reviewed by Johann Moore, Grassroot Queers, New York City Greens
Mumia Abu-Jamal's Live from Death Row. Addison-Wesley, 1995. New York, 215 p.. Paper, $20 + $3 shipping from Equal Justice, USA, P.O. Box 5206, Hyattsville, MD 20782
Graterford, Marion, Pelican Bay, Camp Hell-Hellholes all. My eyes fill with tears of fury and rage and my stomach twists in a knot of recognition, though the comparison of my own overnight stays in jail may seem impertinent. Causing the visceral reaction of this reader is, it would seem, a core aspect of Mumia Abu-Jamal's arsenal of rhetoric. I say that to honor his writing. His spoken commentaries on National Public Radio would have been awesome. Live from Death Row is a finely honed weapon which keeps Mumia alive in the depths of the concentration camp known as Huntingdon Gulag. Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Voice of the Voiceless, is one of over a million internees in such camps, in Mumia's case, a death camp. Concentration camps in an archipelago of gulags, a disproportionate number of whose prisoners are Afrikan-Americans, Latino/as, and other working class People of Color.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, past president of the Philadelphia Black Journalists Association, was framed for the death of a white cop whom he came upon one night. The cop was beating his brother on the curb. Mumia himself was shot in the stomach and the cop died after being shot under murky circumstances. His trial judge, Sabo, is Pennsylvania's hanging judge, specializing in People of Color. Sabo was so blatant that the district attorney had to recommend restraint. Needless to say, a kangaroo court convicted this ex-Black Panther, M.O.V.E. supporter, and revolutionary, sentencing him to be killed by the state.
Live from Death Row is a blinding, numbing series of repetitive abuses, presented in a language so accessible that this book should be found in every anti-racist household. It is a tool, it can be perused, a chapter read in several minutes. Each one a new, yet old and always somehow familiar abuse. And it is only after trying in a rational, linear way to read the book and bursting out or breaking down after 2 or 3 chapters that I began to understand just what Mumia had wrought here. Not just a rant against his own incarceration but a psychic approximation of internment in the reader. A deeply compassionate feeling and understanding of his fellow and sister internees. An understanding that is conveyed in a crisp, cutting language. A feeling that comes through in the often colloquial and familiar language.
Reading Live from Death Row makes me want to fight. Fight for Mumia, fight for social justice, fight against socially accepted murder. Fight for a polis of citizen activists like Mumia instead of a police state headed by those who keep Mumia and a million of our brothers and sisters incarcerated. Mumia said it himself, though: "The answer lies not in the courts, but in an awake, aware people. The people themselves must organize for their own defense." Organize for Mumia; organize for social justice; organize against socially accepted murder. Organize to become the polis of citizen-activists, like Mumia.