Mumia Abu-Jamal, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 24, 1954 is a political activist, and former Lieutenant of Information and journalist for the Philadelphia Black Panther Party. Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. After numerous appeals, his sentence was commuted in 2001 to life imprisonment without parole.
At age 14, Jamal took part in a protest against a rally for presidential candidate George Wallace and was subsequently arrested by Philadelphia police. The arrest did not deter him from further political activism, and in 1968 he became one of the founding members of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party, committed to African American empowerment and self-defense. He briefly worked at the Black Panthers’ newspaper in Oakland, California, in 1970 and returned to Philadelphia a short time later. He also legally changed his name to Mumia Abu-Jamal in 1970.
Both in print and on the radio, Abu-Jamal repeatedly criticized the Philadelphia police department as well as the administration of Mayor Frank Rizzo, a former police commissioner, for what he alleged was systemic racial bias and police brutality. He was especially critical of the police department’s handling of MOVE, a radical black-liberation group based in Philadelphia. In the early 1980s Abu-Jamal was the president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Black Journalists, and his news broadcasts and commentaries were heard on numerous radio stations. Because of his activism and radical viewpoint, however, Abu-Jamal struggled to make a living in journalism. To earn extra money he began working as a night-shift taxi driver.
Abu-Jamal became nationally prominent when he was arrested for the murder of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner. On December 9, 1981, Faulkner was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop involving Jamal’s brother, William Cook. Despite conflicting testimony from key witnesses, Abu-Jamal was found guilty and sentenced to death. In 1994, Abu-Jamal returned to radio once again as a commentator for Prison Radio and for National Public Radio.
During his imprisonment Abu-Jamal has published books and commentaries on social and political issues, including Live from Death Row (1995). His NPR commentaries were compiled in 1995 as part of Live from Death Row, which resulted in Abu-Jamal’s punishment of solitary confinement for engaging in entrepreneurship from prison.
In 1999, Arnold Beverly admitted that he and an unnamed assailant, not Abu-Jamal, had shot Faulkner as part of a contracted killing because the officer was interfering with graft and payoff to corrupt police. Soon afterwards some prosecutors’ witnesses in the trial came forward and admitted that they lied under oath. Abu-Jamal and his supporters pressed for a new trial based on these recent developments. Their efforts paid off in 2008 when a three-judge panel reopened the case.
On December 7, 2011, Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams announced that prosecutors would no longer seek the death penalty for Abu-Jamal. Williams said that Abu-Jamal will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, a sentence that was duly reaffirmed by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on July 9, 2013.
At the end of January 2012, Abu-Jamal was released into general prison population at State Correctional Institution – Mahanoy. He went into diabetic shock on March 30, 2015 and has been diagnosed with active Hepatitis C. In August 2015 his attorneys filed suit in the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, alleging that he has not received appropriate medical care for his serious health conditions
Abu-Jamal’s case attracted worldwide attention, and his cause was taken up by many, from left-wing political groups to fund-raising efforts led by movie stars. The list of Abu-Jamal’s celebrity supporters has included entertainment notables such as Ed Asner, Naomi Campbell, Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Norman Lear, Spike Lee, Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, and Oliver Stone; writers Maya Angelou, E. L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, Salmun Rushdie, and William Styron; activists and social critics Ossie Davis, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., bell hooks, Ralph Nader, Gloria Steinem, and Cornel West; attorney Johnnie Cochran; religious politico Jesse Jackson; and foreign dignitaries Nelson Mandela (president of South Africa) and Jacques Chirac (president of France).
Mumia Abu-Jamal still maintains his innocence, and many people believe him, thus making him one of the most closely followed “convicts” in the world.