Mumia Abu-Jamal is Off Death Row—but Some Supporters Say That May be Worse
Citing scant evidence against him and harsh conditions in his new prison, supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal are gathering to get his new prison location changed with the eventual goal of freeing him.
Yesterday, supporters of Abu-Jamal gathered at the Calvary Church in West Philadelphia to discuss recent high- and lowlights of the former Black Panther’s case. Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1982. The conviction and death sentence created a firestorm of controversies that persists today. Some supporters claim his innocence, while others insist he was not given a fair trial. Anti-Mumia activists often say they want to see Abu-Jamal die for the crime of which he was convicted.
Last month, District Attorney Seth Williams announced he would no longer seek the death penalty. “Every reviewing court has found the trial fair and the guilty verdict sound,” Williams said at a press conference alongside Faulkner’s widow Maureen. “Our best remaining option is to let Mr. Abu-Jamal die in prison.”
Many of Abu-Jamal’s supporters were at first elated by the news. They held a gathering at the National Constitution Center, which was attended by over 1,000 people, including Dr. Cornel West and hip hop artist Immortal Technique. However, many now say that Abu-Jamal’s current state may be worse than death row. Abu-Jamal is reportedly being held in solitary confinement.
“The isolation conditions are considerably worse than death row,” says Kevin Price, an Abu-Jamal supporter who attended yesterday’s meeting on Baltimore Ave. “He’s only allowed one hour a week outside, no access to a typewriter, no access to the commissary, and his ability to make phone calls is worse. It’s more austere and degrading, essentially.”
When PW contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections concerning this story, they said they could neither confirm nor deny where within SCI Mahanoy, his new prison, Abu-Jamal, or any other prisoner, was being held.
Price, who lives in South Jersey, says he’s spent more than half his life advocating for Abu-Jamal. He’s been reading Abu-Jamal’s writings since he was 13 years-old and says the case opened his eyes to many national and international political issues many would rather sweep under the rug.
“He should have been put in the general population back in 2008,” says Price, noting the time when a three-judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing in the case. “We’re calling the Department of Corrections and DA Seth Williams, asking them to move him to general population and to call attention to brutal conditions those in solitary confinement generally face.”
After getting Abu-Jamal put into the prison’s general population, Price says, supporters will continue their work of gathering and bringing more evidence to light which they believe will exonerate him.
Abu-Jamal was transferred to SCI Mahanoy, in Frackville, Pennsylvania after being taken off death row. In a recent Philly Activist email, Abu-Jamal’s solitary unit is referred to as a “dungeon” and “torture unit.” He recently asked his supporters to call or write the Department of Corrections, Superintendent of SCI Mahanoy and District Attorney Seth Williams concerning his and others’ confinement.
He is being supported by both the Human Rights Coalition and Solitary Watch. As HRC notes, “The PA Department of Corrections holds approximately 2,500 people in solitary confinement on any given day, many of them for years at a time.”
Philly Activist describes his situation as follows: “He is shackled whenever he is outside his cell, even to the shower. He is shackled around his ankles, waist and wrist. He is shackled while behind Plexiglas during visits. Subject to strip searches before and after visits. Unable to walk freely. Having bits of paper to write notes on, with a rubber flex pen. No shelves, 4 books. No access to news reports, letters delayed. Restricted visiting. Glaring lights on 24 hours a day. Only one brief phone call to his wife. No access to adequate food or commissary. These conditions are worse than death row.”