Date: Thu, 17 Aug 2000 10:05:25 -0400
Mumia Protest in LA Reaches Millions
By Brenda Sandburg and Bill Hackwell
The eyes of the world were on the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles as 5,000 people marched Aug. 13 to save the life of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and end the racist death penalty.
Over 200 media outlets from around the world reported on the protest, drawing unprecedented attention to Abu-Jamal's case. The former Black Panther is a prisoner on Pennsylvania's death row.
Chants of Free Mumia! echoed off the buildings in downtown Los Angeles as the march moved down Figueroa Street from Pershing Square to the Staples Center, where Democratic Party delegates were beginning to arrive.
People came from all over the country to send a clear message to the Democratic Party wing of the ruling class.
Buses came from San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego and Mendocino County, Calif. People organized vans and car pools from all over the West Coast. Others came from as far away as New York and Washington.
The event was youthful and multinational. A wide range of ages and struggles was represented.
The spirited daylong event set the tone for a week packed with protests against corporate plunder, police brutality, racism, the U.S. war against Iraq and the Navy occupation of Vieques.
Protesters defy police, gov't threats
If the Democrats and Republicans really cared about working people, they’d be out here on the streets with us protesting against police brutality, said rally Co-chair John Parker, a leading organizer of the Los Angeles Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and co-coordinator of the Los Angeles chapter of the International Action Center, which initiated the demonstration.
Instead, they’re more concerned about not offending their corporate sponsors who hire these thugs [the cops], the same people who are trying to kill Mumia.
Organizers said the demonstration would have been even bigger if not for the blatant threats made by the Los Angeles Police Department and federal officials.
In the weeks before the march, the city of Los Angeles brought in 3,000 National Guard troops. Their training to suppress protesters was televised nightly.
Despite every effort by the mayor and the LAPD to marginalize the struggle to save Mumia and to intimidate and frighten people from coming out to the demonstration, a massive grassroots mobilizing effort has succeeded in reaching millions of people around the world with the truth about Mumia's case, said Preston Wood, co-coordinator of the Los Angeles IAC.
Originally, police tried to isolate protesters in a fenced-in area far from the convention site. The American Civil Liberties Union and National Lawyers Guild filed a lawsuit on behalf of protest organizers.
A court ruled that the city's planned restrictions violated the First Amendment and that people had the right to demonstrate in the vicinity of the convention center.
The fact that the demonstration was linked to the Democratic Convention was vital in boosting media attention to Abu-Jamal's case. This is the first demonstration for Mumia to get widespread national coverage, said James Lafferty, a co-chair of the rally and member of the National Lawyers Guild. The amazing coverage is a major breakthrough in putting the issue on the map.
In addition to demanding a new trial for Abu-Jamal, protesters called for an end to the racist death penalty, police brutality and the prison-industrial complex.
Dorsey Nunn of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children noted that 6 million people are currently on parole or probation. Mumia's case is a continuation of an all-out attack of racism, Nunn said.
Speakers said there is no fundamental difference between the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Abu-Jamal's son, Mazi Jamal, declared: The Los Angeles convention is an echo of the Philadelphia convention, bought and paid for by corporate people who are nothing but public-relations spokespeople for the bosses. Whether you vote Republican or Democrat, you vote for your own oppression.
Gloria La Riva of the International Action Center noted that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is set to execute 10 more people before December.
Gore and the Democrats are just as responsible for every execution in Texas, La Riva said. President Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which is what has prevented Mumia and others on death row from gaining a new trial.
Pam Africa of International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal urged people to sign an appeal to U.S. District Court Judge William H. Yohn. Yohn will decide later this year whether to allow new evidence to be presented in court on Abu-Jamal's behalf. Africa said the evidence “shows there was a conspiracy between Judge Sabo, the district attorney and Mumia's public defender at the time of his conviction.
War at home and abroad
Other speakers linked the prison system's brutality and injustice to U.S. policy abroad.
The U.S. government kills women and children in Iraq and kills people in the United States, even if they are mentally disabled or under 18, even if malfeasance and mistrials are horrendous, actor Edward Asner said.
Until Mumia is granted a new trial, we will continue to watch the Al Gores laugh up their sleeves while the George W. Bushes inexorably march the young, the disabled and quite possibly the innocent to their deaths.
Abu-Jamal's lead attorney, Leonard Weinglass, said the U.S. government is killing its young people just as it kills oppressed people in Iraq, Colombia and other parts of the world.
Of 3,600 people on death row, 70 are juveniles, Weinglass said. The U.S. is the only country of the world to execute its youth.
It is only poor people who end up on death row, added Steve Rohde, president of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
They call it capital punishment, because if you don't have the capital, you get the punishment, Rohde said. Over one-third of those on death row never had a lawyer.
Many speakers paid tribute to Shaka Sankofa, also known as Gary Graham, who was murdered by the state of Texas June 22.
Gloria Verdieu of the San Diego Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal said the intense media coverage about Sankofa's unjust conviction did not halt the biggest legal lynching in the history of the United States.
Only a mass movement of the people will free Abu-Jamal, she added.
Jackson: We must not lose Mumia
The Rev. Jesse Jackson came to lend his support to the protest. He declared, We lost Sankofa, we must not lose Mumia.
Jackson said the laws must be changed to make state executions illegal, adding, We cannot rest until all political prisoners are free.
Larry Holmes, a national leader of Millions for Mumia/IAC, echoed Sankofa's last words. He said you can kill a revolutionary, but you can't kill a revolution, Holmes declared. We will stand between the execution chamber and Mumia.
Imani Henry, a coordinator of the lesbian/gay/bi/trans group Rainbow Flags for Mumia, told the crowd, I was arrested in Philly at the Republican National Convention protest and rushed here to tell the Democrats, like we told the Republicans, that they have the blood of Shaka Sankofa on their hands.
Henry urged people to protest at the first national debate between Bush and Gore in Boston Oct. 3.
Workers World Party presidential candidate Monica Moorehead denounced the forces lined up against the demonstrators.
The cops can detain and torture activists as they did in Philadelphia and the media can label us as criminals. But you know what? It doesn't matter. Repression breeds resistance.
Moorehead said the government hopes to silence the dynamic youth and student movement. But, she added, Shaka Sankofa gave us our marching orders with his dying words to fight on.
We will fight on until Mumia is free and struggling with us.
Other speakers included Farm Workers union leader Dolores Huerta, Eric Mann of the Bus Riders Union, Bob McClosky of Service Employees Local 535, Bob Mandel of the Oakland Education Association, AFSCME representative Roy Stone, spoken-word artist Jime Salcedo, and several bands including East LA Sabor Factory and Atzlan Underground.
International Action Center
National Peoples Campaign/Millions for Mumia
39 West 14th Street, #206
New York, NY 10011
212 633-6646 212 633-2889 FAX
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