International round table discussion analyzing the cases of
Mumia Abu-Jamal and Shaka Sankafa, held in the Televisión Cubana studios on June 19, 2000.
Randy Alonso: Good afternoon to all our TV viewers and radio listeners.
For those who know the legal and penal system of the United States, it is painful and shocking, although not really surprising, that a six-year-old Cuban boy is being unjustly detained and suffering the abuse of being held far from his homeland.
Cases of judicial errors, of sentences based on skin color or poverty, or the use of false testimony, are frequent in U.S. society. Today, in our round table discussion, we will be speaking about these issues and about a number of cases which deserve the attention of the international public, and particularly the Cuban public. These include the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and African-American political activist from Philadelphia, who was unjustly accused of killing a white police officer and sentenced to the death penalty 18 years ago.
For this analysis, I am being accompanied by a special panel for today’s round table.
With us here today are Ms. Pam Africa, coordinator of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; Rosemari Mealy, an attorney from New York and friend of Mumia, as well as a leading activist in the New York African-American community; and Leonard Weinglass, a prestigious attorney from New York, a graduate of Yale University, and the principal defense attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Also with us are Gloria Rubac, an activist in the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, who has accompanied us at other round table discussions; Gloria La Riva, a trade union leader in California and member of the International Action Center, who has been very active for a long time in the solidarity movement with Cuba; Lennox Hinds, a law professor at Rutgers University and a prestigious lawyer in the United States; and Monica Moorehead, leader of the Workers World Party, as well as that party’s presidential candidate.
This is the composition of our panel this afternoon. As you will see, this is a very special round table discussion. We will have simultaneous interpretation for our TV viewers, for them to be able to understand what we are going to discuss here, which is very important for us, for our people, to provide them with a closer look at the inner workings of U.S. society.
It just so happens that exactly 47 years ago today, at 8:00 p.m., Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the United States, victims of the Cold War and the U.S. legal system. They left two young sons behind. One of them, Robert, was only six years old, the same age as Elián Gonzalez. That was one of the worst crimes of the times. Other victims have since followed, and one of them is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
What were the feelings of this journalist and political activist after being unjustly sentenced to the death penalty? Let us look at this video where he speaks about his own experience.
Mumia Abu-Jamal: I am absolutely innocent of the charge I was charged of. I am absolutely not guilty of the charges I was convicted of.
Interviewer: How did you feel at the point when you were handed the death sentence back in 1982.
Mumia Abu-Jamal: I guess angry. Intensely angry. A feeling of injustice that rankled to the core of my soul. Anger, injustice, outrage, fear, mixed emotions from the whole world. But a certainty that it would not stand, a certainty that it would be overturned. I still feel that.
(end of video)
Randy Alonso: These were statements made by Mumia about how he felt when he found out that he had been unjustly sentenced to death.
Pam, you know Mumia, who was in Philadelphia at the time. What was the atmosphere, the context in Philadelphia when he was sentenced to death?
Pam Africa: It was one of the most brutal, and still is one of the most brutal, oppressive, racist governments in the world. Mumia’s desire at that time was to expose the racism and brutality of the Rizzo administration in Philadelphia.
During that time, a young black man by the name of Cornell Warren, a worker, coming home from work, was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, taken behind the Afro-American museum, deliberately shot in the back of the head.
Winston X Hood, another black man, was beaten savagely and then shot. None of the police officers ever did a day in jail.
José Reyes, another Latino, who was beaten to death right before his wife.
Mumia’s desire was to expose this. When he came upon the MOVE organization, where the government had actually covered up the brutal killing of a three-week-old baby, Life Africa, of the MOVE organization, Mumia said this rankled him to the core, and he wanted to expose that. It was injustice all the way around.
Mumia then started covering the MOVE trials, and before too long, the Rizzo administration attacked the MOVE home, despite evidence and overwhelming support from the community, that stated very clearly that the MOVE organization is a revolutionary organization and its desire was to expose the injustice.
What Mumia saw and others saw was the brutal attack, the attempted murder of people before your very eyes. They had stated that black men who were killed attacked the administration, attacked cops, but what Mumia saw and what was exposed around the world, the brutal beating of Delbert Africa, a black man who was surrendering, hands in the air, no gun, nothing. And right before the world, this man was accused of having a gun and a carbine. Mumia got involved in this case, and the administration went after him behind that.
Rosemari Mealy: And if I might add, Randy, prior to Mumia’s involvement in the MOVE organization, we should take the guests back to 1967. In Philadelphia, 3000 schoolchildren marched on the Board of Education in that city, demanding black cultural curriculum, and Mumia at that time was between 13 and 14 years old. And he led that movement to some extent.
I would say that given the Federal Bureau of Investigation files and documents which his attorney will discuss here this evening, Mumia was targeted by the Philadelphia police at a very, very early age. We were both members of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia at that time, also. And Mumia played a leadership role even before he was 16 years old. Philadelphia was known at that time as being one of the worst cities that attacked community groups, community organizations that dared to stand up and struggle the brutality of that city’s police force.
There were many killings similar to the ones that Pam mentioned later, in which Mumia, under his leadership in the Black Panther Party, organized party members to go into the community to identify those police who were charged with murdering the youth of the city, and he organized us to create posters that we posted all over the city, with the photographs of those policemen. That infuriated the Frank Rizzo regime, which was the mayor at the time, and again he was targeted as a leader.
Later on, the Black Panther Party organized what was called a Revolutionary Convention in Philadelphia, at which time we planned to rewrite the Constitution of the United States, given the realities of what was happening in our communities all over the United States. The Rizzo regime, again, working in collusion with the FBI, organized a concerted attack against the Black Panther Party, and raided our organizations. And in a way to expose the African-American community to the militancy of the Panther Party, they forced Panther men to strip naked in the streets, while we as Panther women were strip searched. And the mayor at that time said, You see what I did? I caught those Black Panthers with their pants down. This was a deliberate attempt to undermine and destroy the Party, because it forced the Black Panther leadership to be imprisoned with high bails. Mumia Abu-Jamal emerged at age 15 years old, as a leader of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia, and this infuriated the police department.
So by the time his skills as a journalist in the Black Panther Party, he used those skills to expose to the entire world, through the Black Panther Party newspaper, what was happening in that city. And that just infuriated the police force and the mayor, to the point that we can go to his FBI files, where he is identified as a threat to the community, and as a threat that had to be stopped. So what follows, then, is his relationship to the MOVE organization, because he is already targeted as a militant, as a revolutionary, by the forces of that city.
Randy Alonso: Thank you, Rosemari, for offering us your view as well. You were a friend of Mumia’s, you have continued to visit him in prison, and so together with Pam you have given us a clearer picture of who Mumia was and what what was happening in Philadelphia in 1982, when Mumia was unjustly sentenced. I would like to look at a very brief excerpt from a documentary shown by HBO, where Mumia himself speaks about the night when the alleged crime took place.
Announcer: The nearest he has got to describing what happened that night is in his recent book. In a passage of surreal, almost abstract prose, Jamal describes his sensation of moving in and out of consciousness after he was shot.
Mumia Abu-Jamal: I’m sleeping, sort of.
It has the languorous feel of sleep, with none of the rest. Time seems slower, easier, less oppressive. I feel strangely light. I look down and see a man slumped on the curve, his head resting on his chest, his face downcast. "Damn, that’s me!" A jolt of recognition ripples through me.
A cop walks up to the man and kicks him in the face. I feel it, but I don’t feel it. Three cops join the dance, kicking, blackjacking the bloody, handcuffed fallen form. Two grab each arm, pull the man up, and ram him headfirst into a steel utility pole. He falls.
