Monday, November 06, 2006

New Book Destroys Mumia Myths

Book Review

Mumia Abu Jamal: The Patron Saint of American Cop Killers
by John Hayden
iUniverse $37.95
(Available at

Reviewed By Tony Allen

On December 9th 1981, a young Philadelphia Police Officer was brutally gunned down in the “red light district” of downtown Philadelphia. The man who was arrested and convicted of the Officer’s murder was a cab-driver whose birth name was Wesley Cook.

Today, the man who killed Police Officer Faulkner is now known as Mumia Abu-Jamal. He is an author, college commencement speaker, activist, and the most well known apologist for the Philadelphia based cult known as MOVE.

He is all of these things despite inhabiting a death row cell.

Mumia has a world-wide following of dedicated supporters who claim his innocence and argue vehemently that he was the victim of a “racist frame-up”. Millions of dollars have been raised for his defense and some of the best and brightest legal minds have been enlisted to serve as his defense.

Yet nagging questions remain. Did Mumia brutally kill Officer Daniel Faulkner or is he a victim of a justice system bent on punishing him for his politics?

A new book by John Hayden explores these questions and much more. The “Free Mumia” crowd has been notoriously uncooperative when it comes to questions concerning Jamal’s case.
t is as if the Mumia movement has evolved from a political/social movement to one that exists solely upon faith. It is a faith that is immune from reason and resistant to question. Take for example the following incident:

A pretty, but serious looking, blond woman observed a young man pumping gas and saw that he was wearing a "Free Mumia" shirt. She approached, and asked the man where he had obtained the shirt.

"At a rally at UCLA," he said.

"Tell me about the case," she said

"It's about a Black Panther, and the police framed him," he said.

"Who do you really think shot the cop?" she asked

"Some other guy did it and ran away," he replied.

She said, "You better get your facts straight, because the next time you walk around wearing a shirt like that, the widow of the officer may come up to you."

"You mean you're the widow?" he asked

"If you give me your name and address, I'll send you the facts of the case!" she offered

He replied, "No, thanks. "

The young activists' reaction to Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, is emblematic of the attitude of the "Free Mumia" crowd. It is a mob that generally refuses to acknowledge the existence of another side of the debate, and when pressed will disregard their opponents as "kill crazy-racists" and Fraternal Order of Police “stooges”.

It is in this anti-intellectual and close minded climate, that the latest book on Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case arrives for consideration. John Hayden’s tract is the first book to come out that does not take a pro-Jamal position. His well articulated and researched view of the case is that Jamal is an unrepentant cop-killer, and that the movement set to free him is one that is fraudulent and unworthy of all of the attention and adulation that it has garnered over the years.

Hayden’s no nonsense approach to de-constructing Jamal’s case comes from his 25 years as a criminal attorney, as well as, an apparently clear and profound disdain for injustice.

His book, which comes in at 681 pages, is exhaustive and thorough. While I don't believe that it was his stated goal to do so, he does much to tar the hagiographical image that has been marketed to the world via Jamal’s proponents over the many years.

While much of the far left remains addicted to the Mumia mythology that has been cultivated over the past twenty years, there are many such as Hayden, and myself, who know that the facts of the case.

It is a fact, that when Jamal murdered Officer Faulkner that he was an unemployable journalist who had to make ends meet by driving a cab in the red light district of Philadelphia at three in the morning. He was no longer a Black Panther, or a respected journalist. Instead, he was an adherent to the violent MOVE cult, whose members had only recently been themselves convicted of killing a Philadelphia Police Officer and wounding several other police officers and firefighters

As for the murder itself, a murder that Jamal enthusiasts insist that he is innocent of, John Hayden poses this poignant question. A question that Jamal supporters are at a loss to answer, and a question that they would much rather not have to deal with:

Mr. Jamal, if you didn't shoot Officer Faulkner in the back and in the face, would you please explain...what the hell you were doing at 3:51am sitting on the curb in front of a dead cop, with an empty shoulder holster under your armpit, with a bullet from the dead cop's revolver in your chest, and your own registered five shot .38 caliber handgun lying next to your feet, with all five bullets fired?

So far, neither Jamal, or his factually challenged band of followers, have yet to offer even a remotely reasonable answer to the above question, and nobody expects one soon. It seems that after nearly three decades, neither Jamal or his revolving cadre of attorneys has yet to put together a cogent argument for his actual innocence. A fact that will probably damn Jamal to a Pennsylvania prison cell for the rest of his life. Not that any of this will give pause to the ideologues who compose the core of the pro-Jamal fantasy, but it should be said nevertheless.

According to experts on all sides, the long drawn out misadventure of Wesley Cook, a.k.a. Mumia Abu-Jamal, will soon be coming to a close, and not in a way that either side will be happy with.

