Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is protesting a Vermont college’s choice of a cop-killer as its commencement speaker, asking, “What possible enlightenment can your students obtain from this man?”
Goddard College announced this week that Mumia Abu-Jamal, “an American prisoner, author, and journalist” who got a degree from the school in 1996, was picked by students to deliver the fall commencement address this Sunday.
His remarks were recorded by video, the college said, and will play along with a documentary about the inmate convicted in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
“As a reflection of Goddard’s individualized and transformational educational model, our commencements are intimate affairs where each student serves as her or his own valedictorian, and each class chooses its own speaker,” said Goddard College Interim President Bob Kenny. “Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that.”
Toomey and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) led this year’s block of the nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, as Adegbile was the director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it took up Abu-Jamal’s case on appeal.
Yesterday, Toomey fired off a letter to Kenny saying he “cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer—one who ambushed a police officer, shot that officer in the back, and while that officer lay wounded and defenseless on the ground, lowered a gun to the officer’s face and took his life.”
“Is there any crime so heinous that Goddard would not reward the perpetrator with a spot as commencement speaker? This is not a question of free speech. It is a question of judgment and your school’s basic sense of right and wrong,” Toomey wrote.
The senator added there’s no way the college can argue that Abu-Jamal may not be guilty.
“Four eyewitnesses saw Abu-Jamal ambush Danny Faulkner and shoot multiple bullets into Officer Faulkner’s back, chest, and face. Three other eyewitnesses heard Abu-Jamal brag that he had shot Officer Faulkner and hoped that Officer Faulkner died. And during the trial, when Danny Faulkner’s blood-stained shirt was displayed, the jury saw Abu-Jamal turn in his chair and smirk at Officer Faulkner’s young widow, Maureen,” he wrote.
“…What lesson is Goddard teaching its students about their moral responsibilities, as members of a civil society, to their fellow citizens? Danny Faulkner’s family has been subjected to three decades of untold pain. They have been forced to sit by and watch as political opportunists exploited Danny Faulkner’s death to further their own agendas—spreading lies about the trial and the evidence and organizing rallies that, amazingly, portrayed Mumia Abu-Jamal as the victim.”
Toomey asked, “Did anyone bother to raise the question of how celebrating this unrepentant murderer might affect the victim’s family?”
The senator called the commencement address “a slap in the face to Danny Faulkner’s family, and to all of the law enforcement officers who risk their lives for us every day,” and asked the college president to revoke the invitation.