Pennsylvania Legislature Moves To Pass Injunctive Law In Wake Of Abu-Jamal Commencement Speech

220px-Mumia03-1220px-Goddard_SealThere has been some predicable and understandable objections to the selection of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted killer of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, as this year’s commencement speaker for Goddard College in Vermont. Faulkner’s widow and others have decried his recorded appearance from Mahanoy state prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania. However, as is all too often the case, politicians have responded to such good-faith objections with a highly questionable, poorly crafted law that allows victims to seek injunctions in future such cases.


Goddard College recognized Abu-Jamal as “an award winning journalist who chronicles the human condition.”
He addressed about 20 students receiving bachelor degrees from Goddard College in Plainfield, where he himself earned a degree from the college in 1996. He told them to
“Think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better.” While he did not discuss his crime, he such “Goddard reawakened in me my love of learning,. In my mind, I left death row.”

170px-Daniel_faulknerAbu-Jamal was a member of the Black Panther Party. He later became a radio journalist and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. On December 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner was shot dead while conducting a traffic stop on a car driven by Abu-Jamal’s brother, William Cook. Faulkner shot Abu-Jamal in the encounter. The case became a national focus not only because of the death of a police officer but the later errors claimed in association with Abu-Jamal, who initially represented himself with disastrous results.

Abu-Jamal has become a symbol for some who view his cases as the product of racism and prosecutorial abuse. He has become a prison journalist and international figure. In the process, he has appeared before academic audiences in both writings and taped speeches. In 1999, he gave a keynote address for the graduating class at The Evergreen State College and, in 2000, he recorded a commencement address for Antioch College. He received an honorary degree “for his struggle to resist the death penalty” from the now defunct New College of California School of Law. In 1991, Abu-Jamal even published an essay in the Yale Law Journal, on the death penalty and his death row experience.

He has also appeared in national media. In May 1994, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program enlisted Abu-Jamal to deliver a series of monthly three-minute commentaries on crime and punishment. NPR later backed down after protests and Abu-Jamal sued NPR for not airing his work. (The lawsuit was dismissed).

His publications include Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience; All Things Censored; Live From Death Row, and We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party.

He was born Wesley Cook and was sentenced to death but his sentence was later reduced to life in prison without parole for killing Faulkner.

The new bill has been approved by a Pennsylvania House committee and would allow a victim to go to court for an injunction against “conduct which perpetuates the continuing effects of the crime on the victim.” It defines the conduct at issue as that which “causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” It would allow victims or prosecutors to ask for injunctions “or other appropriate relief.”

The bill in my view raises serious first amendment and other constitutional concerns. It is also dangerously vague and ambiguous. While I understand the outrage by many, the law would allow the curtailment of protected speech. History is replete with prisoners who have acquired educations during their incarceration and established themselves as writers or activists. Colleges and universities have also incorporated such voices into classes and events for decades. Universities are bastions of free speech where opposing (and at times even offensive) views are heard as part of an open forum. Just as Abu-Jamal was given a right to speak, his critics have been heard clearly in denouncing his selection. There are good reasons to question his selection, but the choice rests with the college and the students.

The bill is designed presumably to stop future such speeches, but to do so would curtail both academic freedom and free speech. The solution to bad speech is more speech, not censorship disguised as a victim’s rights bill. I have a huge amount of sympathy of Mrs. Faulkner and I understand the anger over the selection. However, this sweeping bill is not the solution. The solution is more not less speech. That is precisely what has happened. The national media has covered the controversy and many agree with the objections to the selection of Abu-Jamal.

69574_173928695962531_5895926_nWhile sponsor State Representative Todd Stephens insists that this legislation is about giving victim’s voice,” the victim already has a voice under the protections of the first amendment. The hundreds of articles hearing her voice is a testament to that system. Stephens appears most outraged not by any silencing of the victim but that fact that Abu-Jamal was heard: “I think it’s absolutely think it’s disgusting that this cop killer would be afforded an opportunity to address college students, frankly.” That is fine. Stephens has every right to be heard. What he does not have a right to do is to legislatively seek a way to silence the voices or prevent the choices of others in such presentations.

Current laws allow anyone to seek an injunction to prevent harm from the actions of others. However, such injunctions tend to fail when the harmful act is the exercise of free speech. Indeed, in 2011, the Court ruled 8-1 in Snyder v. Phelps, that tort laws cannot be used to enjoin or punish public speech, even speech widely viewed as “outrageous”. That speech involved the despicable protest by the Westboro Church of the funeral of U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder (who was killed in Iraq).

220px-Thurgood-marshall-2Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall cogently explained in Police Dept. of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92 (1972):

[A]bove all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content. [Citations.] To permit the continued building of our politics and culture, and to assure self-fulfillment for each individual, our people are guaranteed the right to express any thought, free from government censorship. The essence of this forbidden censorship is content control. Any restriction on expressive activity because of its content would completely undercut the ‘profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.

69 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Legislature Moves To Pass Injunctive Law In Wake Of Abu-Jamal Commencement Speech”

  1. