Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett just signed a new law that allows convicted prisoners to be sued by their victims for “seeking publicity or money.” Corbett made a point of signing it at an infamous Philadelphia street corner: 13th and Locust.
It’s where Mumia Abu-Jamal, a part-time radio journalist driving a cab on Dec. 9, 1981, saw his brother in a physical conflict with a young, white police officer, Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal ran toward the duo. A scuffle ensued. Shots were fired, and both Abu-Jamal and Faulkner were hit. Faulkner died at the scene, leaving behind a young, blond widow and some very angry Philadelphia police officers.
The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who spent almost 30 of his imprisoned 33 years on death row for Faulkner’s murder before having his sentence switched to life without parole in 2011, has dragged into its fourth decade. The reams of court transcripts and the articles written about the case and its subject could fill a small room.
But what one needs to know about the case today is simple: Abu-Jamal’s supporters think him innocent and framed (in one way or another) and want him free, and his opponents want him dead. This is a struggle for life, all puns intended. No compromise is possible.
What is even clearer is that the state of Pennsylvania—which passed the new law a few weeks after Abu-Jamal appeared in a prerecorded message as commencement speaker at his alma mater, Goddard College—has a long history of making up special rules for the prisoner, who has been an internationally successful writer, broadcaster and public speaker for 20 years.