Shortly before 4 a.m. on December 9, 1981, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner was patrolling alone in the area of 13th and Locust Streets, a bit south and east of the city’s downtown. As it remains today, the neighborhood at the time was beset by the same troubles one would have found in the rougher neighborhoods of any big city: crime, drugs, prostitution, and an overall grittiness. Officer Faulkner made a traffic stop on a Volkswagen Beetle for going the wrong way on a one-way street with its lights off. The driver was one William Cook.
Officer Faulkner became involved in a struggle with Cook, during which Cook’s brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal (formerly known as Wesley Cook), ran up from across the street and shot Faulkner in the back. Faulkner drew his own weapon and shot Abu-Jamal in the stomach before collapsing to the pavement. Abu-Jamal then stood over Faulkner and fired several more rounds, one of which struck Faulkner in the face, killing him. When other officers arrived shortly thereafter, Abu-Jamal was found slumped on the curb wearing an empty shoulder holster. A .38 caliber revolver with five spent casings was found on the ground next to him. Records showed Abu-Jamal had purchased the gun himself.
In 1982, Abu-Jamal was put on trial for Officer Faulkner’s murder, convicted and sentenced to death. The case made its way through lengthy appeals in both state and federal courts, with the guilty verdict upheld at every turn. Abu-Jamal’s death sentence, however, was in the end overturned owing to faulty jury instructions. In December 2011, Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams announced that his office would not continue the effort to see Abu-Jamal executed. The sentence now stands at life without possibility of parole.
I won’t attempt to re-litigate Abu-Jamal’s case here. Anyone with time to waste can search the Internet for his name and spend days reading the crackpot theories that place responsibility for Daniel Faulkner’s murder on this or that mysterious figure, but from the moment he was arrested, Abu-Jamal’s guilt has never been seriously in question. To me, the murder has always seemed to be a planned assassination of a police officer. How else to explain why William Cook was driving as though he wanted to attract the attention of an officer, then pulled over exactly where his brother just happened be parked?
That Abu-Jamal escaped the punishment he so very much deserved is hardly the only galling aspect of this story. He has been lionized by deluded Hollywood types like Ed Asner and Susan Sarandon; he has been made an honorary citizen of Paris, Copenhagen, Montreal, and many other cities; he has written books; and he has given pre-recorded commencement speeches at colleges, most recently at Vermont’s Goddard College, from which he earned a degree by taking correspondence courses while in prison. (And how proud they must be of such a distinguished alumnus.) In short, ever since he murdered Daniel Faulkner, Abu-Jamal has been given the lefty hero treatment on stilts.
Understandably appalled by this is Maureen Faulkner, Daniel’s widow, who has endured decades of courtroom fights in the ultimately fruitless effort to see Abu-Jamal put to death, all the while watching as the killer has been heralded as an incarnation of Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael all rolled into one.
So I have nothing but sympathy for Maureen Faulkner, just as I have nothing but contempt for the loathsome Mumia Abu-Jamal. But still, I cannot endorse the measure recently passed in Pennsylvania and signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett on Oct. 14. Officially titled Senate Bill No. 508, the statute might better be known as the “Shut Up Already, Mumia” law. If the history and language of the bill did not make this clear enough, the signing ceremony was held at the very spot were Abu-Jamal killed Daniel Faulkner. Maureen Faulkner was in attendance.
And who would blame her? Seeing the bill enacted was for her a minor stroke of justice aimed at the man who, when she was 24 and newly married, murdered her husband in cold blood. But as much as she (and we) might endorse its aim, the law will very likely have the opposite effect from that which she and law’s authors intended. On Nov. 10, lawyers representing Abu-Jamal filed suit seeking to block the law in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. They’re all but certain to win.
The law states very simply that “a victim of a personal injury crime may bring a civil action against an offender . . . for any conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Such conduct is described as any “which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” Under these terms, every word spoken by Mumia Abu-Jamal, and for that matter every breath he takes, causes mental anguish for Maureen Faulkner and can be viewed as a violation of the law.
So-called “Son of Sam Laws” (referring to the New York serial killer) aim to prevent criminals from profiting from their misdeeds, taking aim at whatever proceeds one might earn through movies, television shows, or books based on their stories. These laws have had mixed success in the courts, but it’s hard to imagine such an exercise in prior restraint as embodied in the Pennsylvania law as being viewed as anything but an affront to the First Amendment. And in the process, the murderer will only be wafted ever higher on the updrafts of leftist adoration. Far from being silenced, he’ll be an obscene presence in the news until his lawsuit reaches its conclusion.
It’s a pity Mumia Abu-Jamal wasn’t silenced once and for all by the death sentence he earned on that early morning in Philadelphia 33 years ago. He can’t be silenced now, but he can be ignored. May the world soon forget him.