Behind the Flash Mob Attack on Obama’s DOJ Attorney General Nominee Debo Adegbile
By Noelle Hanrahan and Stephen Vittoria
(Philadelphia and Los Angeles)
Mark Twain once wrote that, “There are lies. There are damned lies. And then there are statistics.” With apologies to Mr. Clemens but when it comes to Mumia Abu-Jamal “There are lies. There are damned lies. And then there’s the State of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia” – the so-called City of Brotherly Love. It’s a metropolis the march of history documents as one of the most ruthlessly racist cities in America – and never has that been more apparent than during the current disingenuous backlash on the Debo Adegbile nomination process. It’s been nothing less than a “flash mob” attack on a distinguished attorney and the man he defended.
When Adegbile headed the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and was part of Abu-Jamal’s legal team, we believe the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was still in force – it reads:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
No story. No controversy. Nothing. An attorney defended his client. But the great lovers of America somersault into your living rooms ranting about how diabolical and abhorrent this lawyer truly is as they charge him with the unspeakable act of defending his client. Clearly this isn’t about the right to counsel. It’s about race and it’s about class. Remember, law is politics by other means.
Here’s the story that lies behind the Adegbile partisan fight on the senate floor and his subsequent defeat. If you want to understand why the reactionary wing of America’s one-party system is using Adegbile’s association with journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal as a flashpoint in their attempt to block his nomination, take a long hard look at the trajectory of Abu-Jamal’s life. This examination will reveal a mountain of substantiation regarding his life as a vibrant journalist as well as a black revolutionary targeted by the Philadelphia Police Department as well as the FBI’s COINTELPRO program – a truth that has been conveniently disregarded by the right-wing echo chamber and the American media. But that’s nothing new. The narrative embroidered by those hell-bent on perpetuating America’s white supremacist power base has been one chock-full of lies and race-charged innuendo.
The ruckus over the United States Senate’s cloture vote on Adegible’s nomination began in the wake of his clearing the Judiciary Committee. According to an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal, Adegbile’s representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal was reason enough to derail his confirmation. The Fraternal Order of Police, Fox News (aka the Cartoon Network), and bipartisan derision from Pennsylvania politicians like Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey fueled this manufactured drama.
It is a drama where U.S. Senators and political pundits regurgitate blatant lies that seek to demonize Abu-Jamal because they face zero accountability regarding their use of the purported “facts.” Try this one on for size: this past week, in another Op-Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Toomey writes (or whoever writes his public statements), “And when Danny Faulkner's blood-stained shirt was displayed at trial, the jury saw Abu-Jamal turn in his chair and smirk at Faulkner's young widow.” Horrible, right? Except it never happened. Court records prove that the day Faulkner’s “blood-stained shirt” was introduced in the courtroom, Abu-Jamal wasn’t there – yet this story has been repeated time and time again. You tell a lie long enough and it becomes the truth.
Here’s another fact: When court reporter Terry Maurer-Carter came forward and swore in an affidavit that Albert Sabo, the original trial judge, boasted in chambers to another judge, “I’m going to help them fry the nigger,” Philadelphia Common Pleas court judge Pamela Dembe ruled it “irrelevant,” and that Sabo’s statement was not an indication that the case was racially biased. As Bob Dylan wrote years ago: “Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game.”
The media and congressional pundits deplore that Abu-Jamal's death sentence was overturned and that he was removed from death row. They repeatedly attribute this result to the advocacy lawyers who they claim put forward a fabricated tale of racial bias. Come now, really? Racial bias in the U.S. Criminal Justice system? Racial bias in Philadelphia? Philadelphia? – the city where the Liberty Bell rests on the dirt that covers George Washington’s slave quarters? “Philadelphia has a veneer of liberalism and this whole Quaker mystique,” says long-time journalist Linn Washington. “The reality is it’s been this ruthlessly racist city from its inception.” Frederick Douglass agrees: “There is not perhaps anywhere to be found a city in which prejudice against color is more rampant than in Philadelphia.” In 1899, the great W.E.B. Du Bois reached the same conclusion in his classic work “The Philadelphia Negro” – the first sociological study of black people in America. Add in the corrupt shenanigans of Frank Lazarro Rizzo along with the city-state-and FBI domestic bombing of the MOVE home in 1985 (11 Americans murdered including 5 children) and it’s easy to see why race matters in Philadelphia.
The media and congressional pundits also conveniently ignore that Abu-Jamal's death sentence was overturned by an American court: the U.S. Third Circuit and that decision was upheld by the United States Supreme Court – hardly a bastion of radical enlightenment.
But why is Abu-Jamal relevant at all? Why are those on the screaming right so concerned if he lives or dies? Why is the vast majority of those on the left so silent regarding justice for Abu-Jamal? What does he represent that threatens them so deeply? What the hell are they so afraid of? The venerable Dick Gregory summed it up this way: “One day we will find out that he was the voice of America – the voice of America is a fraud.” There’s also something deeper at work here, something that would reveal yet another miscarriage of justice. By shining a bright light on the fraudulent arrest, prosecution, conviction, and death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the U.S. justice system will once again be exposed as the class and race driven scheme that it is now… and always has been. And let’s not forget how many in the Philadelphia establishment made their careers on Abu-Jamal’s case.
Plain and simple, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an internationally acclaimed public intellectual who writes in the tradition of Franz Fanon and Howard Zinn. The fact that he’s accomplished what he has from a Pennsylvania prison cell over the last 33 years (30 of which were spent in solitary confinement on death row) is nothing short of remarkable. The one-time journalist for National Public Radio and “All Things Considered” has written seven books from death row as well as 3,000 radio commentaries. His weekly worldwide broadcasts and bestselling books have been translated into nine languages.
The late Nelson Mandela, along with the European Parliament, Maya Angelou, E.L. Doctorow, Amnesty International, Alice Walker, Cornel West, and many others have called his trial a miscarriage of justice while at the same time celebrating his incisive writing. Abu-Jamal is also dangerous to the status quo because his work directly challenges the false but convenient “we have realized the dream narrative” that everyone from Time Magazine to Obama is promulgating as the country embraces the safe “I have a dream” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and not the revolutionary “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The United States government, along with their lapdogs in the press, has consciously and deliberately attempted to suppress the hopes and dreams of many Americans; for African Americans the road has been harsher, bloodier, and more brutal. Whether it’s comfortable or not to admit, the “dream” was assassinated by a host of culprits. But Mumia Abu-Jamal has survived. To those who aren’t afraid of the truth, the continued demonization and incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal remains just another stain on the unfortunate canvas of America.
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Noelle Hanrahan is the Director of Prison Radio and producer of the 2013 documentary “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary.” Stephen Vittoria is the writer, director, and producer of “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary.”