PHILADELPHIA – Supporters from across the tri-state area and Boston gathered in West Philadelphia to celebrate the 69th birthday of activist, journalist, and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal on April 23, 2023, Mumia’s birthday is on April 24, 2023. Supporters in Philly joined with supporters in cities worldwide to celebrate his life and legacy on the back of recent losses in court and the death of his wife of 40 years in December 2022.
Mumia was convicted in 1981, and in 1983 he was sentenced to the death penalty for the killing of police officer Daniel Faulkner during a traffic stop involving Mumia’s brother William Cook. The trial was fraught with prosecutorial, judicial misconduct, inconsistencies, and racial bias.
Exculpatory evidence was withheld from Mumia’s legal team during the trial, including witnesses that contradicted the police narrative and information regarding payments promised to witnesses and favors granted to another witness in her criminal case.
Mumia claims he was beaten and tortured during his arrest before being treated for a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Three witnesses testified Mumia admitted to the shooting. Yet, when the arresting officers’ notes were examined, no such admissions were logged, despite the officer’s presence throughout Mumia’s time in the hospital.
The Philadelphia Police Department has a long history of beating suspects until they confess, bribing witnesses, and manufacturing and withholding evidence to obtain a conviction. Mumia’s story mirrors that of Arthur (Cetewayo) Johnson and other recently exonerated people convicted of murder in the Philadelphia court system throughout the 80s and 90s. The majority of them were people of color.
The similarities between Johnson’s case and Mumia’s make Judge Lucretia Clemons’s ruling to dismiss Mumia’s request for a new trial all the more disconcerting. Despite being released from prison, Johnson also seeks a new trial and complete exoneration; Judge Scott DiClaudio ruled similarly in Johnson’s effort.
Mumia’s attorney Bret Grote says they plan to appeal the ruling.
“We know Mumia is innocent, we have always known he was innocent, and we will never stop fighting for his freedom, nor the release of every political prisoner,” said Pam Africa. “We won’t stop until we free them all.”
After decades of health issues and fighting for his freedom, in December, Mumia’s wife of 40 years, Wadiya Jamal, died suddenly of a heart attack. Wadiya was the love of Mumia’s life and a rock he could lean on during his 40-year struggle for his life, liberation, and vindication. The Department of Correction denied him the right to attend her funeral.
“She loved fiercely like a lion,” said Mumia, reminiscing on the power and fierceness with which her love shone on those she loved and the world, airing on Prison Radio on December 30, 2022. “This love blessed the lives of five beautiful children, and it blessed me.”
With these burdens, the resilience, strength, and love they shape Mumia and the millions of his supporters worldwide usher in his 69th birthday.
In Philadelphia, the celebration began in the heart of West Philly outside of the 52nd and Market subway station, with hugs between many old friends and the warmth and camaraderie of the common struggle for the liberation of not just Mumia but all political prisoners held by the United States.
The crowd was smaller than expected because some out-of-state buses were delayed. They would arrive a half hour after the activists involved in the march would make it to One Art Community Center, more than a mile away.
When activists arrived at One Art Community Center, representatives spoke about a recently installed mural inspired by and for the struggle to free Mumia. The afternoon was filled with music from B MA’AT and other artists, speakers from across movements, food, drink, love, and respect for Mumia, each other, and the community.
“We want to see Mumia free,” said Couranger Carroll of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. “We need to understand the incarceration of Mumia in the historical context. Obviously, we know Mumia is a victim of COINTELPRO, but we have to recognize the continued imprisonment of political activists is what we’re dealing with right now. We need to make the historical connections to the arrest of the Stop Cop City activists. When you hear about the invention of the so-called Black Identity Extremists, these things are connected to the historical oppression of groups like the Black Panthers, MOVE, and Dr. King.
“There isn’t anything more essential for us to be doing right now short of breaking him (Mumia) out of the hell hole they got him in,” said Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the African People’s Socialist Party and leader of the Uhuru Movement. “We must remember Mumia’s life and work, he started trying to tear down the systems of oppression at a very young age, and he’s still in this fight. He understood that this system rests on a foundation of slavery, colonialism, and genocide. They got Mumia locked up but are trying to destroy the people of Afghanistan and Venezuela. They’re trying to isolate Cuba from the rest of the world simply because they are trying to stand up to their oppressors.”
After a moment of silence for (Momma) Wadiya Jamal, the DJ brought up her son Essa to the stage to speak about the love she and Mumia shared and how much her loss and Mumia’s incarceration impacted their family and the community.
“Losing my mother was the hardest pill I could ever swallow… to know her love for Mumia for over forty years was powerful, said Essa Jamal. But what happened to Mumia didn’t just affect him; it affected all of us. When all this happened, cops followed me to school. I was made fun of for my mom having dreadlocks, and now some of these same people got dreads.”
“I went to see Mumia the day after my mother’s birthday, April 6, and he said to me, son, I need to talk to you man-to-man, face to face, and the hurt in his eyes told me everything. My mom meant the world to him.”
“Tomorrow is Mumia’s birthday, but it is also an important day in my country (Dominican Republic); on April 24, 1965, our people rose up in a popular rebellion to remove a military government imposed on us by the United States,” said Estella Vasquez. “I brought up this historical point because the struggle to free Mumia is the struggle for the liberation of all of Latin America and the Caribbean. The struggle to free Mumia is the struggle to free the people of Africa and the struggle for the liberation of oppressed people all over the world.”