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The Mumia case: What Is True Justice?

By Mary Shaw

10 December, 2007

With the December 9th anniversary of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, emotions are running high here in the Philadelphia area and beyond. And Mumia Abu-Jamal continues to sit in prison for the crime, which he maintains that he did not commit.

In 2001, a U.S. District Court judge upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction but questioned the original death sentence and ordered resentencing. The case is currently under appeal.

Abu-Jamal's supporters insist that he is innocent, that he was set up, and that racial bias and witness coercion had played a big part in an unfair trial. They also point out that Faulkner was killed with a .44 caliber gun, while the gun that Abu-Jamal was licensed to carry as a nighttime taxi driver was a .38 caliber.

On the other side of the fence, supporters for the prosecution assert that Abu-Jamal is guilty without a doubt, and many continue to call for his execution. An eye for an eye. Pay for death with more death.

I don't know whether Abu-Jamal is guilty or not. But the best way to find out for certain is to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial. And, given all the doubts about the fairness of Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial, I believe that a new trial is not too much to ask. After all, another life hangs in the balance here.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International agrees. Back in 2000, after an extensive investigation of the case, the organization issued a report that concluded the following:

"Amnesty International has determined that numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings. Amnesty International therefore believes that the interests of justice would best be served by the granting of a new trial to Mumia Abu-Jamal. The trial should fully comply with international standards of justice and should not allow for the reimposition of the death penalty. The organization is also recommending that the retrial take place in a neutral venue, where the case has not polarized the public as it has in Philadelphia. Finally, the authorities should permit prominent jurists from outside the USA to observe the proceedings, to ensure that the retrial complies in all respects with universally-recognized human rights safeguards."

In the report, Amnesty International expressed concerns about judicial bias and hostility, police misconduct, and the apparent withholding of evidence from the jury.

My heart goes out to Officer Faulkner's family. It is always difficult, if not impossible, to find closure after losing a loved one, especially when that loved one was the victim of a violent death. But true closure cannot be gained simply by executing Abu-Jamal. That would be reckless revenge, not justice.

As long as the outstanding questions remain unanswered, there will continue to be reasonable doubt as to Abu-Jamal's guilt.

As long as the outstanding questions remain unanswered, there is still a chance that Faulkner's real killer is still at large.

As long as the outstanding questions remain unanswered, justice has not been served.

And, unfortunately, as long as the outstanding questions remain unanswered, true closure remains an impossible dream.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail:

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