Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal seeking a new trial for death-row inmate and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in the 1981 shooting of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Earlier, a lower court rescinded Abu-Jamal's death penalty, which prosecutors have asked to be reinstated. Meanwhile, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, last week's ruling "virtually guarantees that the internationally known death-row inmate will never be freed."
Perhaps there were tears shed in Paris, where he is an honorary citizen and where the suburb of St. Denis named a one-way street "Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal" in 2006. But I see it as a sign of healthy change that in America the ruling went largely unprotested.
Call it progress. Being convicted for killing a police officer has lost the cachet it once had for the far left -- especially since Oakland just buried slain police officers Sgts. Mark Dunakin, Ervin Romans and Daniel Sakai, and Officer John Hege.
Consider that Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, introduced a House resolution honoring the four Oakland officers. She once signed a letter against Abu-Jamal's execution. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution naming a day in Abu-Jamal's honor. Ditto the European Parliament. The anti-Iraq war group Not in Our Name proudly advertised Abu-Jamal's endorsement as one of its celebrity signatories -- unbothered by the prospect of dubbing a cop-killer as a committed peacenik. Writer Alice Walker likened Abu-Jamal to South African leader Nelson Mandela.
Oakland schools scheduled a Mumia teach-in for January 1999 -- although it was mostly derailed after a sniper shot Oakland officer James Williams Jr., whose funeral was held on the same day. The teach-in lesson plan had referred to Abu-Jamal not as a cop killer, but as a "political prisoner."
Be it noted, the letter signed by Lee and others argued against Abu-Jamal's execution because "he well may be innocent." The usual Hollywood stars -- Ed Asner, Mike Farrell -- were happy to impugn the motives and behavior of Philly police and prosecutors. Devotees desperately clung to the notion that Abu-Jamal, formerly Wesley Cook, was a victim of racism. Indeed, they so wanted to believe that Abu-Jamal was unfairly convicted that they overlooked the gratuitous execution of Faulkner.
But the evidence was overwhelming. A jury -- and not all the members were white, as it included two African-Americans -- convicted Abu-Jamal and sentenced him to death.
After police pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother for driving the wrong way on a one-way street, a battle followed. Faulkner was shot five times, once between the eyes. Authorities found Abu-Jamal near the mortally wounded Faulkner because he could not run away, as his brother did; Faulkner had shot Abu-Jamal in the chest. Also, four eyewitnesses identified Abu-Jamal. Two witnesses heard Abu-Jamal admit to shooting Faulkner and that he hoped Faulkner dies.
What is more, Abu-Jamal has never explicitly stated that he did not shoot Faulkner. He did not testify at his own trial before his conviction. He served as his own lawyer -- with professional backup counsel -- yet failed to produce his brother as a witness. Guilty.
But he knows how to play to a certain crowd swayed more by race-laden rhetoric than fact. So from death row, he keeps cranking out books, radio commentaries and self-congratulatory hype about how the racist system put him in prison. As in his latest self-homage, "This is the story of law learned, not in the ivory towers of multibillion-dollar endowed universities (but) in the bowels of the slave-ship, in the hidden, dank dungeons of America."
I suppose it is possible that if the Supreme Court reinstates Abu-Jamal's justly deserved death sentence, apologists will again clamor for TV time to rail against the injustice of Abu-Jamal's conviction. But if his followers really believe he is innocent, they should remain committed to the cause, whether he faces execution or not.
Their rallying cry is, after all, "Free Mumia." I would like to think that the Hollywood and Bay Area left have become wiser and now understand that the murder of a cop is not justifiable and cannot be overlooked because good liberals are too busy being righteous and denouncing the racist criminal justice system. Sure, there were a few left-wing loons who lionized Oakland cop-killer Lovelle Mixon, but local politicians knew which funeral to attend and whom not to defend.
Maybe the difference is that Dunakin, Romans, Sakai and Hege fell close to home.