FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

To Police and Politicians: "Hands Off Goddard College!”

Students at Goddard College in Vermont will hear Pennsylvania imprisoned journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, give their commencement address this Sunday, October 5, 2014.

Police and supporting conservative politicians are up in arms, denouncing Goddard College, even pressing for cancellation of Abu-Jamal’s address.

Abu-Jamal’s speech will have to be a pre-recorded speech, a genre the veteran journalist has honed to award-winning form, in local Philadelphia radio and for National Public Radio. His skills and awards came prior to being convicted in 1982 for the killing of Officer Daniel Faulkner, and before he served over 29 years on death row. His death sentence was ruled unconstitutional in 2001, and finally vacated in 2011. He now serves a life sentence in a Pennsylvania prison.

From death row and prison, Abu-Jamal’s renown only grew. He has authored thousands of audio and print essays, and eight books. He also earned a Bachelors degree (Goddard College) and a Masters degree (California State University / Dominguez Hills) while in prison. He has become “the voice of the voiceless” for many repressed voices in the nation and world. While he is, himself, a life-long critic of racist brutal cops, he wrote in defense of LA police whose federal retrial for the 1992 Rodney King beating he saw as “clear violation” of their freedom from “double-jeopardy.”

His humanity, courage, power of pen and mind, as well as the flagrant injustice of his own treatment during trial and appeals, have drawn human rights activists’ attention. Amnesty International declared his 1982 trial “in violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures.” South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu demands he “be released immediately.”

The conservative media, the Fraternal Order of Police, their political cronies like Pennsylvania’s Senator Pat Toomey and its Governor Thomas Corbett, along with the state’s head of the Department of Corrections – all find Goddard’s invitation an outrage, an affront to law enforcement, to all society.

We beg to differ. In many ways, Abu-Jamal, imprisoned for decades, is this nation’s Nelson Mandela. He’s a life-long fighter against entrenched white racism. He is part of a generation of political activists, who during the 1960s and 1970s felt the full force of state repression. Armed state agents murdered Black radicals, unleashed illegal operations like COINTELPRO against them, attacked activists and their families, and destroyed programs led by organizers from Black, Latino, and Indian communities. Having committed no crime, the FBI still compiled a 600-page file on Abu-Jamal, beginning when he was a 15-year old writer for the Black Panther Party, which continued even after he left the Party after two years. Abu-Jamal received death threats from police on the streets. He was nearly beaten to death by the police who wrongfully apprehended him for Officer Faulkner’s shooting death. Abu-Jamal and many other US political prisoners should be honored, and Abu-Jamal especially for his fortitude, and for his role in galvanizing movements of conscience the world over. We need his voice more than ever, as we face today’s violence of brutal policing and entrenched mass incarceration.

We can admit rights to free speech for police and conservative politicians, but Mumia has that right, too. His freedom to address Goddard College students is further reinforced by the Pennsylvania Corrections Department’s own policies. The head of Corrections himself has said he cannot – in spite of his desire to do so – “pull the plug” on Abu-Jamal’s address.

But Mumia’s free speech right is even more important for an additional reason: his voice as a US political prisoner is often marginalized, demonized, repressed and silenced. Hearing from that kind of voice is not just a matter of fairness, it is also an act of justice necessary to the hearing of truth. It is a way to rectify the flagrant injustice of the state against the leaders of poor and racially targeted communities of the 1960s and 1970s.

As educators we know that truth demands hearing voices beyond those that are typically respected and securely lodged at the centers and upper echelons of power. No, as many scholars emphasize, the crucial role in society is played by the unexpected voices, indeed often by the disrespected voices among the marginalized, excluded and repressed. As a political prisoner, who was framed in the courts for his political beliefs and affiliations, Abu-Jamal brings these voices, and in ways unrivaled speaks and writes eloquently with fairness, humanity, humor, inspiration, and intellectual cogency. He is a seasoned public intellectual, and students know this.

Mumia’s voice is unwanted and feared by intimidating police and politicians, and their conservative media consorts. They are guardians of the center. In spite of their own rights to free speech, when they become a center that quashes the right to speak of needed voices from among the marginalized and politically repressed, they cease being a center worthy of public respect.

And so we say to those who would silence political prisoner Abu-Jamal again: “Hands off Goddard College students! Cease and desist from disparaging their choice to hear Abu-Jamal’s voice from prison on their graduation day.” The students occupy the moral and intellectual high ground. Let them proceed without intimidation by officials who command guns and prisons. The youth of today, those who must forge tomorrow’s freedom and real democracy, should be neither chained nor intimidated by guardians of the old center.

So, to Mumia Abu-Jamal and Goddard College – we say, “let the address begin!”

Johanna Fernandez, Ph.D. is Coordinator of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Department of History & Department of Black and Latino Studies Baruch College, CUNY.

Mark Lewis Taylor, Ph.D., Coordinator of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal, at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

 

More articles by:

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail