Michael Miner’s usually excellent Hot Type column (July 14) continues the Reader’s obsession with the death sentence imposed on Mumia Abu-Jamal. The apparent premise of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s advocates is that “a former Black Panther and National Public Radio reporter,” who is also a “political activist,” has a First Amendment right to shoot to death a police officer. This would certainly break new ground in free speech law.
Mr. Miner’s article acknowledges that not only was Abu-Jamal “unquestionably at the scene” of the fatal shooting of the police officer but that he was shot by the murdered officer. But the article repeats yet another chorus of the chant which has been echoed in the Reader for some months now, i.e., that the prosecution falsified and concealed evidence. A New York Times dispatch of July 17 tells us that there were two Blacks on the jury which imposed the death sentence. This does not guarantee a fair sentence, any more than the presence of Blacks on the O.J. Simpson jury guarantees a fair trial in that case. But it does indicate that the evidence presented to a jury, including two Blacks, showed a crime aggravated enough to result in a death sentence.
I would have more confidence in the responsibility of Mr. Miner’s journalism if he undertook to tell us about the evidence against Abu-Jamal and specify what evidence was supposedly falsified. The Reader’s obsession with Abu-Jamal suggests to me a certain perversity of values. The victim of this crime, after all, was a human being, although the Reader constantly reminds us that he was only a policeman. Why doesn’t Mr. Miner tell us something about the victim and his supporters? Mr. Miner spares us few details in reporting the rather childish antics of Abu-Jamal’s supporters, e.g., that they “toyed with picketing the Fraternal Order of Police offices.” Jamal was sentenced to death in 1982. It is apparent that his case has undergone numerous appeals and reviews by state and federal judges. If the case is as tenuous as Mr. Miner is suggesting, why doesn’t he try to tell us what some of those judges said, rather than tell us about publicity seekers who “toy with picketing” but don’t even picket!
Joel J. Sprayregen
PS: Mr. Abu-Jamal has now been given a Lillian Hellman award for enduring “political persecution” as a journalist. Since Ms. Hellman, during her lifetime, was an unrepentant Stalinist noted for studious disregard for veracity, this makes me even more suspicious about Mr. Abu-Jamal and his supporters.