Happy Birthday to Mumia Abu-Jamal: We are all prisoners

Born in the United States on 24 April 1954, Mumia Abu-Jamal –an honorary citizen of Montreal — has spent the past 28 years in prison, mostly on death row, for a crime he did not commit, subject to an ongoing Kangaroo court with hearings that bear witness to a classic Rashomon-like tale, pregnant with contradictions, inconsistencies and recantings of previously sworn truths. Like Leonard Peltier, Mumia has been turned into one of the dominant order’s iconic targets, an example set against dissidence, betraying the nature of “justice” under “liberal democracy.” Yesterday Mumia turned 55. Even with all of the physical, social, and psychological confines of prison, Mumia has been a prolific contributor to a wide range of critical public debates, a steady voice that always offered cool yet incisive and decisive commentary that always strikes me and those I know as a welcome and distinctive perspective. I feel very strongly about this man and his voice. It may register nowhere, but at least from here, in another type of prison cell, I wish you Mumia a well deserved Happy Birthday, may you have 777 more birthdays in freedom for each one served in prison. (See: The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition of NYC.)

Many know of Mumia Abu-Jamal as a journalist and Black Panther activist from Philadelphia, who over the past decades has become famous for his many prison essays, especially his series of audio commentaries, Live From Death Row, and currently on Prison Radio where his latest broadcast deals with the Somali piracy issue.

This past December, Mumia was honoured in Mexico with Mexico City’s Week of Solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal, with other actions across North America, South America, and Europe. Mumia has a special relationship with Mexico, and in particular with Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN), who also commemorates Mumia’s birthday with messages of solidarity. Mumia has also announced himself as a Zapatista, in this beautiful poem, one of my favourites:

Can I speak? Can I speak about our dead at this celebration? After all, they are the ones who made it possible. Can someone say that we are here because they are not? Is that permitted?

I have a dead brother. Is there anyone here who doesn’t have a dead brother?

I have a dead brother.

He was killed by a bullet to his head. It was the before dawn on the 1st of January, 1994. Way before dawn the bullet that was shot. Way before dawn the death that kissed the forehead of my brother.

My brother used to laugh a lot but now he doesn’t laugh any more.

I couldn’t keep my brother in my pocket, but I kept the bullet that killed him. On another day before dawn I asked the bullet where it came from. It said: “From the rifle of a soldier of the government of a powerful person who serves another powerful person who serves another powerful person who serves another everywhere in the world.” The bullet that killed my brother has no nationality.

The fight that must be fought to keep our brothers with us, rather than the bullets that have killed them, has no nationality either. For this purpose we Zapatistas have many big pockets in our uniforms. Not for keeping bullets. For keeping brothers.

Thanks to the Fraternal Order of Police, we have at least a partial list of all those who Mumia can keep as brothers, and those who keep him as a brother.

The following is a series of interviews given by Mumia Abu-Jamal in March of 1996, spanning a variety of subjects from his case to the wider political system: