Teachers' Mumia Abu-Jamal Resolution Out of Sync Morally and Historically

What is it about cop killers that incites almost religious devotion from radicals?

The California Federation of Teachers (CFT) passed a resolution at its most recent convention claiming that “the continued unjust incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal represents a threat to the civil rights of all people.”  Thirty years ago, Abu-Jamal took away Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner’s foremost civil right: his life.  How obtuse of the CFT to disregard “the threat to the civil rights of all people” represented by someone capable of gunning down a man tasked with protecting the public.

The pantheon of leftist saints includes the Haymarket Square bombers, responsible for the deaths of eight Chicago cops, Joe Hill, murderer of former police officer John Morrison in Salt Lake City, Huey Newton, murderer of Oakland policeman John Frey, and Leonard Peltier, murderer of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams.  Notice a pattern?

Like the radical saints in whose footsteps he trod, Abu-Jamal is guilty.  Numerous witnesses identified him as Faulkner’s killer.  Police found Abu-Jamal, nursing a wound inflicted by his victim’s service revolver, sitting just a few feet from Faulkner’s body.  By Abu-Jamal’s side was a gun, which he lunged for when a policeman approached, registered in his name and containing five spent shell casings of the same caliber as the bullets found in the slain policeman.  Cops, a hospital worker, and a prison outreach activist sympathetic to Abu-Jamal’s politics heard admissions of guilt.

Eyewitnesses, ballistics, confessions—is it any wonder that a jury took just three hours to convict?

What does the California Federation of Teachers know that that jury, and more than a dozen appellate judges, does not know?

They certainly don’t know the case.  The CFT points to the “illegal exclusion of black jurors.”  They don’t mention that Abu-Jamal, representing himself in court, participated in the selection of his own jury.  The seated jurors included three African-Americans, of whom the exclusion of one has been cynically exploited to charge racial bias.  “This particular juror openly expressed a dislike for [Abu-Jamal],” an appeals judge ruled in 1997.  “Appellant now relies on that discussion to argue that the court actually ‘engineered’ the removal of this juror.  His claim is devoid of merit.”

And the CFT certainly doesn’t know Abu-Jamal, whom they identify as a “journalist” who “fought courageously against racism and police brutality.”  But Abu-Jamal worked as a cab driver when he killed Faulkner.  He did stringer work in radio then, and he called into talk shows, but he wasn’t regularly employed in the media upon his arrest.  His supporters mythologize that their hero had “thrown away a chance to be a network news anchor” by reporting on racism and police brutality.  But three baby mamas and no high school diploma is a path that more readily leads to the death gurney than it does to the anchorman’s desk.

Liking a guy’s politics isn’t a good enough reason to spring him on a murder rap.  And it’s clear that Abu-Jamal’s politics, rather than the merits of his case, attract the CFT’s support.  In addition to the resolution supporting a cop killer, the CFT passed resolutions at their March convention in support of the people of Tunisia, in opposition to an “anti-choice” bill in Congress, and calling for an alliance with the group formerly known as ACORN.

What any of this has to do with education is anybody’s guess.

Just because somebody shares your politics doesn’t mean that person shares your ethics.  Thoroughly politicized people conflate their ideology with ethics.  Abu-Jamal supports the abolition of prisons, Marxism, and environmentalism, so, reason the California teachers, he must be innocent and good like us.

The California Federation of Teachers is not only wrong on Mumia Abu-Jamal, but late.  Had they pushed this in the late 1990s, when San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was declaring “Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal Day” and Rage Against the Machine was raising money for the cause célèbre, it would have at least fit within the zeitgeist.  In 2011, it’s a non sequitur.

In that sense, the resolution evokes the murder itself.  In the 1960s, fellow Black Panther Huey Newton could kill a cop and get away with it.  By 1981, when the former Black Panther senselessly murdered Faulkner, killing cops had really gone out of fashion.

The CFT, like the man they celebrate, has bad timing.

The people who passed this resolution teach your children.  That’s even scarier than a free Mumia.