Bad Idea: The 'Shut Up Already, Mumia' Law

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.