DECEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 12
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ANTHONY MARCIANO, a native of North Providence, Rhode Island, holds a masters degree in political science from Suffolk University. He has worked on various campaigns including that of current Rhode Island governor Lincoln Almond. Marciano lives in Boston, MA.
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On the evening of November 30th, the band Rage Against the Machine played a concert in Worcester, MA. During this concert, they chose to draw attention to the cause of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a man who was convicted in 1982 of the slaying of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
The band seems to have taken a very special interest in this convict, and I think it is fair to ask ourselves the appropriateness of their doing so. After all, they were able to convince a large audience to chant "Free Mumia!", and I am sure that many in the audience had not heard of this man until the band brought him to their attention. The fact of the matter is that the band is guilty of using the support that their music has gained to drum up support for a convicted murderer, who, in a more just society, would long ago have suffered lethal injection.
In the early morning hours of December 9, 1981, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner pulled over a vehicle that was traveling the wrong way on a one way street. The car was being driven by Daniel Cook, the brother of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Cook and the officer scuffled, and the officer was shot in the back by a man who had observed the struggle from across the street. The officer was able to fire one shot before being shot again, between the eyes.
Soon thereafter, reinforcements that had been requested by Faulkner (who apparently had sensed that there would be some trouble) arrived at the scene, where they found their fellow officer with his face almost entirely shot off. They also found Mr. Abu-Jamal sitting on a nearby curb. When he was approached by Officer Robert Shoemaker, he reached for a nearby gun, which led to him being kicked in the face. (This, of course, would lead to whining about "police brutality" from academics who have never had to face a situation remotely close to that of apprehending a dangerous criminal, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.) Abu-Jamal continued to struggle with the police while they arrested him.
It quickly became apparent to the police that Jamal had been shot as well. He was consequently taken to the hospital. While his supporters would later claim that he was tortured extensively by the police, the doctor who treated him testified that he arrived at the hospital between 4:10 A.M. and 4:20 A.M.. This was shortly after Officer Faulkner's body arrived at the hospital and only 10-20 minutes after his initial arrest.
Abu-Jamal made several statements immediately after the arrest that led many to believe that he was guilty. Inspector Alfonso Giordano testified that he asked Abu-Jamal what he had done with his gun, and Abu-Jamal allegedly responded that he dropped it after shooting the officer. Two policemen, as well as a hospital security guard, also testified that they heard Jamal say "I shot the mother fucker and I hope the mother fucker dies".
A gun was found at the scene of the murder. This gun, which was legally registered to Abu-Jamal, contained five spent shell casings. This corresponds to the five shots that were fired at Officer Faulkner. Ballistics experts concluded that the bullets found in Faulkner's body matched those fired from this gun.
Five witnesses testified that they saw Abu-Jamal kill Officer Faulkner. At the 1995 retrial, the defense reexamined one of the witnesses, Robert Chobert, who again maintained that he saw Jamal shoot Faulkner. That same year, they announced that William Cook, the man whose traffic stop began the events that led to the shooting, would vindicate his brother on the witness stand. This did not happen. In 1996, they called another witness, Veronica Jones, in attempt to vindicate their client. It turned out that she did not actually witness the murder. In 1997, they offered up another witness, Pamela Jenkins, who claimed that Cynthia White, one of the key prosecution witnesses, had altered her story in recent (within the previous few months) conversations with Jenkins. This attempt to vindicate Jamal failed when the prosecution revealed that White had died in 1992!
Most telling, however, is Mumia Abu-Jamal's explanation for the events that transpired on the morning of December 9, 1981. He has none! That's right, this man, who has been in jailed for over 17 years for a crime that left-wing dupes in academia and the entertainment industry say that he did not commit, has never offered any sort of explanation for his actions. It should tell his supporters something that, with all the time this man has had on his hands for the past 17 years, he has not been able to come up with even a plausible lie that would indicate that events unfolded in a manner differently from the way that the prosecution contended. William Cook, the brother of Abu-Jamal, has also refused to give an account of what transpired that morning.
The evidence in support of Abu-Jamal's guilt is simply overwhelming. His attorneys have been given three chances to vindicate their client, despite the lack of evidence supporting their case. This indicates that, far from being railroaded by "white man's justice", Abu-Jamal has been given every opportunity to present evidence that would exonerate him. Due to the inexplicable amount of sympathy that his cause has received, he has been given greater access to our justice system than nearly any other similarly convicted cop-killer would get.
Nonetheless, his supporters, such as Rage, insist that justice has not been done. I agree. It is patently unjust that this case is still on the dockets of our legal system. It is unjust that this convicted murderer continues to avoid the punishments that he richly deserves. There is no justice in the fact that RATM is able to convince their (largely teenage) audience that this man, who has shown no remorse for the death of Officer Faulkner, not only should have his execution stayed, but should be free to rejoin society.
The editor of this magazine has stated that the entertainment industry is not responsible for the destructive acts committed by troubled teenagers and others. I believe that this is, for the most part, true. People who commit violent acts do not do so because of the music to which they listen. Rather, the music may bring out violent tendencies that are already present in the disturbed mind of the perpetrator. However, in influencing thousands of fans to chant support for a convicted killer, who has never given a plausible explanation of the killing, Rage is not bringing out something that was already inside of these youths. Rather, they are leading their audience to believe that this man was framed by a judicial system that has unfairly prosecuted him because of his race. In doing so, they are doing a great disservice to the criminal justice system. They are committing a disservice to their fans by misleading them and encouraging a mindset that places more faith in those who support criminals than those who support law enforcement. They are not, in this case, merely bringing out tendencies already extant in the minds of their fans. Rather, they are encouraging sympathy for a criminal of whom most of their audience would not have even heard had it not been for the group's advocacy for his cause.
While the First Amendment certainly protects their right to advocate for the release of any criminal, I believe that it is certainly appropriate to question whether they are behaving responsibly in doing so. It is especially unfortunate that they have chosen this convict. The convict has offered no plausible explanation (indeed, no explanation at all) for what really happened that morning. Nor has his brother, the driver whose traffic stop led to the arrest. The killing of a police officer who is in the process of making a lawful arrest is one of the greatest offenses that one can commit in our society. Because of their musical abilities, Rage Against the Machine has the ability to reach a large audience, and influence their views on matters that have nothing to do with music. It may be unfortunate that some people can have their political opinions shaped by a group simply because they enjoy that group's music. However, this is the reality, and it would appear that Rage, in this case, has used their ability to influence young minds in a very unfortunate way.
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