"Why are those men beating you like that?"
"It’s okay, Babygirl, I’m okay."
"But why, Daddy? Why did they shoot you and why are they hitting and kicking you, Abu?"
"They’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, Babygirl, but don’t worry, Daddy’s fine. See? I don’t even feel it."
Consciousness returns to find me cuffed, my breath sweet with the metallic taste of blood, in darkness.
I lie on the paddy wagon floor and am informed by the anonymous crackle of the radio that I am en route to the police administration building a few blocks away.
I feel no pain—just the omnipresent pressure that makes every bloody breath a labor.
I am en route to the police administration building, presumably on the way to die.
(end of video)
Randy Alonso: This was Mumia reading from one of his books, where he speaks about the dark night that led to him being unjustly sentenced to the death penalty.
Leonard, you have been Mumia’s principal defense attorney. In you opinion, what has the legal process been like, what irregularities have been committed, and what steps have been taken in this process?
Leonard Weinglass: The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal reflects the long history of death penalty litigation directed against African-Americans in the United States, and unfortunately the current situation as well.
As a 28-year-old African-American, he was charged with the killing of a white police officer. That trial, like the trial of many others in a similar situation, reflected the three factors which make these proceedings very unfair under any standard. The three factors are race, class and politics.
On the issue of race, a study that was done by the most prestigious government agency in the United States, the General Accounting Office, concluded that it is undeniable that in death penalty litigation, race is a factor. And it is reflected in the populations on death row. In the city of Philadelphia, where Mumia is from, there are 126 people on death row. All but 13 are people of color.
And when you look at the history, there have been 18,000 executions in the United States in the 200-year history of the republic. And of those 18,000, just 38 were executions of white people accused of killing a person of color. So it’s not just the race of the accused that matters, it’s also the race of the victim. Clearly, in America, a white life is worth more than a black life.
On the issue of class, again there is no question that among the 3600 men and women on death row in America, there are no millionaires. There is no one in the upper middle class. As a matter of fact, Mumia is one of the few even in the middle class.
And the population on death row is in the main the poorest of the poor. The product of America’s worst housing, worst education, worst medicine, worst environment.
The studies of the 3600 indicate that over 90% were themselves victims as children of sexual violence and physical violence. And so these are the least powerful of the people in the country. And they must rely in their processes, in their cases, on the state providing them with a lawyer, and with the means to defend themselves. And like in the case of Mumia, the money that was necessary was not forthcoming. Mumia did not have an investigator when he went to trial. He was not given money for an expert witness, for a doctor, for an expert on firearms, and his lawyer, a pathetic man who has now lost his license to practice law entirely, did no investigation, talked to no witnesses, admitted that he was utterly unprepared for the trial.
You have already heard how politics influenced the case against Mumia. Pam and Rosemari have explained it. But in the system itself, politics, in most cases, is a factor. The district attorney who decides whether or not a case should be a death case is an elected official, elected with the support of the police unions, a person who looks to the next election, and not at the case as a matter of justice.
The district attorney who ordered a death case for Mumia became the mayor of the city of Philadelphia. Now he is the national chairman of the Democratic Party. Had he decided not to prosecute Mumia, he would not have become the mayor, he would not be the chairman of the Democratic Party. So political ambition is a factor in most of these cases. And in the trial itself of Mumia, the prosecution used the political statements of Mumia 12 years earlier, when he was 16 years old, in order to convince this mainly white jury that not only is he a black man charged with a crime, but he is a dangerous political radical.
The United States Supreme Court has said you cannot use a man’s politics to give the death penalty, but they did in Mumia’s case. And up till now, this has been accepted. His case was assigned to a judge who has sent more people to death row than any sitting judge in the United States. As a matter of fact, he has sent twice as many to death row as the judge who is in second place. The person who was assigned as Mumia’s prosecutor had previously put an innocent man in prison for more than ten years, before it was found out that he had wrongly prosecuted the case.
The police have threatened Mumia’s witnesses. One of them came forward now and said that she lied when she testified because she was threatened by the police. Two witnesses said they did not come forward because the police had threatened them, and they weren’t available to Mumia during the trial.
The highest-ranking police officer on the scene of the crime has since plead guilty to corruption, and has been removed from the force. So it was a combination of the bias of the court, the ineffectiveness of Mumia’s attorney, that prevented him from calling witnesses in his favor, including his brother, who should have been a witness. We attempted years later to bring his brother into court; I had called him. But the judge ruled that if his brother came to court, he would have to go to jail on existing accusations against him, and he told me that if he were to go to jail after testifying for his brother, the police would kill him. And so he did not come.
His case now, after 18 years, is before a federal court in the United States. This is the first time that Mumia is before a judge who is not elected, and who serves for life.
And we have filed 29 separate claims that call for a new trial for Mumia. Any one of those claims should give Mumia a new trial, and we are waiting now to hear from this judge. And we will hear from him before the year is out, and we will be in court with Mumia to see whether or not he gets a new process, where a new jury and a new judge could decide whether Mumia is guilty or not.
We are convinced his innocence will be clearly shown. But we have a problem. In 1996, the law has changed, and it has changed in a way that makes Mumia’s appeal, even in the federal courts, very difficult.
It’s the problem that Shaka faced in Texas, and Mumia faces the same problem. Before 1996, Mumia would have a good chance for a new trial. Now it’s very difficult.
And so we are concerned. But there has been a major mobilization, in the United States and in other countries as well, to save Mumia. And we are hopeful that when this federal judge finally hears all the evidence, he will have the courage to set aside this 1996 law and to grant Mumia what he has been deserving for 18 years, namely a fair opportunity to prove his innocence.
Randy Alonso: You referred to the fact that poverty and race have an important bearing on the accusations, on the crimes for which people are charged.
I was reading some figures provided by U.S. newspaper editor Joel Olson, in a recently published book. He says that in the United States, it is a crime to be poor, and that the more poor people there are, the more criminals they will see. He says that there are five million Americans without housing, 37 million who do not have access to health insurance, 30 million who are illiterate, along with another 30 million who are functionally illiterate; over one million U.S. citizens are in prison, and 20% of the population lives below the poverty line. All of these figures form part of the context in which the legal and police systems operate, which have a high racial component.
Those of us who were able to see the documentary about Mumia that was aired on television last Wednesday were able to see the famous Judge Sabo, who condemned Mumia, and who repeatedly refused his appeal. Who is Sabo, and what has happened to him?
Leonard Weinglass: Judge Sabo, the judge you referred to, has been forcibly retired by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but not before he did damage to Mumia’s case. They waited until he made his rulings, which are very harmful to Mumia in his appeal. And only after he made these rulings did they forcibly retire him. He should have been retired a long time ago.
He himself was a police officer, a high-ranking police officer, for 16 years, before he became a judge. As a judge, he continued to consider himself a police officer. He was a member of the same police union as the alleged victim in Mumia’s case. We asked him to remove himself from the case because he couldn’t be fair, and he refused to do that. And so he is gone. If Mumia has a new trial, he will have a new judge. But we are still hurt by the very biased and discriminatory actions that he took in reviewing Mumia’s case.
Randy Alonso: In your opinion, aside from the discriminatory judgment, Mumia’s case became a political case as well.
Leonard Weinglass: Oh, absolutely. Mumia’s case, I believe, was a political case right from the very beginning, and has continued to be a political case, and has now gathered a great deal of support. He is the only former Black Panther on death row in the United States, he is the only broadcast journalist on death row in the United States, he is an author of three books, a man now with a Master’s degree from the University of California, a graduation speaker, a man who has written several hundred articles that have been published, and there is no doubt that this is a very prominent political case.
