Disclaimer: (Author's note) all spellings of amerika, overstand vs.
understand, i in lower case and We in capital, british and european in lower
case, etc. are totally intentional and seek to exclude the author as victim to
conforming to the euro-psychopathology that is dialectically in opposition to
the Afrikan centered ethos of which this author subscribes.
Mumia Abu Jamal: Cultural Imperialism
and the Courts
Many Afrikans in the Diaspora have had to suffer under the global oppressive
systems of cultural oppression and the court systems of those various white
supremacist infrastructures. Many euro-axioms are accepted by Afrikans as law.
In reality, there is no justice for Afrikans in white courts. Mumia Abu Jamal,
an incarcerated freedom fighter and political prisoner and author of Live
from Death Row offers an analysis of his incarceration and death
sentence and the court process as it relates to people of color. Herein, is an
observation of that analysis and the Afrikan centered tools needed in such an
Mumia begins his book with a tribute to many named and unnamed Afrikan
freedom fighters, revolutionary nationalists, political prisoners, Afrikan
historians and scholars, Black nationalist and integrationist organizations, the
Black government: Provisional
Government Republic of New Afrika (PGRNA), entertainers, his family both
extended and nuclear and elders who have both been supportive of his personal
struggle or have had some influence in the overall struggle of Afrikans in our
reclamation of Afrikan centered cultural asilic values. Asilic? The seed/germ,
logos of Afrikan culture where various aspects cohere, the essence, ideological
core, the matrix of cultural entities which must be identified to make sense of
the Afrikan collective creations; this is the Asili (Ani XXV). This Asili is
what Mumia refers to when he gives final tribute in his Acknowledgments to the
"divine Source who revealed the face of love in human form" (p. xv).
The Asili is one of the tools one must use to overstand any analysis made
from an Afrikan centered cultural matrix. There are two components of the Asili,
first, the Utamawazo, the cultural structure of thought, how cognition is
determined by a cultural Asili, way in which thought of Afrikans must be
patterned if the Asili is to be fulfilled (Ani XXV). And the Utamaroho which is
the vital force of Afrikan culture, set in motion by the Asili. It is the thrust
or energy source of a culture; that which gives it its emotional tone and
motivates the collective Afrikan behavior. Both the Utamawazo and the Utamaroho
are born out of the Asili and in turn, affirm it. They should not be thought of
as distinct from the Asili but as its manifestations (Ani XXV).
Mumia's Preface reflects an overview of the prison system and the myths that
there is such a thing as:
"right to a fair and impartial jury of our peers;
the right to represent oneself;
the right to a fair trial" (Jamal xx)
All prison sentences and convictions handed down under these myths are
unjust. These "rights" are "not rights but rather privileges of the powerful and
rich. For the powerless and the poor, they are chimera that vanish once on
reaches out to claim them as something real or substantial" (Jamal xx). This
reality is not only an observation of Mumia but also a part of his experience
which contributed to his being sentenced to death row, since these "rights" were
denied to Mumia. Mumia overstands something that all Afrikans born in amerika
should, that We are not free. Though quietly kept, Chief Justice Thurgood
Marshall, after his resignation from the court stated, "I'm still not free"
(Jamal xxv). The reality here is that without our own cultural Asili, Afrikans
lack a knowledge of self.
John Edgar Wideman's level of consciousness is relative and has some
reflections of psychopathic racial behavior. Wideman wrote the Introduction to
Mumia's book. Integration into a system which seeks to oppress Afrikans and
views us as "subjects to be governed with absolute and despotic power" is
psychopathic (Jamal xxiv). The part of the white institutional infrastructure
that teaches Afrikan children our various psychpathologies is the educational
system which is the "matador's cape that protects whites from Black scientific
inquiry which would expose an unthinkable depth of psychopathology" (Wright 4).
Wideman's psychopathology is reflected in this statement: "My country, the
[united states of amerikkka], ranked third among the nations of the world in the
percentage of its citizens it imprisoned. Only [russia and south Afrika]
surpassed us" (Jamal xxvi, xxvii). For Wideman to refer to amerikkka as "my"
country and "us" assumes responsibility in his mind for the behaviors of the
white supremacist who con rol amerikan politics. Any Afrikan (if Wideman is
Afrikan) or any white who benefits from a system of oppression even if he
actively does not participate in that oppression; who thinks of amerikkka in
"my" and "us" terms suffers from the psychopathology (brain washing) of white
supremacy and its various parts of its infrastructure, especially racism.
Wideman also discusses such themes as liberation, self definition,
contradictions, status of Afrikans, parables of oppression and the key to
survival in his introduction.
Mumia's text is divided into three parts and each part has many vinyet type
chapters. In part one Life on Death Row, the vinyet titled
Teetering on the brink between life and death, Mumia sites that Afrikans
are a "mere 11 percent of the national population, compose about 40 percent of
the death row population. Many of the vinyets reflect the life of inmates on
death row that "oscillates between the banal and the bizarre. Death row inmates
are the best behaved, have no hope, are the least disruptive, are resistant and
subjected to the regimented rules and regulations of death row imposed on the
human personality. For death row inmates, the tools of liberation, a typewriter,
is deemed security risk. TV's are allowed but not a typewriter to use in
effectively communicating for appeals (Jamal 5-8).
Further statistics, Vinyet On death row fade to Black, in
1988, state court administrator's office recorded 107 people on Pennsylvania's
death row and of that total, 50 from filthydelphia alone. Of that 50, 40 were of
Afrikan blood, with 7 whites and 3 Hispanics. Statewide, Blacks only 9 percent
of the population, emerge as a clear majority on Pennsylvania's death row.
Venyet of Humility: discusses how degrading and dehumanizing
the visits process is for inmates. Mumia expresses this process as follows:
"Open your mouth,
Stick out your tongue.
You wear any dentures?
Lemme see both sides of your hands.
Pull your foreskin back.
Lift your sac.
Spread your cheeks.
Bottom of your feet.
Get dressed" (Jamal 10).
This is a written version of the multi-body cavity strip search that the
visitor never sees. How can the system justify such searches prior to and after
NON CONTACT visits? Mumia sites Rhem v. Malcolm about the conditions in
New York prisons, Judge Lasker who describes non-contact visiting as "the most
unpleasant and most disturbing detail in the whole prison" and a practice that
is a "violation of ordinary principles of humanity" (Jamal 11). Judge Lasker
goes on to further state that he feels so sorry for people and so ashamed of
himself that he leaves the room after only a few minutes. The ultimate effect of
non-contact visits is to weaken and finally sever family ties and to deny
fundamental expressions of humanity which is an ultimate goal of
i have experienced these inhumane visits from both sides of the thick glass.
Mumia and i grew up together, We were both in Richard Allen City
(filthydelphia), attended the same broadcast school, were/are in the Black
Panther Party together, were/are Family Afrika (Move) supporters, and worked
together as community activists. Such activism led to my incarceration for short
periods of time where i was visited and did visit other comrade brothers and
sisters who suffered the same fate for daring to behave in a self determined
manner. The glass seems thicker when you are trying to touch those who love you
and those you love. Prison guards seem omnipresent when you are trying to visit
with loved ones. Children's and elder's eyes seem filled with tears when you try
to communicate through glass and by metal black huge cumbersome phones with only
high-end sound quality that statics and cracks forcing one to repeat themselves
over and over and over again. Prisoners and those that love them become isolated
psychologically as well as temporally and spatially. Inmates in isolation are no
longer defined by their relations and relationships. Such a violation of the
human spirit and destroys any chance of reuniting with the asili.
Vinyet: Politics and "justice" of death: In this vinyet Mumia
discusses socio-political agendas of politicians in reference to the death
penalty, the disparagement between whites and Blacks who receive death
sentences, race as a variable and academic masturbation. McCleskey v. Kemp
(1987) is cited:
"The Supreme court majority, Justice Powell writing, assumed the validity
of the so-called Baldus study, which presented mounds of powerful statistical
data demonstrating gross racial disparity in Georgia's death penalty tallies,
but rejected the study's clear implications. Justice Brennan's dissent
telescoped the Baldus study's meaning: defendants charged with killing whites
are 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to die than defendants charged with
killing Blacks; six of every eleven defendants convicted of killing a white
would not have received a death sentence had their victim been Black. Thus the
study showed that there was a significant chance that race would play a
prominent role in determining if [a defendant] lived or died" (Jamal 14).
When race is a variable, whites are a-moral. This analysis is
consistent with observations of the cultural other defined as "a
conceptual/existential construct which allows europeans to act out their most
extreme aggression and destructiveness, while simultaneously limiting their
collective self destruction on a conscious level" (Ani xxv).
