To some, Mumia Abu-Jamal is nothing more than a cop killer who deserves to die. But for many others, he’s an international hero and symbol of America’s racist and criminal injustice toward people of color. His hero status kicked in when he was invited to be the commencement speaker for a school in Vermont. While officials aren’t happy about it, much of the world is, and the students are certainly honored to have him.
Abu-Jamal spoke to the 20 students at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont this week by video. The journalist and activist was convicted in the 1981 shooting of a police officer in Philadelphia, and his case has since been a rallying cry for those who feel that he was unjustly convicted.
“Think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better,” Abu-Jamal said in the video.
Abu-Jamal studied at Goddard many years ago and said that his education there helped him to learn about things that he never would have learned otherwise. He was only there briefly, but left a permanent mark on the students of this generation.
“Goddard reawakened in me my love of learning,” he said. “In my mind, I left death row.”
Abu-Jamal didn’t mention his alleged crime or conviction during the speech. He was convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981. Since that time, Abu-Jamal has been more productive behind bars than most people who are free. He has written books, been a part of albums, and engaged in many other forms of collaboration that have allowed him to have an impact on the outside world. Now, over 30 years later, his influence is as strong as ever.
Just recently, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole. This was the result of weeks of activism on his behalf and work by those who believe in his cause. Now, the battle for Abu-Jamal’s supporters is to get him out of prison entirely.
His claims that he’s been victimized by a racist justice system have attracted international support. A radio show, documentaries and books have helped publicize his case. Goddard College describes him as “an award-winning journalist who chronicles the human condition.”
ut the decision to allow Abu-Jamal to speak angered police and corrections officials in Vermont and Pennsylvania. The Vermont Troopers Association said it showed a disregard for the victim’s family at a time when the nation is seeking solutions to gun violence.