Randy Alonso: Thank you, Leonard. I stress this, because for those of us who have been participating in these round tables for the last several months, we have stated repeatedly that Elián’s case has also become a political case in the U.S. courts, and there have been antecedents. I think it is important that we underline this aspect.
But you referred to the movement of solidarity which has been generated in the case of Mumia, and Pam is the coordinator of an organization which has supported this movement.
Pam, how has this solidarity movement been organized around Mumia’s case, and what impact has it had?
Pam Africa: The solidarity movement is one that started in Philadelphia and went around the world. You have such people as President Jacques Chirac of France, unions... and on April 24, the day of Millions for Mumia on the West Coast, the unions shut down the entire shipping area on behalf of Mumia. So you have unions involved, you have students who are involved, who have defied the government to try to stop them from speaking out against Mumia. You have the National Association of Black Policemen, who have stood up and said they have investigated this case, and they found out that Mumia deserves a new trial, and they question a government that with.... Unions shutting down the entire west coast, when you have presidents, when you have mayors, the mayor of San Francisco to put his job on the line and state that Mumia did not have a fair trial, and demand a fair trial, when you have people take to the street and when the governor’s convention happened in 95, right after Governor Ridge signed Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death warrant, when you have people of color, when you have white people, when you have people of high ranking in society go and demonstrate at the governors convention, you know we had the CIA, the FBI, you know, all kinds of people in power with guns, and will not hesitate to use it against them, when these people went after the governor they disrupted that convention up there.
Also in San Francisco, when the president was in San Francisco it was the airing of the book Live from Death Row, thousands of people took to the streets, and there were protests about Mumia, and when they found out that the president was a few blocks away, proceeded to go there and demonstrate,. When you have college students who have also taken to the streets and have been brutally beaten, locked up, and the movement continues to grow more and more, Mumia’s desire has always been to expose the injustice and that’s exactly what he’s done. He has taken the injustice of not only the Philadelphia police brutality, but the brutality throughout the United States, around the world. The movement is one that is magnificent.
Rosemari Mealy: Let’s not forget that when, prior to Mumia being arrested, he had begun to investigate, in Philadelphia, some of the corruption within the Philadelphia police department. His commentaries on the radio station had begun to expose... that eventually the federal government had to go into Philadelphia and investigate the police there, and subsequently, as many of the lawyers here know, court trials that had sentenced people, those people had to be released. Mumia’s commentaries also had been banned from national public radio because of the power of his pen and his voice. Even inside and on death row he’s viewed as a threat still, and his latest book All Things Censored, actually the commentaries that he had organized for national public radio and through the organizing efforts of the Fraternal Order of Police, which is the body that represents police nationally, those commentaries, they did not even want to get them on the air.
So, he, even behind, on death row--as a journalist, as a stellar journalist, an award-winning journalist—he poses a threat to them, even more so.
Pam Africa: Yes, in many of the books he exposes not only the attack on blacks, but the attack on black officials, congressmen and wives and all, who was feeding the poor, the disadvantaged in Philadelphia who lived in the subway, underground, was attacked by the police.
Mumia, from death row, wrote about this case; another state senator’s wife, riding home in a car was stopped and the cops beat and banged on her windows. And you know Mumia again exposed the corruption around the world, you know, it’s in those books, also was in those books, are the brutal murders of inmates inside the prisons.
They didn’t stop Mumia’s book because of these things, I mean, when they talked about stopping his book, they never once stopped Mumia and said we’re stopping this book because you lied about the corruption within the system. They stopped that book to stop him exposing it, he was never charged with lying.
Randy Alonso: In this solidarity movement that you mentioned, Cuban organizations have also been active: the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), the Cuban Friendship Institute (ICAP), the National Jurists Union. They have issued statements at various times supporting the liberation of Abu-Jamal, along with various international organizations with headquarters here in Havana, such as the Organization for Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL) and and the Continental Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Students (OCLAE). Some of the representatives of these organizations are present here at this round table.
With respect to the specific case of Philadelphia, I have some information which says that while only 9% of the total population of Pennsylvania is African-American, the percentage of prisoners condemned to death is 62%, which is considered to be the highest rate of racial disparity in any state. A 1998 studied conducted at the University of Iowa shows that a youth who grows up in Philadelphia is 11.5 times more likely to end up on death row than in Georgia, Alabama, and other southern states, where the population is largely black. So this is the context in which the case of Mumia occurred.
I have just been informed that telephone contact has been established for an interview from our international center. Journalist Miguel Angel Masjuán is on the line with Jeff Mackler, who directs one of the coalitions for solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Over to you, Masjuán.
Miguel Angel Masjuán: We have on the line Jeff Mackler, who is the director of one of the organizations calling for the liberation of Mumia, and also one of the national coordinators for the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
We have asked him to share with us his impressions regarding recent events.
Mr. Mackler, how are you today?
Jeff Mackler: I’m fine, thank you.
Miguel Angel Masjuán: It’s a pleasure for me to talk to you. What can you tell us about Mumia and the most recent events?
Jeff Mackler: I visited Mumia on July 12, and his morale was very high. He has been following very closely the national debate which has begun in the United States regarding his case and the death sentence, because it is now very clear that there are many people who are innocent and will be sanctioned by the so-called U.S. legal system.
Mumia is very concerned about the life of Gary Graham, whose African name is Shaka Sankofa, and whose execution is scheduled for June 22. Gary Graham is innocent; there are seven eyewitnesses who can prove that he did not kill the person whose death he is being accused of. However, the law in Texas prohibits the presentation of this information, because 30 days had passed following his sentencing, and Gary has been in prison for more than 20 years.
Mumia is a very impressive person. He has been following the debate regarding the reactionary nature of the U.S. legal system, and he has also followed very closely the mass actions and demonstrations of a whole generation fighting for human and democratic rights in the United States.
He has headed up the struggle against the execution of the 3600 people who are on death row in the United States. He has made the best use possible of his time in jail, and reads all different kinds of books, history, literature. And of course, we told him about this television program that was going to be aired in Cuba; he felt very happy and asked me to convey to the Cuban people his greetings, and his support for their struggle for human and democratic rights.
As you know, Mumia, like many people in the United States, is on the side of Elián and his father, in favor of their immediate return to Cuba.
At the moment there are thousands of people who are demonstrating in support of Mumia. Yesterday we had a demonstration called Bring Back Mumia, in which 6000 people participated, and thousands in funds were raised for his cause.
He is also very much interested in the revolutionary struggle and the human rights struggle, and his defense committee has waged a struggle to save the life of the person who will be executed within a few days, in other words, Gary Graham. Mumia has headed the struggle to save his life, and his followers have joined him in this struggle.
We spent two hours talking about all kinds of things, about literature, and about the whole struggle being waged all around the world, and by prominent Americans, in support of his cause. He is a unique person. He has been in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day during the last years of his imprisonment, and he has criticized the hypocrisy of the U.S. legal system.
We have also talked about what he will do when we are finally able to get him out of jail. He said he would like to go out and walk around for two hours, go out to eat, and visit Cuba, so I think you should be prepared to receive Mumia when he is a free man and to share with him the freedom that the Cuban people has gained at such a high price.
Miguel Angel Masjuán: Thank you for your cooperation. As you know, at the moment here in Cuba we have a special program on Mumia and we hope that he will be freed as soon as possible. Thank you.
And now we go back to our round table after listening to Jeff Mackler.