Vinyet Descent into hell: is brief but addresses a powerful
issue of drugs in prisons. Mind altering, powerful drugs are prescribed to
prisoners with the support of the u.s. supreme court ruling that allows
officials of prisons to have free rein to drug prisoners. These drugs either
kill or drive inmates to kill themselves like inmate Robert Barnes did when he
set himself on fire and 70 percent of his body was burned (Jamal 24).
Vinyet On death row fade to Black: the denizens of death row
are Black as molasses and the staff are white bread. Death row has two yards,
one for Blacks composed of cages; one for whites composed of 'free' space, water
fountains, full-court basketball spaces and hoops, and an area for running
(Jamal 33). The heart of amerikkka's death penalty is the crucible of race,
exampled again in the citing of McCleskey v. Kemp, "McCleskey's claims, wrote
the court's centrist, justice Powell, cannot prevail, because 'taken to its
logical conclusion, McCleskey throws into serious question the principles that
underlie our entire criminal justice system.' " (Jamal 35-6). Lockhart v. McCree
similarly rejected the same argument for systemic priorities. McClesky likens to
The question for Mumia and other political prisoners and POW's is: "What
'security' exists in a system that plotted, lied, connived, and hid evidence to
destroy one man's life, that took twelve years from his life, his profession,
his family?" (Jamal 43) There can be no security within an oppressive system for
Afrikan people. This lack of security is defined in the word prison:
repositories of rage, islands of socially acceptable hatreds, where worlds
collide like subatomic particles seeking psychic release (Jamal 44). Mumia
further defines life in prison as brutal treatment where men are awakened from
deep sleep, handcuffed, pulled, cuffed, naked, bludgeoned, kicked, dragged,
seized, thrown into cages, beaten, dragged outside and bloodied. In Mumia's
words? A Slavocracy for premeditated racist raids (Jamal 47).
Vinyet Manny's attempted murder: yet another example of prison
medical beaurocracy that kills and mistreats inmates. Prison medical officials
prescribed medicine that caused convulsive seizures in an inmate that didn't
suffer from this disease prior to this prescription. Manny was of physical
stature, that of the likes of Jack Johnson and was reduced to death's doorstep
by a racist system of corruption that masquerades as corrections.
Vinyet A toxic shock: prison water was contaminated by gasoline
spill. The revelation that the caged and un-caged are equal when it
comes to the air, water and hope which is shared by both categories. In the
words of John Afrika, the founder of the Family Afrika (Move), "All life is
connected." Toxic dumps both known and unknown are silent springs of death
Vinyet Spirit death: further defines prison and the
characteristics of incarceration also asking some very pointed questions. "What
societal interest is served by prisoners who remain illiterate? What social
benefit is there in ignorance? How are people corrected while imprisoned if
their education is outlawed? Who profits (other than the prison establishment
itself) from stupid prisoners? (Jamal 66)
Vinyet A return to death: focuses on the changes in the law.
Commonwealth v. Beasley (1988) stated that the death penalty could not stand.
Two years later, Pennsylvania supreme court reversed the superior court order
thus reinstating the death sentence. Pennsylvania's superior court cited
Caldwell v. Baker error to lift Beasley's death sentence and Pennsylvania's
supreme court, cited Abu-Jamal, which gave back Beasley's death sentence two
years later (Jamal 69-70). Mumia says it best, inmates are choking in silent
pain, trying to create legal strategies in a system "based on law that changes
like the fickle central Pennsylvania weather (Jamal 70).
Vinyet Days of pain -- night of death: questions "why do they
still call it 'corrections?' " (Jamal 74) Mumia sites Frank Afrika's case (a
member of the Family Afrika) who is incarcerated. Frank sites the contradiction
of the state's denial of health to inmates and it's diet of death: "...this
system's prisons supply a steady diet of cigarettes, ...junk food, ...diet of
perversion, ...diet of birth control, ....drug ridden foods and mind torturing
medications" which deny inmates health, teeth, sex, fertility and their very
sanity. All this while denying the Family Afrika, who are incarcerated, their
vegetarian diet that they requested.
