The dust has now begun to settle over last week’s news that Mumia Abu-Jamal was asked to deliver a commencement speech via recording at an individual program graduation ceremony at Goddard College, a private and self-described non-traditional liberal arts college in Vermont. Goddard has now released the speech that Mumia delivered. Take a look for yourself. Faculty member Jan Clausen presented a persuasive argument for why Goddard, Mumia’s alma mater, seeks to maintain its relationship with him in an article at Inside Higher Education.
For those who may remain unfamiliar, Mumia was convicted of the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 after a trial that many, including the NAACP and Amnesty International, believed lacked fair and impartial standards that we expect in our legal system for those of any creed or color, and yes, even for those who are accused of killing law enforcement officers. Once perhaps the world’s most famous death-penalty prisoner, Mumia’s death sentence was eventually commuted to life imprisonment by Pennsylvania’s courts in 2011. He remains one of the most polarizing symbols in the world. Most people see him as either a symbol of the racial injustices of the death penalty or a symbol of everything that is wrong with the judicial system today. Very few people take a position in the middle on this one.
Mumia, who maintains a radio show among his followers, pre-recorded the speech from prison at SCI Mahanoy.
Popular reaction was expectedly harsh from Pennsylvania’s law enforcement community, and many politicians who are enraptured by the political sensitivity, despite 30 years (or, perhaps, because of it), of Mumia.
In Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Corbett held a press-rally protesting Goddard’s decision, and some are now arguing for a law to prevent offenders from re-victimizing victims. Corbett said, “To me, to Philadelphians, Abu-Jamal is a convicted murderer who has conned naive individuals from Hollywood to Paris into believing that he is somehow a political prisoner for shooting a police officer in the head. That’s why I have no hesitancy in endorsing a change in our crime victims act that provides for injunctive relief on behalf of the victims of violent crime.”
Mike Vereb (Montgomery, R.), introduced such a bill, and leaders in both chambers are pressing for something to be passed before the November election. This bill has serious First Amendment concerns, which will have to be defended again in the courts should it pass.
In the heat of a moment that has lasted 34 years, Mumia–and everything he represents–will no doubt continue to be a matter of public concern.
Reaction or overreaction? What do you think?