(end of telephone interview)
Randy Alonso: We have heard these telephone statements.
We have been discussing the race issue, and how it affects justice in the United States, but this does not only happen in Philadelphia. We have a report from CNN, from Houston, which says that at least nine men have been condemned to death in Texas, following the recommendations of a psychologist, based on the race of the accused, according to a judicial report. This draws attention once again to the use of capital punishment in this state.
The death sentence that led to the investigation was overturned on Monday by the United States Supreme Court—in other words, last Monday. Phychologist Walter Quijano had testified that Argentine day-worker Saldaño, charged with murder, was a potential threat to society, due to his Hispanic origin.
Texas has executed 218 people since 1982, many more than in other U.S. state.
We were saying that Mumia was not the only innocent person to be sentenced to death. In Texas, for example, there is also the case of African-American Shaka Sankofa, who Mackler spoke about during his phone interview.
Sankofa has been unjustly charged and sentenced for the murder of a white man, and his execution is scheduled to take place in three days from now, on June 22.
These are some statements made recently by Shaka and some of his relatives, included in this short video segment:
Shaka’s attorney: There is no doubt that Gary Graham could die as a result of a crime that he didn’t commit.
Shaka’s family: They might be making a mistake.
If you don’t have money, there is no justice.
Somebody has to do something.
If there were justice, things would be different.
James Dixon: The issue is whether or not Gary Graham was condemned as a result of a crime and after a fair trial. According to that mistaken affidavit, the investigator that was hired on his behalf, according to him, Gary Graham didn’t have a fair trial.
Listen to this: I remember that from the very beginning, the prosecutor said that Gary Graham was guilty, and that affected my investigation. This might be unjust, but this is the way it happened.
Doug O’Brien: Now listen. This legal team acted on their own; the whole judicial system depends on the prosecutors and their work, which is to investigate all cases and to represent the clients the best way they can.
Chester Thornton: This is real proof of the statement made in the affidavit.
Gary Graham: I wasn’t too worried about it at the time, because there were some other robberies, and as it was said, it was supposed that I was guilty of the robberies and therefore that I had been guilty of the murder.
Doug O’Brien: The concept of interrogation is one of the most important ones in our country, and of course they took advantage of this in the trial and after this, any person could be sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.
Dennis Graham: His attorneys did not act on his behalf, nor did the lead witness. According to what they said, there was no other option but to declare him guilty.
Randy Alonso: These were statements made by Shaka Sankofa and other individuals involved in the case.
I want to clarify to our viewers that Shaka is also known as Gary Graham, which is why you will hear both names used.
We have here with us Gloria Rubac, who has been very active in the movement for solidarity with Shaka in Texas and has also been involved in general with the issue of prisons and the death sentence in this state, which, as we were saying, has executed more people in recent years that any other in the United States.
Gloria, I would like you to refer briefly to Shaka’s case; how he is, his frame of mind, because as we said, he is scheduled to be executed in three days; what efforts have been made, how the solidarity movement is working, and any other relevant information about Texas you can offer us.
Gloria Rubac: Well, first of all, to talk about Shaka’s case, I was so struck by what Leonard was saying about Mumia, because there’s so many parallels.
Shaka was arrested when he was 17 years old. According to many international laws, this is not supposed to happen – that juveniles are put on death row. But in the United States it does.
There were seven witnesses to the murder of the man that Shaka is accused of killing, only one of them was ever called at his trial. Shaka had a court-appointed attorney who was incompetent and unfortunately has over a dozen people on death row in Texas. We saw in the video, the investigator for the attorney who was told, "Don’t bother to investigate, because the man is guilty."
In Shaka’s case there was no evidence, except this one woman who claims to have seen him. There was no blood, there was no fingerprints, there was no confession, there was no hair, nothing put him at this crime, except one woman who mistakenly said that it was Shaka who committed the crime. Out of the seven eyewitnesses to the crime, she was the farthest away and saw him for three or four seconds. Other witnesses saw the crime take place and saw the person who did it – some of them for 15-30 minutes while he was in the grocery store where the crime took place.
Shaka is from Houston, Texas, which is Harris County. Houston has executed so many people that if it were a state it would be third behind Texas and then Virginia, as the highest number of executions.
The District Attorney in Texas, like you were talking about politics, is very proud of his record of executing people and race and class play an extremely large role. The District Attorney usually will not even charge and try somebody for capital murder, which carries the death penalty, if they have their own attorney. But Shaka, like 90% of the people on death row in the Unites States, have a court-appointed attorney. He was from a poor family, he’s African-American, a very sad and unfortunately I guess, typical of people on death row family in that his mother was mentally ill, his father was an alcoholic, and by the age of 17 he had two children and had been living on his own for most of his life. After 19 years though, on death row, I have to say that Shaka is a different person, and he has become not only politically aware and politically active, but a revolutionary. And for these reasons, even more so, the state of Texas wants to execute him. But also for these reasons, like Mumia, he has developed support all over the world.
Today, the show has been shown on June 19, which is not only the anniversary of the Rosenbergs’ execution, but it’s June teenth in Texas. June 19 was the day that Texas slaves received the word that they were free and it took two years, after the civil war had ended for this to come to Texas.
So this weekend there have been many, many events in Texas celebrating June teenth, celebrating, but also protesting because of the impending execution of Gary Graham, Shaka, in three days.
The Texas Republicans just entered their convention in Houston. There were protests every day outside this convention, and in fact our group participated in the June teenth parade. We had 5000 posters with a smiling picture of Gary Graham, when he was a juvenile, before he went to death row, that were distributed all over downtown Houston.
The movement to save Shaka is growing day by day just as the movement against the death penalty is growing.
And you talked about CNN, all of the major... I see Newsweek magazine... all the media in the United States is looking at the death penalty now, and looking at Texas, because Texas is the execution capital of the world.
George Bush has executed 133 people in the five years that he’s been governor – this is a record that hasn’t been met for over a hundred years. And Texas has executed 230 people, so we have a big job in Texas, but fortunately people are looking now not only at the innocent on death row, and people like Shaka, but also those that may be guilty and did not get a fair trial, did not have an attorney, didn’t have money. And now we’re seeing, like CNN reported, that just because you are African-American or Latino, this has been used to sentence you to death because this expert witness said – one of the questions you have to answer in Texas to be given the death penalty is, is this person going to be a danger in the future. And now it has come out that Texas has used expert witnesses to say yes, this person is going to be a future danger because they are Latino, or because they are African-American. This racism goes all through the system in capital cases, capital murder cases.
Victor Saldaño from Argentina, is not the only one that fortunately whose sentence has been overturned because of this racist testimony.
One out of ten people in prison in the United States are in the state of Texas. Not just on death row where there’s 460 people, but there’s over 150,000 people in prison. The majority of those on death row, and the majority of those in prison, are people of color.
Like Mumia, in Gary’s case, it’s not just Texas law, but it’s also the 1996 law that Clinton approved, that is keeping the new evidence about Shaka’s case from being told.
In 1993 Shaka’s attorneys – he finally got good attorneys, and he was fortunate to get some of the best - they did hundreds and hundreds of hours of investigation and came up with - out of six eyewitnesses to the crime - they came up with so much that would prove him innocent, yet well, in 1993 they went to federal court and said – look what we’ve found, this will prove Shaka innocent. The courts told the attorneys- well, you haven’t finished in the State Court, finish there and then come back to Federal Court. The State Courts turned him down.
