Today, former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal turns 58. Thirty of those years were spent on Death Row for the shooting death of Officer Daniel Faulkner, despite the millions of people across the world who believe him to be innocent. Last December, Mumia was released from Death Row and transferred to another Pennsylvania prison, where he was immediately put in solitary confinement–a punishment–though he’s never committed a single infraction during his three decades in prison. Hollywood actor, producer and lifelong activist Danny Glover has been an avid supporter of Mumia Abu Jamal’s case for more than 20 years. Here, he talks about the next steps for the international Free Mumia movement, the immorality of the death penalty and the plight of mass incarceration.
Do you have a personal relationship with Mumia? Have you ever corresponded with him through letters or met him?
I’ve never corresponded with Mumia through letters and I’ve never met him, but I’ve been involved in his case in some capacity for twenty years. Ossie Davis and myself were very close to the Free Mumia committee for a long period of time.
Mumia’s been released from Death Row. What work is there to still be done around his case?
Well certainly, we had a major victory. The state had planned to kill Mumia Abu Jamal and we were able to thwart that plan with a strong, international committee and international movement built from the ground up. This victory elevated the struggle against the death penalty itself. Those of us who were opposed to Mumia’s execution were also generally opposed to the death penalty on (the) principle that no state should be killing its citizens and that the death penalty is immoral. The next step is to fight for his release. He’s been imprisoned for thirty years, he turns 58 today, and we have to take the next steps to call for his immediate release. As Bishop Tutu said in December of last year (when Mumia was released from Death Row), the challenge is for this country to rise up for justice, reconciliation and human rights. That’s what we have to do now, it is not enough that we continue to sit back and pat ourselves on the back for the removal from Death Row.
20 years ago there was a lot of momentum from Hollywood in support of Mumia. I remember Ed Asner and Susan Sarandon being on the front lines. But seemingly many of the White, liberal leftists disappeared. Does this have anything to do with the Policemen Benevolent’s very well-organized campaign against Mumia?
I don’t think the people that you’ve mentioned–and I know them well–fell off one bit. They still advocate for Mumia and are really resilient in their struggle to end the death penalty itself. Whether it’s the case of Gary Graham in Houston, Texas or Reggie Clemmons in St. Louis or Troy Davis in Atlanta, Georgia, we’re fighting to save their lives, but the underlying issue is the abolition of the death penalty.
You’ve connected the movement around Mumia to that of mass incarceration too.
If we look at the much larger issue of mass incarceration, particularly of African American and people of color then you have to make those connections. I recently went to California and visited Soledad (State Prison) and 40% of the population had a life sentence. As we look at mass incarceration, we have the privatization of the prison system and that movement has created a chasm between what we’re capable of doing and what kind of voice we have as citizens. I remember 40 years ago when there was an extraordinary movement around supporting prisoners. My wife was a part of an organization where women would correspond with prisoners and advocate on their behalf and, in essence, work to bring the community to the system and make the prison system a part of the public discourse. With the privatization of prisons, you have no outcry from the general public. At the same time, a prison population that has increased dramatically, especially since Clinton’s presidency has increased dramatically, but largely out of public view.
Where does your mandate to advocate for social justice come from?
My mother was the regional president of The National Council of Negro Women. She was close with Dorothy Height. So it comes from my parents, but also from the times from which I come. I was a student at San Francisco State in the late sixties. I was a part of the student strike of 1968 which closed down the campus for 5 months–the longest strike in U.S. university history–which brought about the Ethnic Studies program at San Fran State, which is one of the strongest in the county and at 42 years, the oldest.