Part Two: Crime and Punishment
Vinyet Human waste camps: herein, Mumia captures prison
violations and maximum lockdown in Marionization form. Spokespersons for maximum
control units also known as RHU, SMU, SHU and supermax defend these units as
"rural isolated reserves for the 'worst of the worst' " and this justification
is the basis for infamous lockdown Marion federal penitentiary. Many political
prisoners, POWs, Black Panthers, AIM and anti-imperialists were dumped there.
Sundiata Acoli, Leonard Peltier and Dr. Alan Berman with Tim Blunk still
languish in amerikkkan concentration camps known as correctional institutions.
"In 1987, Amnesty International reported that Marion violates almost every one
of the United Nations' Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners"
Vinyet Slavery daze II: Mumia discusses poor people and the
government and their relationship to drugs, how drugs were/are flooded into the
Black community, the precedent for drug scheme and questions if We will survive
the plague. With the incarceration of political prisoners mentioned in the
previous vinyet, Black neighborhoods were flooded with drugs to silence radicals
in neighborhoods of color. "Big brother opened the floodgates of drugs to drown
out the Black revolutionary fires of urban resistance (Jamal 97). The counter
intelligence program of the fbi implemented this attack on Afrikans.
Vinyet Two bites of the apple in Dixie: focuses on the lack of
a national consensus for retarted inmates. Horace Dunkins was retarted. He was
sentenced to legal murder (the electric chair). The execution took an abnormal
SEVEN minutes as the switch had to be thrown three times because Horace was
still alive every time the executioner pulled it. The description of the
execution is heart wrenching. Burning flesh. Horrid odors. Body slamming and
convulsing. Horace was a retarded Black Alabama man. This execution was
heartless and showed incompetence on the part of the state. (Jamal 106-11)
Vinyet Expert witness from hell: Medical examiners are thought
of as expert witnesses. They are accorded high respect in amerikkkan courts,
thought to be impartial and allies of science. Fred Zain a forensic expert sent
thousands of innocent men and women to prison and to death row because his work
was systematically deficient. How many of these so called "experts" are
contributing to the false incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Afrikans
across this country? Zain's lawyers made him appear to be the victim while Zain
has not been charged with any offense in either of the two states where he
worked. Mumia's sense of humor emerges when he answers the question that Zains
lawyers asks: "...[Zains] cannot find a job in his profession. He has nowhere to
go." Mumia's humorous response? "i'm sure several thousand prisoners in West
Virginia and Texas have some ideas about where to send him" (Jamal 112-21).
Vinyets Already out of the game and A bill that is a crime:
Mumia sites prison costs v. education $600 (for prisons) per year vs. $2.7 per
year for education; prison health care; tough on crime campaign that doesn't
work; who produces what (amerikkka builds prisons); amerikkka's job programs are
prisons; the characteristics of u.s.a. president clinton's crime bill; erroneous
eurocentric thoughts: more cops equals less crime and outlawed knowledge for
inmates where government funding is cut for college education for inmates (Jamal
Vinyets Musings on Malcolm and Deadly deja vu: Non violence
themes and how the u.s.a. government manipulates them are discussed. Also, Black
Panthers, Malcolm X,
northern Black response to Malcolm vs. King, media misleadings about Malcolm and
the difference between overseas whites, objectives of human rights struggle vs.
civil rights struggle and amerikkkan whites are the focus of this section. The
theme of progress equals surrender, fbi bombing Dravidians, how fbi said
Dravidians committed suicide, the bombing of the Family Afrika (Move) and a
comparison of the two bombings and how they were handled, government perception
are included in these sections. People under government siege are portrayed by
the government as:
2. daring to resist the state
3. terrorists - bad niggers
4. fanatics suspected of physical and sexual abuse as children thus
These are government justifications for its treatment of those who dare to
challenge its right to imperialism and rule over their lives (Jamal 133-39).
Vinyets Rodney wasn't the only one, L.A. Outlaw and Absence of power
all address the routine brutality that Afrikans experience at the hands
of the white supremacist system of oppression and racism. Reports of police
brutality revealed Afrikans born in amerikkka and Latinos were victims of
brutality 97 percent of the time in such cases and white cops were centrally
involved in over 93 percent of the beatings (Jamal 141). Various police
brutality statistics are cited, acquittals of guilty cops, 5th amendment
violations, Black prominence brutalized (Lucien Blackwell's wife) wife of city
councilman, police out of control and Malcolm and Black Panther Party
sentiments. These sentiments include the "police are agents of white
ruling-class, capitalist will-period. Neither Black managers nor Black
politicians can change that reality. The people themselves must organize for
their own defense, or it won't get done (Jamal 148).
Vinyets Another side of Glory, Blues for Huey and Philly daze:
an impressionistic memoir reflects Mumia's assessment of David Hilliard's book
This Side of Glory: The Autobiography of David Hilliard and the Story of the
Black Panther Party and reflects on Mumia's experience as a Black Panther,
how Jessie Jackson pimps Black Panther Fred Hampton's style, and why no one
lifted Black Panther and political genius Huey P. Newton up when he fell. Huey's
death, Black youth unawareness of Huey, the Panther office on Columbus Avenue (i
was at the office on Susquehanna Avenue) and the nationwide counter intelligence
attack on the Black Panther Party are discussed. The older members were quite
protective of me and other youth who were only 13 years old when We joined.
Counter Intelligence agents who infiltrated the BPP caused a major split in the
party. i remained with the Susquehanna Avenue Black Panther Party even when
there was a split as filthydelphia basically was not a part of the split in the
party. Mumia chose to leave the party and joined Move.
Mumia concludes his book with the vinyet Philly daze: an
impressionistic memoir where he talks about Alabama governor wallace's
visit to filthydelphia and how he and three other young Black youth went to
protest his visit. His years of brainwashing and how the BPP rescued him from
that brainwashing and psychopathology are expressed. His meeting of Move and
becoming a champion of their cause and the mistakes that he made in not covering
their story when police murdered their baby are heart-feltly shared with the
reader. i remember that incident and many others like it and i remember the
filthdelphia cops kicking Move's doors in, neighbors doors in and my doors in
and trampling me and my children on horseback and causing me to miscarry as Move
women had suffered many times and the death of Move baby Life Afrika. Mumia
reminds me and other readers who were there and not, how the Black community was
constantly under attack. Mumia's militancy grew with the death of Life Afrika as
he had refused to cover the sto y cause of the crude manner in which Move had
approached him. He never forgot it, nor forgave himself. He worked relentlessly
after that to cover any and ever story that addressed police and government
attacks on the Family Afrika.
Mumia's book concludes with an Afterward by Mumia's lawyer Leonard I.
Weinglass titled The trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The facts of the trial are cited
along with the injustices of the case. These injustices include:
1. Mumia denied self representation and participation and removed from
2. Nothing done to assist Mumia in following the proceedings such as
transmissions into his holding cell
3. no provisions of transcripts
4. without Mumia's presence in court room, public defender was clueless
5. his case was rushed to trial without continuance
6. Mumia given three weeks to prepare his case
7. no lineup identification; identification done at counsel table
8. contradictory testimonies
9. changed testimonies
10. no witness saw prosecutions version of the incident
11. prosecution sets stage to attack Mumia's politics and disrespect of
the system thus violating his rights
12. misfocus on Mumia's politics instead of the facts of the case leads
jury to allow for the death sentence
Among the many character witnesses for Mumia was Mumia supporter and
extended family sister to Mumia and myself, Sonya Sanchez testified at Mumia's
trial. She is a renowned poet, author, scholar and professor.
In conclusion, Mumia is like a brother to me. He is known to be a gentle
spirit, committed father and brother, loving friend, reliable principled comrade
and a quiet fire. There is a passion for justice that burns within him that is
ignited by the asili of Afrikan centered cultural matrix. An unjust society
would have us think that our experiences are invalid. But having known Mumia and
having known my own experience with racist, imperialistic, white supremacist
amerikkka, i know that justice rings false and is not a variable which includes
us Afrikans. Mumia is one of those who is blessed because he dares to struggle
for freedom, land and independence for Afrikan people in the Diaspora. For him,
a reflection of all who work for independence, the struggle continues.
Note: There are many committees to support Mumia's efforts for a new
trial. There is a committee here in the Ohio area called Miami Valley Committee
to Support Mumia Abu Jamal of which i am co-founder and spokesperson.
Abu-Jamal, Mumia. Live from Death Row. Reading; Addison-Wesley
Publishing Co., 1995.
Ani, Marimba. Yurugu An Afrikan-centered Critique of European Cultural
Thought and Behavior. Trenton; Afrika World Press, Inc., 1994.
Wright, Ph.D., Bobby E. The Psychopathic Racial Personality and Other
Essays. Chicago; Third World Press., 1984.