‘Long Distance Revolutionary’: an uneven look at the fervor surrounding Mumia Abu-Jamal
The LAPD’s history of impropriety casts an especially long shadow across the annals of law enforcement, given the city’s scrutiny as a media center, but it has its competition, especially in the persona of Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia police commissioner and mayor, whose polarizing bravado easily rivaled the legacy of the LAPD’s William Parker and Darryl Gates.
Rizzo is a center figure in the documentary, “Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Mumia is a most convenient figurehead in the tale of his city’s police and their clash with the Black-Panther-radical-journalist-turned-cause-célèbre, in the wake of his conviction in the shooting death of Officer Daniel Faulkner.
Although the film opens with denunciations by conservative commentators Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, it is by no means an evenhanded look at the circumstances behind Mumia’s incarceration. Indeed, the question of his guilt or innocence takes a back seat to the chronicle of his writing and an indictment of the American justice system.
Brief excerpts of White native Philadelphians (a proprietor of one of the city’s iconic cheese steak emporiums reveals he stopped patronizing the films of screen idol Paul Newman after he learned the actor had championed Mumia’s cause) rigorously upholding the court’s verdict are overshadowed by a plethora of celebrity advocates who articulately vouch for Mumia’s stature as a cause célèbre and symbol of the prison industrial complex of the United States.
To be fair, as the film documents, the city’s police had it in for Mumia long before the December 1981 shooting. He credits his radicalization to his vicious beat-down at the hands (and feet) of Philly’s finest at a George Wallace rally when he was 14 years old. The rest of his teen years were spent within the ranks of the local Black Panther Party, all the while under the close surveillance of law enforcement.
Adulthood saw his development into a journalist who did nothing to endear himself to his employers by his willingness to tackle controversial subjects and refusal to conform to the standards of professional etiquette. One memorable episode, he showed up wearing a ratty T-shirt to a suit-and-tie press conference for then-President Jimmy Carter, then earning praise from the chief executive for his probing, insightful questions.
Talent and professionalism alone did not guarantee job security, however, and Mumia was forced to work as a cabdriver to provide for his family, leading up to the incident that changed his life.
Guilty or not, there is no denying Mumia’s charisma as a high profile radio commentator and, after his imprisonment, a prolific essayist, historian, and social critic whose publications have garnered him a cadre of global admirers and supporters, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, heads of state, the Japanese parliament, Nobel laureates, and so on.
With 30 years of imprisonment under his belt, Mumia remains a lightning rod for the provocative, as two dozen cities across the globe he has not set foot in have granted him honorary citizenship, including Paris, France. A few miles away, the French township of Saint-Denis, the burial site of several Gallic kings, has named a street in his honor, the Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All of this has prompted resolutions from his country’s House of Representatives condemning these tributes, while Mumia continues to receive honorary degrees and has recorded commencement addresses to be replayed at the graduation ceremonies of institutes of higher learning. International activist, historian, and world celebrity Tariq Ali went so far as proclaiming that he deserved the Nobel Prize more than the man who actually won it that year, President Barack Obama (a man Mumia has regularly criticized for, among other things, his complicity in maintaining the high American prison population).
The question of whether this apparent paragon of Black Nationalism is guilty or innocent will likely never be conclusively proved. It will, like the commotion surrounding another celebrated murder case, that of O.J. Simpson, never reach satisfactory closure, instead passing into mythology for coming generations to argue over and ponder.
Almost three decades after his arrest, the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal still raises violent disagreement between those seeking his release, and those awaiting his execution.
According to court records, on Dec. 9, 1981, at approximately 4 a.m., Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner stopped a Volkswagen driven by William “Billy” Cook, the brother of former Black Panther and radical journalist Abu-Jamal (formerly Wesley Cook) near the intersection of Locust and 13th streets.
Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, the Vietnam War-hero-turned-Black Panther who became a cause célèbre for the leftist leaning counter culture, has died in his adopted Tanzanian homeland of a heart attack. He was 63 years old, and is survived by a daughter and three sons.
Ayuko Babu, a fixture of the activist movement of that era and the current director of the Pan African Film Festival, summed up the legacy of Geronimo ji-Jaga (the name he adopted) thusly:
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — An explosive device found in a man’s vehicle during a traffic stop today prompted authorities to go to the motorist’s Palms-area residence, where a number of possible explosive devices were found, police said.
A bomb squad was sent to the apartment building in the 3800 block of Overland Avenue about 6:30 a.m., the Los Angeles Police Department reported.
More than 1,500 people—mostly students and community residents—attended a forum on the USC campus Tuesday night to voice concern about recent actions by law enforcement officials where African Americans feel they were racially profiled.
The forum followed a sit-in at the Tommy Trojan statue Monday by USC students upset about how police shut down two parties early Sunday, and arrested six students.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Three parties will split a $1 million reward that was offered during the hunt for ex-LAPD Officer Christopher Dorner, with the bulk of the money going to a couple who were tied up in their Big Bear cabin by the fugitive, the Los Angeles Police Department announced today.
The division of money was recommended by a panel of retired judges who reviewed claims submitted by 12 parties looking to get a share of the money.
The first installment of the reward money is expected to be given out on Friday.