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Alert on New Threat to Mumia Abu-Jamal

Based on a new reactionary Supreme Court decision penned by Justice Clarence Thomas, the State of Pennsylvania is now pushing to restore the death sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal that had been overturned. On June 29, the federal Court of Appeals lifted a stay on Mumia’s appeal process and the case could now be suddenly moving ahead and under more unfavorable circumstances.

"The government knows that the only way to stop Mumia is to murder him in the name of the law, to execute him. In over three decades of litigating death-penalty cases, I have not seen one in which the government wants so badly to kill a client," said Mumia’s lead attorney Robert Bryan, commenting on the new developments.

For 22 years Mumia has lived, locked down under threat of death as the result of a fraudulent, politically driven frame-up. Mumia is a revolutionary journalist who has continued to write the truth from behind bars, inspiring a whole new generation of resistance — in this country and internationally. He has never given up in despair or begged for a break. If Mumia is murdered by the state, he would be the first Black revolutionary legally executed for his political beliefs since the days of slavery, and this would accelerate the government’s attempts to terrorize all who would resist.

To clarify what has just happened: there had been TWO court-ordered stays in effect (a stay is a legal order to stop some legal process from going forward). One is the stay on Mumia’s execution order and the second was a temporary stay on submitting new legal briefs. The first stay on Mumia’s execution order has NOT been lifted. That stay remains in effect while Mumia completes his appeal process, which means that Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, who has promised to sign a new death warrant at the first opportunity, is still prohibited from doing so at this time.

But the Court of Appeals HAS lifted the second stay. That stay had been ordered by the Court of Appeals because the Supreme Court was deciding another case that might have relevance on the legal arguments in Mumia’s case. This case, called Beard v. Banks, dealt with the very issue that was used to overturn Mumia’s death sentence after a global struggle of many years.

The decision in Beard v. Banks was a reactionary 5-4 decision by a bitterly divided court. The majority opinion was written by Clarence Thomas. The issue was whether a previous decision by the Supreme Court (known as the Mills case) had established a new rule of constitutional law, and if so, could it be applied retroactively (that is, to death penalty cases that were concluded before the new rule went into effect). The Mills case dealt with how juries should consider mitigating circumstances when imposing the death sentence.

What is so ugly and racist about all this is that the issue in Beard v. Banks is whether people on death row (who are principally Black and Latino) will be executed or not, not on the basis of justice, but solely on the basis of whether their appeals were concluded before or after the Mills decision came down!

In the Beard v. Banks decision, the Supreme Court held that the Mills rule could NOT be applied retroactively. That is, people who might have been spared the death penalty because their trials violated the Mills rule, will now face execution solely because their appeals were concluded before a certain date. While those whose cases were concluded after the date will have a chance at being spared. This is what passes for justice under this system.

The important point here is that Mumia’s death penalty was overturned precisely because his sentencing violated the Mills rule (although there are other issues besides this involved in his appeal). Both sides have been ordered to turn in legal briefs on how the Beard decision effects Mumia’s case by July 29. The state of Pennsylvania will argue that the date in Mumia’s case did not "make the cut" and that his death penalty should be reinstated. While Mumia’s attorney will show this is not the case, facts have not carried much weight in the face of the state’s determined effort to execute Mumia. This is why determined political action is crucial.

At this critical moment, Refuse & Resist! urges youth from around the country to join us in Philadelphia from July 23-26, for the 10th Annual Philly Freedom Summer (PFS) to take part in building the movement to stop the execution, overturn the conviction, and free Mumia Abu-Jamal. PFS was initiated by R&R! in 1995 when Mumia came within days of being executed. Each year since then, PFS brings youth together with the people of Philly for outreach, actions, and events for Mumia. Our generation has been a part of a movement of resistance that has shaken things up at anti-war protests around the world, and, in this moment of great uncertainty we are determined to fight for a different future.

Financial contributions for Mumia’s legal defense should be made out to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation and mailed to: The Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, 130 Morningside Drive, Suite 6C, New York, NY 10027.


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