One of the issues driving protesters participating in the April 24, 2012 Occupy The Justice Department demonstration is an issue that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder knows well: prosecutorial misconduct.
Holder knows this misconduct issue well because he has criticized it during congressional testimony, in fact as recently as March 2012 when he was commenting on a special prosecutor’s report castigating the wrongdoing of federal prosecutors.
That wrongdoing, Holder acknowledged, unlawfully tainted the corruption investigation and 2008 trial of the late U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, who was convicted of corruption in his home state of Alaska.
Protesters, including fiery Philadelphia activist Pam Africa, want Holder to take action against the prosecutorial misconduct evident in scores of unjust convictions that have led to the wrongful imprisonment of political prisoners across America, most of them jailed for two or more decades.
Those political prisoners – ignored domestically while exalted abroad – include Native American activist Leonard Peltier, Puerto Rican Nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Cuban 5, author/activist Mumia Abu-Jamal and other former Black Panther Party members like the Omaha Two (Ed Poindexter and Mondo W. Langa).
Demands of the Occupy The Justice Department protesters include the immediate
release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the freeing all political prisoners, ending of the racist death penalty and the ending solitary confinement and torture.
Individuals and incidents underlying those demands are within the purview of USAG Holder to investigate and/or to act immediately to resolve.
April 24th is the birthday of Mumia Abu-Jamal, perhaps the most recognized U.S. political prisoner worldwide.
Abu-Jamal, for example, was the subject of two demonstrations held recently outside the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany, one of which included extending a 2,200-foot banner around that embassy building.
Pam Africa is the head of International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Philadelphia-based organization at the center of the international movement seeking Abu-Jamal’s release.
Africa is the dynamo who most Philadelphia police, prosecutors, politicians and many pastors love to hate because of her strident advocacy on behalf of both imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal and the MOVE members sentenced for a fatal 1978 shootout.
The advocacy of Pam Africa on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal – helping construct support networks while confronting incessant opposition – contributed to the climate where U.S. federal courts late last year finally killed the death sentence Abu-Jamal received following his controversial 1982 conviction for killing a policeman.
Abu-Jamal is now fighting against a life-without-parole sentence, which was automatically imposed when the death sentence was invalidated.
That elimination of Abu-Jamal’s government-sanctioned murder chagrined powerful figures across Pennsylvania and around America who had shamefully bent and broken laws (deliberately sabotaging court proceedings) in their various failed efforts to execute Abu-Jamal, known widely as the Voice-of-the-Voiceless.
While winning freedom for Abu-Jamal and the MOVE 9 is a prime focus of Pam Africa’s advocacy work, she is frequently found on ‘front-lines’ nationwide fighting for and end to the mistreatment of people regardless of their color and creed.
“Pam Africa is in each and every struggle for social justice in Philadelphia, the U.S. and abroad. It’s not just Mumia,” said Latino activist/writer Berta Joubert-Ceci, who recently chaired a program featuring former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney in West Philadelphia.
Dr. Claude Guillaumaud, a professor in France who has known Africa for 20-years, said she’s “had time to appreciate her warm personality and total commitment to the cause of Mumia and the fight against racial discrimination and the barbaric death penalty.”
Temple University African-American history professor Dr. Tony Monterio first met Pam Africa during an ugly June 1979 incident in South Philadelphia where local police beat Africa. Philadelphia police pummeled her with nightsticks with one stick-strike knocking out some of her teeth.
The scholar in Dr. Monterio sees Pam Africa as a unique figure whose contributions locally, nationally and internationally merit both examination and recognition.
“She’s made history but she didn’t set out to make history. She started initially just to do the right thing,” Monterio said during a recent interview.
Monterio is a force behind two recent events honoring Pam Africa’s accomplishments. He has initiated a process for what he envisions as a study of Africa’s life works.
Prosecutorial misconduct is a core element in the Abu-Jamal case, albeit a festering injustice ignored by state and federal courts that have refused to grant legal relief to Abu-Jamal despite granting new trials to others where the evidence of prosecutorial misconduct was far less grievous than that evident in the Abu-Jamal case.
One example of prosecutorial misconduct in the Abu-Jamal case occurred during his 1982 murder trial, when the prosecutor perverted a comment Abu-Jamal made over a decade earlier when responding to a reporter’s question about the December 1969 murder by Chicago Police of Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton.
The police assassination of Hampton, later linked to the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO campaign, outraged many at the time, including leaders as diverse as the then head of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins and former U.S. United Nations Ambassador and Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg.
Hampton’s assassination, later documented by congressional and other investigations, was a part of a joint police-FBI campaign to slay BPP members which led to 28 BPP deaths between January 1968 and December 1969.
As a teenaged BBP member, Abu-Jamal told that reporter that Hampton’s murder proved that “power” comes from the barrel of a gun.
But the 1982 trial prosecutor shifted the context of Abu-Jamal’s comment from applying it to the police killing Black Panthers to a supposed proclamation of Abu-Jamal’s intent to kill police. It was one of many factual mischaracterizations that millions worldwide constantly cite when charging Abu-Jamal received an unfair trial.
That improper perversion of Abu-Jamal’s 12-year-old comment made when he was just 15 helped sway jurors to send an award-winning journalist with no criminal record to death row. That same prosecutor had improperly excluded blacks from Abu-Jamal’s trial jury despite their having declared their willingness to impose a death penalty if warranted by the arguments at trial.
Not only was the prosecutor, Joseph McGill’s, twisting of Abu-Jamal’s comment an improper tactic. It violated associational rights granted under the First Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court gave new hearings in the early 1990s to two convicted murderers –- a white racist prisoner gang member in Delaware and a white devil worshipper in Nevada -– while denying comparable relief to former BPP member Abu-Jamal three times on the exact same issue.
USAG Eric Holder, shortly after taking office in January 2009, went to court successfully to request dismissal of Sen. Stevens’ conviction, after finding that the federal prosecutor in that case withheld evidence of innocence from Stevens’ defense team and also tampered with witnesses and documents.
The recent release of the special prosecutor’s report in the Stevens case confirmed prosecutorial misconduct and wrongdoing that were also clearly rampant in the case of Abu-Jamal and other U.S. political prisoners.
The Occupy The Justice Department demonstrators are raising the issue of Holder’s credibility and of the ethical integrity of the Obama Administration in acting to dismiss the wrongful conviction of ex-Senator Stevens while ignoring the continued imprisonment of U.S. political prisoners who were also victims of misconduct by police and prosecutors.
On December 9, 2011 –- one day before the U.N. annual Human Rights Day –- Noble Peace Prize Laureate and noted anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu asked America to “rise to the challenge of reconciliation, human rights and justice” in calling for the “immediate release” of Abu-Jamal.
Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He lives in Philadelphia.