As with everything I post about, I have several issues with this. The first being, WTF?
My second issue is this. Mumia Abu-Jamal was charged with the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, which took place in 1981. Mumia was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty for this crime in 1982. SINCE his conviction, there has been adamant and consistent protest claiming his innocence, and alleging gross misconduct in both the investigation and prosecution of the case. That is over 30 years of protest. For one man. The errors in this case must truly be egregious for hoards of people to continue to protest for this man's freedom for over thirty. years.
In fact, even the courts were forced to acquiesce to some degree in this case. When Mumia's lawyers appealed his sentence in 2001, a federal judge overturned the death sentence and Mumia was resentenced to life in prison without parole. Despite this ruling, Mumia was kept in isolation on death row for the next 10 years.
As a member of the Black Panther Party and the MOVE Philadelphia group, Mumia supporters, including myself, believe that he was targeted for his political position. In any case, Mumia has been grossly mistreated throughout the entirety of his trial and sentence. This being said, Tom Corbett's bill reads as a slap in the face.
In America, we treat our prison population with the least amount of dignity and respect allowed by international standards (and surely less, in fact). We strip prisoners of their humanity and turn them into exiles in their own country, even after they have served their sentences. There is no such thing as an ex-con. Once you have been convicted of a crime, you carry that label with you for the rest of your life. The rights that felons and former prisoners are denied by the nature of this nation's systems and institutions make it nearly, if not, impossible to create a life after prison. Even when the circumstances around an individual's conviction are more than questionable, and beyond that, even when a prisoner is proven to be wrongly convicted, that person maintains the identity of a criminal forever.
To take this a step further, I have to call into question the idea that Mumia has garnered "obscene celebrity." I would venture that if I took a poll of Americans, a greater percentage would have NO CLUE who Mumia Abu-Jamal is, than the percentage of those that do. I bet however, that more Americans know who Ted Bundy is. So where is the "Bundy Bill"? That's way catchier than the "Mumia Bill" anyway!
But, my personal opinion barred, let’s say for argument’s sake that Mumia did murder Faulkner. This does not negate the fact that he is a citizen of the United States, and thereby protected by the Constitution of United States of America. His status as a convicted felon, guilty or not, does not bar him from his rights as an American citizen under the Constitution, and this bill is a clear and unlawful violation of those inalienable rights. Whether or not you believe Mumia to be guilty, the Constitution is the backbone upon which this country is founded, and all citizens, including those that are incarcerated, are entitled to the rights that it espouses to preserve. Look, I understand that it may be difficult for some to bear. As a rape survivor, I don’t get particular pleasure from the public musings of Bill Cosby. But that doesn’t give me the right or ability to strip him of his constitutional right to speak freely and publically should he so choose. We simply cannot violate people’s human rights simply because we don’t like them, or because what they have to say makes us uncomfortable. Period.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania agrees that this piece of legislature is "vague" in nature, making the terms by which it can be applied extremely broad, and also an "unlawful" violation of First Amendment Rights.
To get to my ultimate point, however, let me go back to Ted Bundy for a moment, if I may. There is an exorbitant amount of coverage on Ted Bundy, who himself did interviews from prison, but as I stated before, never was there a "Bundy Bill" in support of the MANY people that were affected by his crimes. And do you know what the difference between Bundy and Abu-Jamal is? I'll give you a hint: it's a color thing. While I do also believe that the politically charged nature of Mumia's situation plays a role, I am going to have to err on the side of racism with this one.
Let me tell you why. People were, and still are, fascinated with Ted Bundy, because despite his horrendous crimes, through his whiteness, he was able to maintain his identity as a human being. People understood him as a human being, and were fascinated how a fellow human could deviate so grossly from behavior norms. Mumia on the other hand, was stripped of his humanity altogether, as a function of his Blackness, as is most often the case with Black people in America. This is evident in the way we discuss these two "high profile" (relatively) figures in society and in the media. When people talk about Ted Bundy, they refer to him by his name (sometimes with the addition "famous serial killer"). When people talk about Mumia, they refer to him most often only as "cop killer." Mumia's name is very infrequently used when referring to him, and unlike Bundy, he is still alive! Don't believe me? Look:
So with all this being said, my ultimate question is this: at what point does victimhood trascend whiteness? At what point does victimhood also apply to Black people? Even in death (read: murder), Black people are not allowed victimhood. Media, law enforcement, and society engage in victim blaming, attempting to skew the narrative in such a way that it makes you believe that the individual ultimately deserved their death. Such was the case with Mike Brown, when law enforcement officials released unrelated video footage of an altercation involving Brown that took place in a convenience store, claiming it to be "strong arm robbery." The media took off with this story, and despite the fact that this was later reported to be false, the damage was already done. From then on, people viewed Brown as a criminal, who thereby surely deserved to be put to death.
In stark contrast, victim status is almost uniformly granted to white men who perpetrate violent crimes. Too often we see white men and boys posed as the victims of severe mental illness when they inflict tragedies. Such was the case not only with Ted Bundy, who is alleged to have been a sociopath, but also with the Newtown, CT shooter and the Aurora Springs, CL killer, among many others. White men consistently reap the benefits of victimhood in the media and society nearly automatically, by virtue of being white, and by white being held as the "norm." Whiteness is seen to be the benchmark for normative behavior, ethics, and morals. Therefore any white person who deviates from these acceptable standards and norms is an exception to the race; whereas a person of color who deviates from these socially acceptable norms is a reinforcement to the belief that Blackness, specifically, is inherently socially deviant (read: dangerous, aggressive, violent).
Considering all of these points, does Mumia not deserve to be given any semblance of victimhood, considering the position of many that he is being wrongly jailed for a crime he did not commit? Or considering the gross misconduct used in the prosecution of his case, and the subsequent cruel transgressions he's endured in his time in prison? Additionally, should he be stripped of his first amendment rights because the mere idea of him being able to speak publicly makes some people uncomfortable? It's not like he showed up at Mrs. Faulkner's book club as a guest speaker. He was invited by his Alma Mater to speak to a specific group of students, for reasons the college can surely defend. I personally view Mumia to be as much of a victim in this situation as those effected by Faulkner's murder, but it is clear that Mumia will never get that consideration from the wider world due not only to his status as a convicted violent criminal, but to his Blackness as well.