For nearly 40 years, Mumia Abu-Jamal has been imprisoned for a crime he says he didn’t commit. On Monday, prison abolition activist and former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick renewed calls for his release, saying if Black lives matter, “it means that Mumia’s life and legacy must matter.”
Kaepernick, an NFL free agent who hasn’t played since taking a knee to protest police brutality during the 2016-2017 NFL season, made the remarks on a Monday press conference organized by activist groups, including Black Lives Matter Philadelphia, Mobilization 4 Mumia and the Black Philly Radical Collective, reports WHYY.
Abu-Jamal was once the most notorious death row prisoner in the U.S., a former Black Panther sentenced to death after being found guilty of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner by a mostly white jury. But Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence in numerous appeals, pointing to a corrupt police force, along with biased prosecutors and a trial judge, as the reasons why he was convicted and incarcerated.
While he is no longer on death row, vigilance around his case has dissipated over the years, the Nation notes. But Kaepernick hopes to renew interest in his case.
“Mumia has been in prison longer than I’ve been alive,” Kaepernick said on Monday, summarizing Abu-Jamal’s case. “Since 1981, Mumia has maintained his innocence. His story has not changed. Mumia was shot, brutalized, arrested and chained to a hospital bed. The first police officer assigned to him wrote in a report that ‘The Negro male made no comment,’ as cited in Philly Mag. Yet 64 days into the investigation, another officer testified that Mumia has confessed to the killing.”
Kaepernick connected Abu-Jamal’s long-term imprisonment to today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
“Today we’re living through a moment where it’s acceptable to paint ‘end racism now’ in front of the Philadelphia Police Department’s 26th district headquarters, and yet a political prisoner who has since the age of 14 dedicated his life to fighting against racism, continues to be caged and lives his life on a slow death row,” he continued. “We’re in the midst of a movement that says ‘Black Lives Matter.’ And if that’s truly the case, then it means that Mumia’s life and legacy must matter. And the causes that he sacrifices life and freedom for must matter as well.”
Abu-Jamal was convicted of fatally shooting Faulkner in 1982 after the police officer stopped Abu-Jamal’s brother, William Cook, for driving the wrong way down a city street. Prosecutors said that a fight broke out between Cook and Faulkner; Abu-Jamal, who happened to be driving nearby, saw the confrontation and came to his brother’s defense, shooting Faulkner. Abu-Jamal was found wounded at the scene but denied ever shooting at the officer.
A former Black Panther, Abu-Jamal was also a journalist and served as a president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. He regularly covered police brutality, including the Philadelphia Police Department’s confrontations with the radical leftist organization, MOVE.
Since his imprisonment, Abu-Jamal has continued his activism through his writing; his 12th book, Murder Incorporated—Perfecting Tyranny: Book 3 is set to be published soon.
This past year, as Black Lives Matter protests around the country have brought police brutality to the fore once again, Kaepernick has focused specifically on calling for prison abolition. Last month, his publishing company launched “Abolition for the People,” a collection of essays from a variety of writers and activists arguing that the path to eradicating racism must involve radical institutional changes, including divesting from police.
“Not only do police and prisons fail to make us safer, but reform has only strengthened their most toxic ingrained practices,” reads the introductory essay. “The only answer is abolition, a full dismantling of the carceral state and the institutions that support it.”
As CBS News reports, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered an investigation into conflict of interest allegations at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office related to the handling of Abu-Jamal’s prosecution. Ordered earlier this year, the active investigation means all legal appeals for Abu-Jamal are paused as the court assumes jurisdiction over his case.