Activist Angela Davis discusses essays by Mumia Abu-Jamal
By Lou Fancher
Although absent its author, a book event at First Congregational Church of Oakland spoke volumes about the power of persistence in the fight for civil rights and social justice.
A discussion of the latest book by journalist, activist and former death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, "Writing on the Wall," drew a standing-room-only crowd Thursday. The event was hosted by activist, scholar and author Angela Davis and Walter Turner, host of the "Africa Today" show on KPFA, and was devoted to the book's collection of 108 essays written by Abu-Jamal between 1982 and 2014.
"Mumia deserves a full house," said Turner, social sciences professor at the College of Marin, said during introductory remarks about the imprisoned writer. Turner said Abu-Jamal's commentaries on community, racism, impoverishment, injustice and other issues were "so honest and radical that you freeze when reading them."
Abu-Jamal, 61, was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Held was held in isolation on Death Row for nearly 30 years and is now serving a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Johanna Fernández, assistant professor of history at City University of New York, and editor of Abu-Jamal's book, also spoke at the event. Her "10 Reasons Why Mumia Abu-Jamal Should Be Freed," an appendix in the 2016 City Lights book release, explains the 2011 Supreme Court ruling confirming that his death sentence was unconstitutional and encourages "a larger conversation in the mainstream about the crisis of mass and political imprisonment in the United States."
In her comments to the audience, Fernández said the book was a celebration of Abu-Jamal's contributions to the black radical tradition and was "offered in the spirit of Mumia's commitment to justice, community, freedom, and the highest aspirations of humanity." Reading from his essays, she highlighted his bold, literary power. Prisons, Abu-Jamal wrote, are "steel and brick slave ships;" police brutality is "police terrorism."
Providing historical perspective, Fernandez said Abu-Jamal and approximately a dozen other people involved in the Black Panther Party in the 1960s remain imprisoned. They have been tagged as "dangerous to those in power," she said, because they challenged the empire of capitalism and the "systematic and super-exploitation and control of certain groups."
Davis, who was acquitted of conspiracy in aiding a jail break at the Marin County courthouse in August 1970 that ended with the deaths of a judge and three members of the Black Panther Party, said that the Black Lives Matter and other movements aimed at abolishing racism are to be celebrated. Young people who analyze capitalism, study political attacks on labor union groups, protest anti-Muslim repression and question conventional leadership patterns, she said, leave her hopeful.
Answering a question from the audience about "fighting for the same things the Black Panther Party fought for" 50 years ago, Davis was undeterred in the continuing pursuit of justice.
"A great deal has changed and nothing has changed at all," she said, suggesting that novel ways of thinking about the same old issues generates new energy to overcome oppression. When asked what can be done to help Abu-Jamal, who is in deteriorating health, and raise awareness about institutional racism in education, health care, society and the prison industry, Fernández replied, "Solidarity is the only way we will win."