what Cooper seems to suggest is incredible — conjuring a story to cover up their crimes.

If Cooper examined the larger issues surrounding the Jamal case, he would realize that the Philadelphia police have a similar record, and have been the subject of federal intervention on similar grounds.

No one, including C. Clark Kissinger, disputes that Jamal was shot at the scene and no one disputes that his gun was there. What is in dispute, as Cooper knows, is the veracity of the prosecution’s argument that Jamal was shot while standing over Faulkner as he fell (an impossibility since the trajectory of the bullet that wounded Jamal was downward rather than upward) and whether prosecutors withheld the original ballistics report that indicated that the bullet that killed Faulkner was a .45 — not the same caliber as Jamal’s gun.

Just as he knows the question in dispute is not whether Jamal was found on the sidewalk near Faulkner, but whether vital testimony about another possible shooter was suppressed through a variety of methods, including the intimidation of witnesses.

The question is not the death penalty per se, but what is just and who and what justice serves. I oppose the use of the death penalty in the US, but I would be more than pleased to see the death penalty applied to people like Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, if it were carried out by the people of Chile — most especially under revolutionary circumstances.

Would it be just to suggest the death penalty for five or six of the top CIA and Contra operatives who flooded South Central Los Angeles with crack cocaine? Their crimes cost the lives of untold thousands of people and the degradation and ruination of many thousands more.

In China, the British empire promoted opium use on a mass scale and profited incredibly from it. Millions were addicted. Chinese warlords used the profits as well to shore up their despotic rule while the common people lived in the most abject poverty under the harshest oppression. In some instances the people starved there because land was given over to production for opium rather than for food. So five or six of these people were put to death. Y que?

It is simple to slander. Cooper seems well versed in it. It is harder to determine the real basis of justice.


Marc Cooper responds:

First of all, let’s clear up some historical facts. It is an outrage that you suggest only “five or six” big drug dealers were executed in China and — as you say — y que? So what? Indeed, several thousand people have been executed in China by the state in modern times, and that qualifies as a big so what. I think Mr. Renteria has ably demonstrated his moral bias here. He in fact is not an opponent of the death penalty. He only opposes it for people he agrees with. I do not have to speculate about what my view would be in regard to executing Pinochet. I survived the Chilean coup as a translator to the president. Several people very close to me were murdered by Pinochet’s agents — an act for which I hold him responsible. And yet, I oppose absolutely his execution. The reason is simple: If we begin to condone state execution for those we judge morally unfit to live, then who will draw the line on where to stop? Mr. Renteria with his “so what” ethic? I sincerely hope not. I know literally hundreds of people who have had their lives severely affected by Pinochet, and yet I have never heard one suggest he be executed. So, Mr. Renteria, now that you have soiled the death-penalty abolition movement with your half-assed morality, please do not contaminate the movement for justice in Chile that so many of us have sacrificed for years to help fortify.

Nor do I need a lecture about the tactics of the LAPD. I have written at length on that subject. I have also been a successful plaintiff in a collective lawsuit against LAPD political spying — a lawsuit that I can proudly claim led to the shutdown of the LAPD’s notorious public disorder intelligence division.

So as to Mumia … yes, the cops might have manufactured all or part or none of the evidence used against him. The fact is the police do taint evidence frequently. They do not however manufacture it in every instance. Mumia’s trial was flawed. He should get a new one (for the 1,001th time). But are you, Mr. Renteria, willing to state as a fact that Mumia is innocent? You can suggest he was framed. Can you prove it?

Mike Thornton

Since I was (I believe) one of the last journalists to go into the prison at Waynesburg, Pennsylvania and interview Abu-Jamal, I would like to say that I found the man to be anything but “tissue thin.”

Can Mr. Cooper say that Mumia’s critiques of the prison system are invalid or “tissue thin?” Or that Abu-Jamal’s discussions of race and the imbalance of economic power in the US are no more than generic Kleenex as well? Abu-Jamal is an intelligent and articulate man who credits John Africa (MOVE Founder) with his real education. What hero has not been flawed in one way or another?

It appears that Mr. Cooper’s real problem is with Mumia’s politics, which seem to rub Mr. Cooper the wrong way not because they are “tissue thin” but because they are too socialist or — dare I say it? — too communist?


Marc Cooper responds:

Mike, excuse me while I laugh. I have been a Marxist for at least 30 years and do not tremble in the face of socialists or communists. Mumia’s criticisms of the prison system are as valid as those made by thousands of others on both sides of the bars. I said his politics were tissue-thin, not his views on the prison system. Abu-Jamal has suffered the same as any other person who has spent years on death row. That said, and after reading his writings on the subject, I did not find that I learned anything about the criminal justice system I did not know before. As to Mumia’s “politics”: They are grounded in the cult teachings of John Africa and do not pass the minimum theoretical giggle test. The wonderful part of democracy is that you are free to admire and praise them if it so strikes you. But if you’ll pardon me, I think I will stick with Marx, Du Bois, Victor Serge, Marcuse and others for my political theory.

Dan Denvir

Mumia was not a sometime target of state surveillance. He was a target of an FBI counter-intelligence project which aimed to destabilize and fracture the black nationalist movement. The FBI had a 500-page file on him. This is not sometime surveillance. Give it up Marc, how much more of a political target could he be? Just because Mumia wasn’t carted away by a Colombian right-wing death squad doesn’t make him any less of a political prisoner.


Marc Cooper responds: Dan, this is what I believe you would call a bullshit theory. FBI surveils Mumia, therefore any crime attributed to Mumia must be of the FBI’s making? I think you are a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the “Free Mumia” movement. There were thousands of us who amassed FBI files during the CointelPro days. I was also a successful plaintiff in an historic lawsuit against illegal political spying by the LAPD. So? Does that make me impervious to accusations of wrongdoing? I’m now going to assign you a difficult task. I hope you can accomplish it. Ready? Try to hold two different thoughts in your head at once. Like, the LAPD is racist, and O.J. Simpson killed his wife. Like the LAPD may have manipulated the blood evidence in that case, but Simpson did do the killing. Or perhaps, the FBI really did surveil Mumia but Mumia really did shoot a cop. Why are such simple formulas so damn hard to digest?

Finally, I strenuously object to your degradation of the term “political prisoner.” Mumia’s trial was unfairly politicized (so were those of most of my friends and myself who were prosecuted during the 1960s). But being convicted on a politicized prosecution, my friend, is not the same as being a political prisoners. Political prisoners are men and women jailed for their ideas or for their actions related to ideas that have been proscribed. Please do not sully the special status of those rotting in jails around the world for their ideas by promoting Mumia Abu-Jamal to the same status.


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