Those who now fill the ranks of the "Free Mumia" movement, are demanding that their cop-killing hero be released immediately. Those on the other side, many from the law-enforcement community, would like nothing better than to see Mumia dropped into a shallow grave. In all likelihood, neither side will get their wish. Since the death penalty has been reinstated in Pennsylvania in the 1970's, it has been used only three times. This fact pretty much ensuring, that Jamal will die peacefully in his prison cell a hundred miles away, and many years from that cold sidewalk where he executed Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

One very solid aspect of Mr. Hayden’s tract, is how it links Jamal’s adherence to the death cult mentality of the MOVE Organization, to which Jamal gave his allegiance to at the time he killed Officer Faulkner. This is something that has been understated by Jamal’s detractors in the past.

While many speak of Jamal’s involvement in the Black Panther Party, the fact remains, that he was many years removed from the party at the time of Officer Faulkner’s killing. Far more influential in Jamal’s life at that time he killed Officer Faulkner, was his slavish adherence to the maniacal MOVE leader, John Africa. Mumia’s hero would find himself, just a few years later, in the midst of a violent confrontation with the Philadelphia Police Department This MOVE instigated event left John Africa dead, a neighborhood burned to the ground and Africa and ten others dead. Six of those who died in John Africa’s “suicide by cop” were children.
Much can be learned about a person through the company that they keep.

Although Hayden's book is well-researched, it is not without it’s flaws. A fair portion of the information pertaining to the MOVE cult is erroneous. To his credit, I must confess that researching MOVE is difficult, and finding accurate information about the group is profoundly difficult. MOVE is a hermetic and violent group, that actively propagates disinformation about itself. A group whose leaders will not speak with anyone to whom the group perceives as an enemy. A group that physically threatens and attempts to intimidate it’s critics.

But while Hayden falls down on certain facts and figures pertaining to MOVE, he is more clear in demonstrating Jamal’s absolute dedication to the group, and just how major a role MOVE members played in orchestrating Jamal’s outrageous behavior in his 1982 trial. A role that MOVE members like Pam Africa still hold today.

Though MOVE’s involvement has likely dissipated over the last couple of years, given Jamal’s consistent legal setbacks, it is a relationship that MOVE will not relinquish willingly. It is a matter of fact that the group benefits financially from its position at the forefront of the "Free Mumia" movement. Another fact that has not been lost on John Hayden.

John Hayden’s book will be the fourth devoted to the legal issues raised by Jamal’s case. The first of which was "Race For Justice," written by then lead counsel for Jamal, Leonard Weinglass. Secondly came "Executing Justice: An Inside Account of the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, by Daniel R. Williams. Williams was another member of Jamal’s legal team, and the book paints Jamal in the best possible light. Jamal has since fired both Williams, and Weinglass. Then there is yet another book penned by far-leftist, Dave Lindorff, named "Killing Time." Lindorff’s current claim to fame is his obsession with impeaching President Bush, a hobby he shares with less than esteemed individuals such as Ramsey Clark, various other hard-line Marxists, and political dinosaurs like John Dean. The claim that Lindorff’s book is an “independent” investigation into Jamal’s case is dubious at best.

The three latter books, all paint Jamal as a more or less innocent victim of a racist and brutal system, bent on killing him at the expense of truth and justice. Is this the case? Was Jamal the victim of a frame-up and subsequent railroading?

John Hayden clearly thinks otherwise, and he makes quick work of the pro-Jamal propaganda filled screeds, with a mixture of common sense, legal expertise and rationality. He dispatches the pervasive myths surrounding Mumia, and does so in a way that should make anyone who ever believed in them feel quite silly.

For an ardent Jamal supporter, Hayden’s tract is a literary self-flagellation.

While the debate about Mumia will likely go on long after his death, what is clear is that the facts of the case are coming more and more into public view, and they do not do Jamal any favors. It is true, that Jamal is a smart, and adept, writer who may, or may not, have a dedication to the poor and downtrodden. That much at least is arguable. What is no longer up for debate, is whether or not Mumia shot and killed Officer Faulkner? The myth of the phantom shooter, "Arnold Beverly," has been adequately put to rest, as has the notion that Officer Faulkner was killed by a gun other than Jamal’s..

What remains to be seen, is just how many people will fall prey to the pro-Mumia propaganda that still perpetuates these myths, without shame or any adherence to truth.

Of course there are larger issues here as well. The death penalty, police brutality, class and racial disparities, within our justice system. All of these, are relevant and important issues, but they are not inexorably linked to the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia has had access to some of the greatest legal minds in this country, and has had the support of thousands of people worldwide. A luxury that many on death row in the United States would give their left arm for.

And as I mentioned before, the likelihood of his being executed, is extremely small given the State of Pennsylvania's unwillingness to put their rusty machinery of death to work.

In closing, I would like to make clear that I don't believe that Hayden’s work closes the door on the Jamal case. Its polemical nature and assumptions as to what people in certain circumstances are thinking, keep it from being the analytical piece of investigatory journalism that it may have been. That said, it is of much more value than any of the books on the Jamal case that have come before it. As someone who was formerly a supporter of Jamal, I must insist, that anyone who is serious about studying the case take the time to read this book in order to further their understanding of this compelling issue.


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