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Closing ranks around Mumia

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Apr 7, 2015 - 8:36:12 PM

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Supporters of Mumia Abu Jamal, from left, Jessel X of N.O.I. Prison Ministry-Delaware Valley; Catherine Muhammad, N.O.I. Prison Reform Ministry-Delaware Valley; activist Pam Africa; Wadiyah Jamal, wife of Mumia Abu Jamal; Rachel Wolfenstein; Gregory Muhammad, head of N.O.I Prison Reform Ministry-Delaware Valley; and Keith Cook, Mumia Abu Jamal’s brother.
Outraged family, comrades and the public closed ranks around U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, after he was rushed from the State Correctional Institution-Mahanoy to an intensive care unit at Schuylkill Medical Center in Pottsville, Penn., and held incommunicado for over 20 hours, supporters say.

Mr. Abu-Jamal’s family and lawyer said prison and hospital officials withheld information, updates and visitation as the 60-year-old “voice for the voiceless” lay shackled to a bed with guards blocking access to him.

The authorities mishandled the entire ordeal, say Mr. Abu-Jamal’s supporters. 

Mumia Abu Jamal
“This lieutenant from the prison told me ‘you’re lucky, because we don’t normally allow visits unless it’s a death call,’ ” said Keith Cook, Mr. Abu-Jamal’s oldest brother.

Mr. Abu-Jamal was apparently taken from the prison in a secretive way March 30 without notification to his family of a health crisis. The move was exposed when that information was leaked during an attempted chance prison visit by Heidi Boghosian, former executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, and Johanna Fernandez of the New York Campaign to Bring Mumia Home. Attorneys, activists, family members and supporters were at a hearing challenging the Re-victimization Review Act, also known as the “Mumia Silencing Act” in nearby Harrisburg, Penn., when they received word of what happened. The state law would muzzle inmates by limiting their ability to communicate with outside sources for fear their words or writing would harm their victims.

“Mumia is in enemy territory,” said Johanna Fernandez.

The incident with Mr. Abu-Jamal, a widely recognized political prisoner, caused intense reactions. Charging unethical behavior at SCI-Mahanoy and the hospital, supporters organized a pressure campaign that went worldwide. An immediate call went out on social media for targeted and sustained telephone calls and thousands flooded phone lines of prison officials and the hospital, say supporters. Callers demanded updates on Mr. Abu-Jamal’s condition and sharing of information with his family and supporters.

Family members and activists held a vigil in the critical care visiting room, occupying the space, making demands and asking questions about Mr. Abu-Jamal and his well-being.

SCI-Mahanoy prison officials said Mr. Abu-Jamal suffered a medical crisis and later, his wife, Wadiya Jamal,  said her husband was admitted to the hospital with a blood sugar level of 779—which medical experts say is a critically high level. In an exclusive and emotional interview with The Final Call, Mrs. Abu-Jamal confirmed reports that her husband was shackled to his bed and in a deteriorating physical condition. She described his skin as leathery to the touch, like “elephant hide,” which she attributed to failure to treat a severe case of eczema.

Mrs. Abu-Jamal described the first hospital visit with her husband as rushed and invasive with two posted guards inside the room. “They gave him a half hour and it seemed like five minutes,” Mrs. Abu-Jamal said. “It just wasn’t … private or personal and the guard was telling me ‘ma’am you have four minutes,’ before we could barely even see each other.”

Mrs. Abu-Jamal said her husband, however, was resilient and emanated an inner strength despite the circumstances. She called the former Black Panther and MOVE member “considerate and conscientious” and described how Mr. Abu-Jamal, jailed for decades after a fatal encounter with a Philadelphia police officer, “raised our children and grandchildren over the phone.” 

Mr. Cook expressed concern about his brother’s life since a transfer into the general population at SCI-Mahanoy and coming off of death row. There were signals “early on from the slain policeman’s wife who said she was glad that he was coming off of death row, because maybe somebody will kill him,” Mr. Cook charged in a telephone interview. Many feel this is a real possibility and say some police officers have threatened Mr. Abu-Jamal since a 1981 conviction. Mr. Cook called the recent death of political prisoner and MOVE activist Phil Africa suspicious and noted that Mr. Africa suddenly became sick, was transferred to an undisclosed hospital with no family notification and  died. You start thinking, “they’re setting this up,” Mr. Cook said. 

Supporters also questioned the quality of care at the SCI-Mahanoy infirmary. Symptoms Mr. Abu-Jamal suffered and a series of blood tests in February should have revealed a diabetic condition, which was exacerbated by conditions and failures by the prison to address the health issue, say supporters. These actions lend to credence to fears of “conspiracy” to eradicate Mr. Abu-Jamal, said his brother. Mr. Abu-Jamal suffered various health problems, so authorities had to know how sick he was, added Mr. Cook. “The prison could be setting him up for death for not looking out for him, not giving him the proper care,” he said.

Gregory Muhammad of the Nation of Islam Prison Reform Ministry for the Delaware Valley Region said, “I don’t dismiss the strong possibility that his hospitalization (was) by design and not by coincidence or some natural cause.”

Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case brings attention to the broader issue of the right to life and proper and decent medical care among prisoners, say advocates. “Unfortunately in the United States it appears that if you’re incarcerated you can be allowed to die without the state being held accountable,” said Ms. Fernandez.

When it is understood there are two million incarcerated people in the United States, this is a problem of “epic proportions” and “a crime against humanity,” she said. 

On April 2 Mr. Abu-Jamal was transferred back to the infirmary at SCI Mahanoy. Public pressure is building to assure Mr. Abu-Jamal has proper care, say supporters.

“Forward thinking, Mumia has to get out of prison,” said his attorney Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center. “Prison itself is life threatening,” he said.

The criminal justice system which failed to still his voice and the brilliance of his mind in years on death row has opted for “slow death” through life without parole, say supporters.

“Because his death sentence was overturned three years ago, this latest series of events amounts to another attempt on his life,” posted news commentator Marc Lamont Hill during a Twitter Town Hall April 2 in support of Mr. Abu-Jamal.

At 15-years-old Mr. Abu-Jamal was in the Black Panther Party and then a radio journalist. A critic of racism and police brutality, he earned the anger of the notoriously racist Philadelphia police department.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Abu-Jamal was president of the Association of Black Journalists in Philadelphia. A political target from a teenager, Mumia should never have been incarcerated in the first place, say his defenders.

He also has millions of supporters worldwide. “We’ve gotten calls from all over the world, from Mexico, from Germany, from France,” Ms. Fernandez told The Final Call. On April 2 a demonstration was held on the American Embassy in Berlin, Germany with the theme “Unbend—Unbought—Unbroken: MUMIA—You’ll Never Walk Alone!” Letters of support have been sent from prominent leaders in the international community. Allies in France sent out alerts about Mr. Abu-Jamal.

“This system knows no bounds in terms of its depravity and its commitment to torture people. Not anybody, but people of color and people who challenge its very being. People like Mumia Abu-Jamal,” said Ms. Fernandez.