President Obama has announced his choice to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He is Debo Adegbile who has been a leader at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and first achieved recognition as a child actor on “Sesame Street” in the 1970s.
In 2011, Obama asked the American Bar Association to evaluate Adegbile for possible appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, normally a precursor to nomination. But the White House later withdrew his name. It has been reported that the bar association found Adegbile unqualified. An administration official said his name was withdrawn after Caitlin Halligan, a lawyer in the Manhattan district attorney’s office with a moderate record, failed to win Senate approval for the D.C. Circuit, casting doubt on Adegbile’s chances.
Perhaps most troubling is Adegbile’s representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a radical Philadelphia journalist who was convicted of killing a police officer in 1981. Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death with what state and federal judges said was overwhelming evidence, including three eyewitnesses to the shooting and two more who said he bragged of the killing when taken to a hospital afterward.
Abu-Jamal became a hero in radical circles, both at home and abroad. Adegbile and other NAACP Legal Fund lawyers filed a friend-of-the court brief with the Supreme Court in 2009 asserting that the conviction was invalid because of racial discrimination in the jury selection. They directly represented Abu-Jamal when prosecutors asked the Supreme Court to reinstate his death sentence, which had been thrown out because of problems with jury instructions. He is serving life in prison without parole.
The manner in which the left has made a hero—and a victim—of this unapologetic killer is difficult to understand. The “Free Mumia” movement included, among others, Mike Farrell, Ed Asner, Whoopi Goldberg and Jesse Jackson. He was named an Honorary Citizen of France and had his defense coffers enhanced by ticket sales from a sold out (16,000-person) concert featuring Rage Against The Machine.
An important book, “Murdered By Mumia,” carefully lays out the case against Abu-Jamal and those who have elevated him to the role of political prisoner. The authors are Maureen Faulkner, the widow of murdered police officer Danny Faulkner, and journalist, talk-show host and lawyer Michael Smerconish. Smerconish has provided pro bono legal counsel to Faulkner for many years. He has personally acquainted himself with the more than five thousand pages of trial transcript.
Smerconish declares that, “My reading starkly revealed that Abu-Jamal murdered Danny Faulkner in cold blood and that the case tried in Philadelphia in 1982 bears no resemblance to the one being home-cooked by the Abu-Jamal defense team.”
Abu-Jamal was a known agitator who had advocated violence toward law enforcement officers. He wrote “Let’s Write Epitaths for Pigs, Signed, Mumia” in a Black Panther publication in April of 1970.
The Philadelphia Daily News of Dec. 9, 1981 reported, “Police piecing together the details of the shooting said that, at 3:45 a.m.,Faulkner apparently stopped for investigation a car driven by Wesley Cook’s (who used the name Mumia Abu-Jamal) brother, William Cook, and ordered William Cook out of the car. Moments later, Wesley Cook apparently approached on foot and saw the confrontation between the two, police said. The shooting followed. One witness told police he saw Wesley Cook fire one shot as he ran across the street toward his brother and Faulkner. The witness reportedly said Faulkner, apparently hit by the shot, crumpled to the sidewalk and that Wesley Cook then stood over him and fired another shot at him point-blank…Wesley Cook…was a leader of the local Black Panther Party while still a teenager.”
Abu-Jamal was long deeply involved in race-based radical politics. In 1970, while attending Benjamin Franklin High School, he was a member of the Black Panther Party and was dismissed for circulating pamphlets calling for “black revolutionary power.” In a 1970 interview, Jamal said: “Black people are facing the reality that the Black Panther Party has been facing: political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reported the most detailed account of the murder from an eyewitness who had not yet been identified. From his sworn testimony and trial testimony, we know this man was Robert Chobert. The headline read, “Slain Policeman Had No Chance, Eye-Witness Says.” While cruising the area in his cab, Chobert witnessed Faulkner being knocked to the ground and the “gunman” standing over him firing three more shots. “The cop ain’t had a chance against that man,” Chobert said.. “The guy walked over and went Pow! Pow! Pow!…I saw the flame come out of the gun.”
Quickly, an Abu-Jamal defense committee was created. It asked District Attorney Ed Rendell to drop the charges until a “more thorough review could be accomplished.” Rendell, the future Democratic mayor of Philadelphia and governor of Pennsylvania, refused.
In their book, Faulkner and Smerconish, note that, “In addition to the trial testimony of four eyewitnesses to the murder, there was testimony of Abu-Jamal’s hospital confession. ..In the ER of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Abu-Jamal was heard by two eyewitnesses to shout defiantly,’I shot the motherfucker and I hope the motherfucker dies.’ William Cook, Abu-Jamal’s brother, was not so talkative. The only thing William Cook has ever said to the authorities is, ‘I ain’t got nothing to do with this.’ He has never testified in his brother’s behalf.”
It is hard to understand how a cold-blooded murder of a police officer by a radical who long advocated violence became a cause for so many well known liberals. When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger (author of ‘Friday Night Lights’) profiled Faulkner’s murder for Vanity Fair in the summer of 1999, he asked actor Ed Asner, an activist in the campaign in behalf of Mumia, if he had read the original trial transcript. Asner’s unfeeling reply: “Could I stay awake.”
At the trial, the prosecutor declared: “What you have is eyewitness testimony, not one but three. You have a weapon, clear. And later at a hospital, he blurts out what he did in an arrogant way.” Yet, on December 4, 2001, the Paris City Council voted to name Mumia an “Honorary Citizen” of Paris. The last time such an honor was bestowed was to artist Pablo Picasso in 1971.
Political extremists have kept this case alive for decades—-yet, because the evidence of guilt is so clear, they have lost at every turn. The murder was in 1981. In 1982, Abu-Jamal was afforded a trial by his peers, which led to his conviction and death sentence. In 1989, his conviction and sentence was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Pennsylvania’s highest court also rejected subsequent appeals. (In 1995, 1996, and 1997, his case was the subject of Post-Conviction Act hearings, which afforded him the opportunity to raise new evidence; each time he had no credible new evidence, the court concluded.)
Given all of this, is the best person to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, a man such as Debo Adegbile——who spent do much of his time and energy defending this unrepentant murderer of a police officer? President Obama would do well to reconsider this very questionable nominee. The last thing we need is the racial divisiveness he would bring to this position.