They took this information back to Federal Courts in 1996, but by that time Clinton had already signed this new law – the Anti-Terrorism and effective Death Penalty Act – and the courts said, sorry, we can’t work with it now. So no court has ever heard the new evidence, heard the six witnesses that all give a very similar description of the killer – and it’s not a description that matches Shaka Sankofa. It’s just too bad.
So the only legal option now that’s pending is that, last Wednesday, his attorneys filed an original writ of habeas corpus with the US Supreme Court. This is not done often, and it’s not ruled on favorably. The last time it was ruled on favorably was in the 1920s. This is his only legal option. Other than this writ of habeas corpus, Shaka Sankoffa’s life is in the hands of George Bush, the governor of Texas – who is called Governor Death – and the Board of Pardons and Paroles, all of whom were appointed by George Bush. They can either grant him clemency or grant him a conditional clemency or reverse... say that, okay, we can look at the evidence and say that you’re not guilty.
His attorneys are asking for conditional clemency. We hope that before Thursday this will happen.
The movement is strong, and Shaka is very strong. Like Mumia, he knows that his life is in the hands of the people, and today there are demonstrations, on June 10, all over the world. Bush will be in Palo Alto, California – there’s going to be demonstrations there. We’re optimistic that Shaka will be freed, and actually we feel like we’re seeing the beginning of the end of the death penalty.
Randy Alonso: This is another example of the injustice of the U.S. legal system, and a very immediate one, because we’re speaking about a person that could perhaps be executed within a matter of hours. And as you said, the June 12 issue of Newsweek devoted a large part of the magazine to the death penalty in the United States. It says right here, "Rethinking the Death Penalty", based on the articles that have been published on this topic in the United States and the studies that have been coming out. Here we have an article from the CNN interactive service, which says that a recent study reveals that the death penalty system in the United States is full of flaws, based on the number of appeals that have been filed.
The study, carried out by Colombia University in New York, found that the appeals were successful in two-thirds of the cases used as an example, from 1973 to 1995. In other words, two-thirds of the death sentences were overturned because of mistakes committed during the process.
The main author of the study, James Liebman, said that most of the cases were so badly structured that they had to be redone. As a result, the study indicates that the death penalty system is unsustainable in the United States, mainly because of the errors that lead to this sentence in these cases.
Now we have on line another important personality from the United States, who has been willing to contribute to our round table discussion today.
Miguel Angel Masjuán has contacted the famous U.S. actor Danny Glover, who has been an active participant in the movements for the defense of Mumia and Chakka. He has been willing to express his opinions to our round table discussion of today.
Miguel Angel Masjuán: We have on the line the famous actor Danny Glover, and we will be speaking to him about the round table discussion we are holding today about Shaka Sankofa, the most recent events, and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mr. Glover, it is a pleasure to have you on line. We would like to listen to your opinion about the latest events with regards to Shaka Sankofa and Abu-Jamal.
Danny Glover: It’s really a pleasure for me to participate in this kind of panel and to be able to talk to the Cuban people about the situation here with regards to Shaka Sankofa and Jamal – a case which I have been working on for seven years now.
Seven years ago he had a stay of execution, he’s been on death row for nineteen years now, and there has come a time in which the execution date is approaching, foreseen for June 22, I mean this Thursday. At present we are doing everything we can to stop this procedure.
There was only one eyewitness who allegedly identified Shaka Sankofa. We were trying to introduce new evidence that may prove him innocent, but this has not been allowed as yet – we have not been able to do that. We hope that the judicial system and even the influence of Governor Bush will give us this opportunity.
He has declared his innocence; he has been in this process for 19 years, and the procedure during the trial has been inadequate.
We are really at a very difficult moment and we are really doing everything that we can.
Miguel Angel Masjuán: Are you confident that you will be able to make it?
Danny Glover: Yes, we are confident that we will be able to keep up with our struggle, we are confident that Shaka Sankofa is innocent.
The system here is quite efficient with regard to executions – it’s like a kind of death machine. We have gone down this road before, but we are confident that we have done enough, we have organized, we have mobilized many people. And we think that we will be able to keep up this struggle to raise awareness among the American people and we hope to reach a successful outcome.
Miguel Angel Masjuán: Thank you very much, it has been a pleasure to speak to you, we thank you for your cooperation. Very soon we will be able to contact you again.
(end of telephone interview)
We have just listened to actor Danny Glover, live from New York, expressing his opinion on the case of Shaka Sankofa, who is supposed to be executed very soon, according to the American justice system. Now we will return to our round table discussion.
Randy Alonso: Thank you, Masjuán, for this interview with actor Danny Glover, and for the opportunity to hear his opinions on the case of Shaka Sankofa.
While preparing this round table discussion I was able to read some of the book Criminal Injustice, which deals with the American prisons and the injustices in the penal system of that country. And I found out that the United States has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the world – around 519 out of every 100,000 inhabitants of the United States are in prison. And although African-American men make up only 6% of the total U.S. population, according to 1996 studies, they account for close to 50% of the prisoners in that country. That is to say, if the incarceration rate for the country in general is 519 per 100,000, it is 3822 per 100,000 in the case of African-American men.
One of the guests on our panel today is Dr. Lennox, a highly prestigious lawyer in the United States who has defended numerous political prisoners and has made a major contribution to the movement for the defense of African-Americans.
I would like to ask, Professor Lennox, your opinion on the impact of racism in the U.S. penal system, the injustices that are committed, and the situation of political prisoners today in the United States.
Lennox Hinds: If we look at the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, we actually see someone who is an example of the racist and political application of the law.
In the United States the law is used as a mechanism of control, and in many situations there is the perception of justice which confuses many. And the United States government holds this out to the world that it is the champion of law, it is the champion of human rights. But from its very inception, from the very inception of the United States of America, in the very fabric of the country, we see racism at play. Starting with the constitution of the United States and the preamble to the constitution, where the so-called founding fathers stood in the gravest hypocrisy on land that was stolen from the Native American people. All of them slave-holders, George Washington, Tom Jefferson, Ben Franklin, all of the so-called founding fathers, they were the arch hypocrites, using the law as a shield, so to speak, to in fact insulate their racism.
And so when we look at how the law operates today, we must look backwards, to see the hypocrisy in the law. And Mumia Abu-Jamal is only one of, similarly to Shaka Sankofa, of the victims of the racist application of the law.
In 1976 we filed a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. And in that petition – this is a copy of the petition here. This petition, with its appendices, we showed, that the United States government, in the administration of justice violated the rights of national minorities – not only African-Americans, but Hispanics, native Americans and Asian Americans.
It is unquestionable, when you examine how the law operates, if you look at who is in prison, you will see, certainly, that the vast majority of people are poor. And then if you look geographically around the United States you will see that in the northeast you have blacks and Puerto Ricans, if you look in the southwest, if you look in Arizona, New Mexico, you see the majority of Chicanos. If you look in a state like Minnesota, where you have a high percentage of native Americans, in the urban centers you find the highest percentage are native Americans in the jails. And so the argument cannot be that all of these national minorities are, in fact, criminals. It is the criminalization, based upon color.
And so we look at Mumia, in terms of not only the question of race, but also the question of politics, because he was a victim of the counter-intelligence program of the FBI. And you’ve heard from our other panelists here the issue of the Panthers; Rosemari Mealy talked about the targeting of the Black Panther party.
And with J. Edgar Hoover – J. Edgar Hoover, in 1967, came up with a scheme. His view was that those individuals who were struggling against their oppressive condition in the United States ought to be targeted and destroyed. But he did not only focus on the Panthers, he focussed on people like Harry Belafonte, Martin Luther King, Eartha Kitt; there were a number, and you have somebody like Sammy Davis Jr. Now no one in their clear thinking would consider Sammy Davis Jr. as dangerous. Yet these were individuals who were targeted for surveillance, and then individuals such as the Panthers were targeted for assassination.
