The Public Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal?

In August 1936 nearly 20,000 excited spectators filled a vacant lot next to a municipal building in a small Kentucky town to watch the hanging of a man convicted of rape. That hanging would be the last public execution in America.

Although states across this country have banned executions in public as barbaric, some contend that the American public is again witnessing the spectacle of a public execution. This time it is an inmate in Pennsylvania that evidence indicates is experiencing a barbaric ‘slow execution’ through calculated medical mistreatment and medical neglect.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, perhaps the most widely known prison inmate in America, is gravely ill, hardly able to walk or talk because of severe complications related largely to the diabetes which medical personnel inside a Pennsylvania prison failed to diagnose for months. Those prison personnel either did not detect the diabetes earlier this year while giving Abu-Jamal numerous blood tests that easily identify the elevated blood sugar levels of diabetes or did not inform Abu-Jamal of the blood test results .

That failure to find his raging diabetes – a disease easy to diagnose and easy to treat — led to Abu-Jamal’s emergency hospitalization at the end of March, after he collapsed, unconscious and in sugar shock. At the time he was finally transported to the hospital, Abu-Jamal was on the verge of a potentially fatal diabetic coma.

Despite Abu-Jamal’s obvious painful and deteriorating medical condition, Pennsylvania prison authorities have barred Abu-Jamal from receiving access to or consultation from medical experts assembled by his supporters. Those experts could provide the quality of care unavailable at either the demonstrably incompetent or malignant infirmary inside the prison where he is housed or that non-prison hospital authorities utilized.

The refusal of Pennsylvania prison authorities to either properly diagnose and treat Abu-Jamal or permit him access to non-prison medical personnel who could effectively treat his conditions fuel justifiable and understandable fears among Abu-Jamal’s far-flung supporters that anti-Abu-Jamal forces are trying to effectuate the death sentence that hung over Abu-Jamal on death row for 28-years before it was voided by reason of constitutional flaws cited by a federal court. Abu-Jamal initially was convicted and received a death sentence during a controversial trial in 1982 where he was found guilty of killing a Philadelphia policeman.

“They are outright killing him in front of us,” Pam Africa said. Africa, a close associate of Abu-Jamal and head of International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, visits him regularly.

“He is in pain. His skin is so bad from that rash that he looks like a burn victim,” Africa said. “The is F*%king horrible …”

Abu-Jamal was still seriously ill when he was returned to prison after spending just a few days in a nearby hospital ICU,  yet prison authorities ordered him returned to his prison cell after keeping him in the prison infirmary for only a few days following his return from the ICU. Authorities returned him to his cell despite his visibly weakened condition, dramatic 50-lb.weight loss, labored breathing, swelling of his body parts and open sores on his skin from a rash.

These authorities certainly knew that Abu-Jamal’s weakened condition would make it difficult for him to seek help by walking back to the infirmary, which is the distance of about three-city-blocks from his cell. Certainly authorities knew the difficulties facing Abu-Jamal even in obtaining meals from the dining hall, a nearly two-block distance from his cell.

Prison Radio, the San Francisco-based entity that has broadcast Abu-Jamal’s prison commentaries for decades, recently issued an update on his condition utilizing information provided by Abu-Jamal’s wife Wadiya following her latest visit.

According to that report, “He is extremely swollen in his neck, chest, legs and his skin is worse than ever, with open sores. He was not in a wheelchair, but can only take baby steps. He is very weak. He was nodding off during the visit. He was not able to eat – he was fed with a spoon. These are symptoms that could be associated with hyper glucose levels, diabetic shock, diabetic coma, and with kidney stress and failure.”

Prison Radio, a few days before that undated report on Abu-Jamal’s condition, had released information that Pennsylvania prison authorities were refusing proposals to address Abu-Jamal’s worsening medical condition. (Such proposals are not out of line. Millionaire John DuPont, serving time in a Pennsylvania prison for murder, was allowed to have his medical issues treated by his own private physician at his expense.)

Prison Radio reported that prison authorities had notified Bret Grote, a lawyer for Abu-Jamal, that they would not allow Abu-Jamal to be examined by his own doctor, and that they had denied access for that doctor to even communicate with prison medical staff to assist or direct Abu-Jamal’s care. Prison officials are refusing to allow regular phone calls between Abu-Jamal and his doctor and they said they would not allow Abu-Jamal to be examined by an endocrinologist (a diabetes specialist).

Charges that prison authorities are deliberating mistreating Abu-Jamal are routinely dismissed as hyperbole in the media despite abundant examples of mistreatment endured by Abu-Jamal and other inmates.

For example, in 2010 an inmate serving a life sentence like Abu-Jamal filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania prison authorities challenging their refusal to provide him with medical treatment for acute kidney stones despite a previous court settlement where authorities had agreed to provide that inmate with the needed treatment.

That inmate, Walter Chruby, secured an injunction from a judge in Pittsburgh ordering immediate treatment. Chruby’s lawsuit, according to a court ruling, found that immediately after he won that first court order for treatment, prison authorities “began withholding or intentionally delaying adequate medical care…”

The medical mistreatment of Mumia Abu-Jamal comes at a time when callous law enforcement, particularly brutality and fatal shootings by police, is in the national spotlight. Abu-Jamal, in his books and commentaries produced in prison, has been a strident critic of inequities in the criminal justice system. The medical mistreatment of Abu-Jamal is rife with callousness and inhumanity.

Abu-Jamal’s supporters are mounting petition drives and protests to push Pennsylvania prison authorities to permit adequate medical treatment for Abu-Jamal.

Here are contacts to call:

Tom Wolf, PA Governor: 717-787-2500 •

508 Main Capitol Building, Harrisburg PA 17120


John Wetzel Secretary of the Deparment of Corrections

717-728-4109 • 717-728-4178 Fax

1920 Technology Pkwy, Mechanicsburg PA 17050


John Kerestes, Superintendent SCI Mahanoy: 570-773-2158 x8102

570-783-2008 Fax

301 Morea  Road, Frackville PA 17932


Susan McNaughton, Public Information Office PA DOC

DOC Press secretary: 717-728-4025  PA DOC

Public Information Officer, SCI Mahanoy


Jane Hinman  570-773-2158; then dial zero

SCI Mahanoy: 570-773-2158 x8102 • 570-783-2008 Fax

301 Morea  Road, Frackville PA 17932

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia..

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.