Abu-Jamal has long been a poster boy for the radical left in America. His fine speaking voice (he had been a radio host), long dreadlocks, Muslim moniker (he was born Wesley Cook), radical memberships (in the Black Panthers and black liberation group MOVE), and admiration of Mao Zedong made him irresistible to the Ed Asners, Jonathan Kozolses, National Lawyers Guilds, Michael Moores and NPRs of the world. But until this administration, most mainstream liberals would have steered clear.
Adegbile revealed a great deal about himself by choosing to have the NAACP Legal Defense Fund join the campaign to defend Abu-Jamal. There are many miscarriages of justice that cry out for redress, but Abu-Jamal's 1981 conviction for killing 25-year-old Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner is one of the most litigated in American jurisprudence. The verdict was reviewed or allowed to stand by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court, among others, over the course of more than 30 years.
On Dec. 9, 1981, at about 4 a.m., Faulkner pulled over a driver named William Cook (Abu-Jamal's brother) for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Cook threw a punch at Faulkner, who then hit Cook with his flashlight. At that point, four eyewitnesses said that Abu-Jamal, who had been across the street, fired at Faulkner hitting him in the back. Though wounded, Faulkner fired back at Abu-Jamal, hitting him in the chest, before falling onto his back. Abu-Jamal approached the wounded officer and holding his gun 18 inches in front of Faulkner's face, fired the shots that killed him.
Ballistics confirmed that the bullets that killed Faulkner were from Abu-Jamal's gun, found with him at the scene.
Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death, but decades of litigation and agitation on his behalf delayed the sentence. He has claimed ineffective assistance of counsel (though at one point he represented himself), racism by the judge, racism in jury selection -- the usual gamut. In 2011, prosecutors announced that they would no longer pursue the death penalty.
Every defendant deserves a defense, of course. But Abu-Jamal has had a celebrity lineup of lefty lawyers. That Adegbile wanted to join their ranks is a sign of his sympathies. That Obama believes Adegbile can get confirmed by the neutered Senate is a sign of the times.