And so you had the effects of this, which has resulted in political prisoners within the United States. You have people like Leonard Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement, who has been in jail for over 25 years. You have Sundiata Acoli, who was a former Black Panther, in prison for over 27 years. You have Monda We Langa and Ed Poindexter in prison for over 30 years; we have Sekou Odinga in prison for over 20 years, you have Mutulu Shakur, and I could go down the list. The United States denies that there are political prisoners in the country, but the evidence is indisputable that those political prisoners exist.
And if we also look at Mumia’s case, he is a victim of police crime. The police in the United States are the only government employees who have the power and authority to use force to compel citizens to obey – including deadly force. And it is in the use of deadly force that you see the members of minority communities, who are victimized by the police. And this is not just in New York, it’s an example of some of the most gross manifestations of it, but it is throughout the United States.
And it is not just a new phenomenon; if you go back to 1968, the Kerner Commission reports, back then, in their findings, said that the police represents an oppressive instrumentality, as perceived by the minority communities. Within the white communities in the United States, the police are viewed as individuals who walk little children across the road, who give them a lollipop from time to time. But in the minority communities they are the ones who, in fact, squeeze the bullet; they are the ones who put a baton to somebody’s head; they are the ones who put their feet at the neck of the minorities. And that is the difference of the reality of life in the United States.
And let me finally talk about the death penalty.
The death penalty has been found to violate the international convention against civil and political rights. It is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is in violation of the International Convention Against Racial Discrimination. All of these instruments that have been signed, and now ratified by the United States of America.
But in the case of Shaka Sankofa, who at the age of 17, was arrested for a crime that was committed at that time. It is the use of the death penalty to kill our kids, to kill young people which is the most egregious. Because again, if you look at the history of the United States, there are 38 states that have the death penalty; 13 of those states have no minimum age for the execution of an individual based upon the time that they committed the offence. Ten states specify a minimum age of 18; 14 states set ages between 13 and 17. And when you look at who has been killed, the two youngest kids who were ever executed in the United States have been 10-year-olds. One black and one Native American in 1855 and 1857.
Leonard Weinglass told you about statistics with respect to 18 out of 3,600 individuals executed. There hasn’t been a single white man in the history of the United States, who has ever been executed for raping a black woman; yet when rape was considered a capital offence, out of the 455 people who were executed for the crime of rape, 405 were black. And so we have to look at the law, and the hypocrisy of the use of the law, and the illusion of justice under the law as it has been manifested in the United States, as we examine these various cases.
Randy Alonso: Thank you very much. I think that this has been a very broad and concrete explanation of some cases indicating the level of discrimination and injustice which exists today in U.S. society. And how the blacks, the Latinos, the Chicanos, the native Americans of the United States are discriminated against because of the color of their skin and also their level of poverty or wealth within that society.
We were talking about Texas a while ago, and together with Texas, New York, and also Florida, the state of California has one of the highest crime rates in the United States, and is also one of the states where the greatest injustices are committed.
Gloria comes from California, and I would like to ask her about her opinion on the justice system in that state.
Gloria La Riva: Well, it would be very hard to say which state is the most repressive of the ones that you have mentioned – certainly California, Texas, Virginia, New York, Pensylvania – but California has the largest population of 32 million people, and yet in absolute and relative terms it has the largest penal system in the world. There are now over 188, 000 prisoners in California.
And again, as the other people have spoken – Lennox and others – the issue of race is one of the major factors. Although 60% of assaults, rapes and murder are committed by white men in California, the rate of incarceration for the same crimes for Black men is 17 times that of white men. So it’s a very high percentage of African-American and Latinos in California who are in prison.
California has been the state of a great deal of experimentation and first application – for example the three-strikes law, which provides for the third conviction -- it can even be a non-violent crime, a felony -- can place somebody in prison for life, with no chance of parole. And this has led to a great increase in the imprisonment. There has been maximum-maximum security prisons – they are called control units – and they exist throughout the country, but in California there is one in particular, which I mentioned in a round table before – it’s called Pelican Bay Prison, in the very northern part of the state. Fifty-five percent of the prisoners there are Chicano or other Latino, 55% - most of them come from Los Angeles, because they’ve been identified as gang members.
And it’s interesting to examine Los Angeles, California, because the Los Angeles police department has done a huge assault on Latino men, and African-American men, but especially of Latinos in recent years, where they have identified in police records 112,000 young Latino men as gang members. If you are on a street corner, you can be a gang member, with other friends. If you are picked up, stopped by the police, you can be identified as a gang member. So this is why so many of them are sent to Pelican Bay prison, where they are placed in isolation.
Recently in California Los Angeles there has been a big scandal that has broken out in the Los Angeles police department, where it turns out now, after the confession of a number of police, several thousand people who are behind bars in California – mostly men, mostly African-American, Latino men, were falsely convicted through coercion of witnesses, through planted evidence, drugs, by the police on young people.
There’s one case that opened up the scandal, and it was a young man in his 20s, a Latino man named Javier Francisco Ovando, and the police who shot him was a Latino as well, but this police was caught with eight pounds of cocaine, he was selling eight pounds of cocaine that he had taken from the accused person. And they decided to target this man, this Latino man; one evening they picked him up – this is the policeman’s confession – they picked him up, shot him in the head, he fell, they picked him up again, shot him in the chest. As soon as he was stabilized in the hospital they brought him in on a hospital bed to the court house, charged him with attempted murder, even though this man had done nothing – he was a man on the street, identified as a gang member – charged him with attempted murder. He was sentenced to about 20 years to life, and because the police was caught with the cocaine, he admitted to this crime and admitted to many more crimes, now many police are under indictment.
This young man was asked by the newspapers, about three months ago; they asked him, when you were on trial and convicted of attempted murder by the police, falsely accused, why didn’t you say anything? He said my lawyers told me nobody would believe me, so don’t even bother telling your story. And it turns out that there are many, many young people – there have been actual murders by the police. So here we have a very corrupt police force in Los Angeles, a prison in northern California filled with African-American, Latino men; who knows how many lives have been ruined.
But I want to bring up one thing quickly, and that is that we live in the richest country in the world, the United States, those of us who are here. The richest state in the United States is California. And yet why are there 2 million prisoners? Why is there so much poverty? There is no excuse for poverty in the United States.
The unemployment rate has gone down a little bit, it’s about almost 5%; and yet even if you have a job, it’s almost impossible to live in California. In San Francisco, California, the average price of a home is now 460,000 dollars. Nobody can buy a home if you’re a worker, you can hardly live on your wages. So more and more people, who have low-paying jobs, some get involved in economic crime, but some are criminalized for being poor, and so the prisons are filling up with poor people. Some women who engage in prostitution can spend years in prison; drug addiction; there are many socioeconomic problems because of the economic system of capitalism.
You take a man like Bill Gates who has 100 billion dollars of personal wealth, he couldn’t even spend a billion dollars in his lifetime, but he has more than enough money to solve all the economic problems in our country of the poor. But he is rich because he’s made the poor poor – he employs prisoners, for pennies an hour, to produce his products, to make Bill Gates a wealthy, wealthy man. So that’s the injustice.
Randy Alonso: It was in California, precisely, where a great many acts of police violence were reported in the early years of this decade, and last decade as well. We will always remember, for example, the case of Rodney King.
But in New York, as well, there was recently a highly publicized case, that of Amadou Diallo. Rosemari was covering this incident in New York, and so she knows the details of this case. She can tell us a bit about police brutality, which is another facet of racism in U.S. society, and how it is manifested in the state of New York.
Rosemari Mealy: Thank you, Randy. The increasing social polarization is a global trend, we have to look at it as a global trend, and if you do that, you’ll find that in New York you have one of the sharpest indicators in the United States.
And this social reality that we’re talking about here has everything to do with policing of the working class in each of the cities, communities, hamlets, wherever we live.
And I preference my remarks with that statement, in looking at what actually happened to Amadou Diallo.
Amadou Diallo was a young man who was only 20 years of age, he was an immigrant from Guinea, Africa. And Amadou Diallo actually represents a trend of phenomenon in the United States, where you have this vast change of the immigration process taking place.
And we’ve seen how, in New York alone, over the past two decades over one million immigrants have arrived in New York City. So you have a situation in which the city has become poorer, it has become darker in hue, and we’ve seen where the original residents have engaged in what is known as, quote, "white flight", where masses of whites move out of the city, who cannot deal with the racism and quote, the "browning of America". The schools are overcrowded in the city and we’ve talked about the unemployment rates and what we have here.
Amadou Diallo found himself in that kind of a situation where you have a police force in New York city which comprises 38,000 police, 38,000 police, police the city of New York, and only 11.4% of that police force is black, and something like around 13% is Latino.
The racism then of those who are predominant in policing, manifests itself in what is known as police brutality.
On February 4, when Amadou was murdered, and we say that he was actually executed in cold blood, he was supposed to have been a suspect in a, quote, "rape situation". The police approached him and in his own way of attempting to identify himself, he held up his wallet; subsequently in doing that he received shots in his body that have been immortalized in the words of the musician Bruce Springsteen, who has attempted to take what is happening in the city by using the culture to describe what is happening.
We thought that given the history of New York, given the fact that the Federal, the U.S. justice department had already begun an investigation of police brutality in the city, over three years ago, that some of their activities would be curbed, after the murders of the elderlies such as Eleanor Bumpers, we saw the situation in which Latinos were shot down, and it’s just been a series of murders committed by the police.
In Amadou Diallo’s case there was a real movement demanding justice for him.
Again, as Lennox has talked about how the court system is used in a political sense, rather than the trial taking place in New York City that involved a policeman who had murdered Amadou, the trial was moved, we call that the venue was moved, to the northern part of New York state, where the predominance of the residents in that part of the state were white. So you have a predominant all-white jury, with the exception of a few blacks who actually tried these four policemen, and those four policemen were exonerated. So Amadou Diallo’s murderers, as with the murderers of so many countless other blacks in New York, are free.
And this rage that the city and the country is experiencing now, is creating a situation where youths are organizing against police brutality, against the criminality of the police, and again justice perhaps is looked upon only as taking place in the streets, and the courts then become supplementary to struggling for justice.
Randy Alonso: I think that the case of Rodney King and Diallo are only the tip of the iceberg of discrimination and police brutality in U.S. society, not only in New York, but also in many of the states of the union. And this is also reflected in the courts and in the prisons.
I have information here that says that African-Americans are given much longer sentences than whites.
In the federal prison system, it says, sentences for African-Americans are close to 20% longer that those given to whites for similar crimes, and more than 60% of women prisoners in the United States are African-American or Latino.
In the video that was aired Wednesday, Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke about his impressions of U.S. prisons. I would like for us to listen to that excerpt again.
Mumia Abu-Jamal: The term I like to use is a bright shining hell, over 200 million dollars construction.
The cells are similar in a sense to this very room. Once someone closes that door, there is no sound, there is the sound of silence in your cell.
It is difficult, verging on impossible, for you to conduct a conversation with anyone other than the man who is directly adjacent to you, right next to you, in fact, because there are no bars, there is no ambient sound, there is the sound of an air conditioner, and the sound of silence, or the silence you create in your own cell. So the sense of isolation is all but total, you see, because you’re cut off from even the silent presence of people.
(end of video)
Randy Alonso: Monica, after listening to these words by Mumia, what can you say about the current situation in the U.S. prisons, the so-called prison industry, and what is the situation of women in U.S. correctional facilities?
Monica Moorehead: Well, just to begin, there is a racist war going on inside of the United States.
You have heard part of what this war is all about. But this war has been carried out against the poor and the oppressed in the United States, especially in the form of the prison industrial complex, meaning that prison construction, and the prison industry, along with slave labor, have been fused together to create what is regarded today as the fastest growing profitable sector in the U.S. economy. First of all, who are the victims of the prison industrial complex, which we have also heard pretty much during this round table discussion? That is, there are two million people in U.S. prisons, in federal, state and local prisons. They are expecting by the end of this year for the prison population to skyrocket to 2.07 million prisoners. That means that 25% of the world’s incarcerated people are in the United States, which is the highest percentage of any country in the world.
There are tens of thousands of prisoners in the United States who are illiterate, who are drug addicts, and who are also mentally ill.
In terms of women prisoners in the United States, they constitute the fastest growing population of prisoners, mainly due to the severity of drug sentencing, of non-violent drug convictions, along with the elimination of welfare. Many of the women who are in prison today are mothers, single mothers. A lot of women who are in prison have their babies in prison, which we feel is a crime against humanity.
You have in these prisons male guards who, on a daily, hourly basis, sexually abuse and rape women prisoners. And they do this with complete impunity.
Just recently a number of women in New York jails came forth to expose this situation, which is very brave of them to do, because usually what happens is that it is the women who again become the brunt of attacks by the guards, or they get longer sentences, or the abuse continues to grow. But it was very courageous of these women to come forth, because at least now, the masses in the United States know that this is happening, especially in New York State.
In the prisons you have a criminalization of a whole generation of young people. In the prisons, especially private prisons, which is really the main factor for this prison industrial complex today, the youth are being targeted for incarceration.
In fact, it’s been quoted in statistics that the so-called crime rate amongst young people has decreased by 9.3%, but the incarceration of youth has increased by more than 10%. So there’s something wrong in terms of that correlation.
Who’s behind the growth of the prison industrial complex? It’s mainly Wall Street firms and banks that finance the construction of private prisons in the United States.
By the end of this year, 41 billion dollars would have been spent in the building of private prisons in this country. And that’s mainly Shearson-Leason, American Express, and other corporations that buy and sell stocks on Wall Street, that are behind this new wave of sweatshops in the United States. The United States corporations no longer have to close down factories in this country and go to Mexico or Puerto Rico or Indonesia, or some other oppressed country, in order to carry out slave labor. All they have to do is go to the next state and build a prison, and have the prisoners work for between 23 cents to a dollar or two dollars an hour, to make products and goods that unionized workers would normally make.
And we feel that this is a real threat to union organizing and to the unions in the United States, because the impact of that is to drive down the wages of all workers, and really to destroy the union movement in the United States. So we feel very strongly that it is important for the union movement to take up this issue of slave labor in these prisons, and to organize prisoners into unions, because these are unemployed workers who are forced, because of economic deprivation, to go into prisons in the first place. You have telephone companies like IT&T and Sprint that actually have profited off of prisoners in the United States because in the prisons, the prisoners are forced to make collect calls to their loved ones. And every time they have to make a call, these telephone conglomerates charge three dollars per call. This creates tremendous profits for the telephone conglomerates. They have put out telephone books in terms of promoting this type of slave labor amongst the various prison industries throughout the United States. We also don’t want to let the federal government off the hook in terms of its role regarding prison growth in the United States.
The federal government since 1996 has spent more money building prisons than they have on building universities. So this tells you what this government has in store for young people and for future generations in this country. What they are saying is that we would rather put young people into prison than to educate and provide jobs in a healthy future for young people in the United States.
In terms of drug sentencing in the United States, we talked about how women are being driven more and more into the prisons because of the severity of drug sentencing, but for black men, they are really the main targets of the severe drug sentencing in the United States.
In fact, Human Rights Watch, which is a progressive group that does many studies in terms of social problems inside the United States, put out a study last week stating that black men are 13 times more likely to be sentenced to longer sentences than white men, based on drug convictions, although white males constitute five times more of the drug dealers in the United States.
In Illinois, which has the most severe sentencing of black men because of drug convictions, a black man is 57 times more likely to be convicted of possession of drugs or drug dealing than white men. They have a 90% rate of incarceration in Illinois along these lines.
By 2006, the federal prison population is expected to increase by 50%. That means that at this particular time, there are 130,000 people in the federal prisons in this country, and by 2006, that’s going to jump to 200,000 people. And this is again due to the severe drug sentencing, the elimination of parole at the federal level, and also the lack of drug rehabilitation.
Drug rehabilitation programs in the United States have been virtually wiped out. So the so-called solution by the government, with support from Wall Street firms and so forth, is to drive the poor, drive drug addicts into prison. Because again, the mental institutions and hospitals and drug rehab programs have been shut down. Why? Because they don’t make a profit. They don’t make a profit for the capitalists in the United States.
To put this succinctly, in the United States, the prison industrial complex is not about providing rehabilitation for those who have carried out antisocial acts or any other types of crimes, it is really about repression. And there is an economic basis for this repression, and that is the capitalist system. This is a system, as we all know, that is based on making profits at all costs, at the expense of providing needs for human beings.
Prisoners in the United States produce, in terms of the value of goods, 1.1 billion dollars worth. So you can see that this is something that the capitalists, they are just foaming at the mouth in terms of making all of these profits, and they don’t care how they do it, as long as they can line their pockets with more and more money at the expense of human beings. It is a really insidious situation going on inside the United States. Mumia has spoken about this many, many times, Shaka also. We feel that Mumia and Shaka and so many other political prisoners in this country are really the face of this racist repression that’s going on inside of the prisons. Mumia is the face of the struggle against police brutality in the United States. This is why we feel that the United States government, along with the ruling class that props up the U.S. government, they really want Mumia silenced, rather than his death, because Mumia has refused to stop speaking out against injustice. And even at the expense of his own individual situation.
For example, when there was a strike going on last year or a couple of years ago of ABC workers, in New York City, who were fighting for better health benefits, and Mumia had the opportunity to go on a very prominent national TV program called 20/20, with Sam Donaldson. These workers were striking against ABC, he had the opportunity to go on national TV amongst millions of people to tell his side of the story, and he refused to cross the picket line. He is such an honorable person, and he is always standing up for the rights of workers and poor people.
And this is why we feel he is so important to our movement, and that we have to continue to intensify the struggle, to win a new trial for Mumia, because really, although we feel that he should be free, he should have been freed, he should never have been convicted 18 years ago, or even charged with the murder of this policeman, that for the masses of people in the United States whose minds are so controlled by the capitalist media, by ABC, CBS, NBC, who brainwash them on a daily basis, in terms of demonizing prisoners inside the walls, that they are criminals and we have to keep them shut up because they’re a threat to society, this is what the masses in the United States are inundated with, day in and day out. We have to say, this man needs a new trial, this is the only way we’re going to be able to free him, is through a new trial. And people can understand that, that’s a level that people can understand, because if we bring out all of the suppressed evidence around Mumia’s case, in terms of what was explained by Mr. Weinglass and others, this makes people think that, gee, this man didn’t have a fair trial, and doesn’t he deserve, doesn’t he have a right, doesn’t anybody have a right to a new trial? If there has been suppressed evidence, and all of the political machinations that surround Mumia’s case, once people hear this, then they begin to question not only what happened to Mumia, but what’s happening with the legal system inside the United States.
Because ultimately, that’s what we want people to think about, all of the injustices that go on day in and day out in the United States, because, I tell you, people really do not know, a lot of people do not know. And so, ever since 1998, once the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court refused Mumia’s appeal for the second time, the Mumia movement decided to strategize and push forth a program of saying that Mumia has a right to a new trial, that that would be one of the main slogans of the Mumia movement, as a way of broadening out the support for Mumia. And we want to make every effort to do that. We’ve done it with the various demonstrations, we had a magnificent rally at the theater at Madison Square Garden, on May 7, where 6000 people came out, all of the speeches Mumia has done at all of the different commencement graduation exercises; this has really helped tremendously in terms of broadening the support out and to help make Mumia’s name a household name in the United States.
Randy Alonso: Thank you for your comments, Monica. You said something which I think is very important, that Mumia has said, that his voice cannot be silenced, and it is true.
And for the conclusion of our round table, we have a very moving moment. Mumia was informed that this round table would take place today, and he sent a message from prison to our round table and a message to the people of Cuba.
Mumia Abu-Jamal: ¡Viva John Africa!
¡Viva Cuba libre!
Viva la Revolución!
Sisters and brothers of Cuba:
Thanks for the invitation and the opportunity to speak to you. I am called Mumia and I am a political prisoner of the United States.
This country speaks about democracy and justice and liberty, but it is the Prison House of Nations; a place where over two million men, women and juveniles are being caged in American prisons and jails; a place of repression, racism, and bitter class conflict. A place where police shoot unarmed black men, like Amadou Diallo, by firing 41 shots, for the high crime of being black in white America. Amadou Diallo didn't know it, but he was on Death Row! So much for American justice.
And what of Cubans here in America? I've met many of them in Pennsylvania prisons who are doing time in U.S. jails, with no end date, because they are Marielitos. No matter how much time a judge sentenced them to, they will never be released from prison -- Cubans under American justice.
Over 3,000 men, women and juveniles wait for death on America's Death Rows. Most with no lawyers, some with lawyers who slept during their client's trial, others with cops who lied to concoct confessions, with blacks routinely still removed from juries. American justice.
Mis hermanos y hermanas de Cuba!
Gracias por esta oportunidad.
The struggle for freedom continues here.
Venceremos! Ona Move! Long Live John Africa!
For America's Death Row, que dice Mumia Abu-Jamal
Randy Alonso: It has been a privilege for our round table to have heard this message from Mumia in prison, and also spoken in Spanish, through a great effort, so that our people could listen to his message directly. And I think this is the best way to conclude our round table, which has analyzed the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and other cases which are proof of racism and segregation which unjustly condemn people in the United States, and the racist system in the United States.
I would also like to remind you that today, June 19, we commemorate 47 years since the murder of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and I would like to conclude by reading the poem written by Ethel to her sons, shortly before she was executed:
You shall know, my sons, shall know
Why we leave the song unsung,
The book unread, the work undone
To rest beneath the sod.
Mourn no more, my sons, no more
Why the lies and smears were framed,
The tears we shed, the hurt we bore
To all shall be proclaimed.
Earth shall smile, my sons, shall smile
And green above our resting place,
The killing end, the world rejoice
In brotherhood and peace.
Work and build, my sons, and build
A monument to love and joy,
To human worth, to faith we kept
For you, my sons, for you.
For us, for Cuba, for the people of the United States, so that the bells will no longer toll because of abuse, discrimation, and injustice, we will keep up the battle.
Thank you very much.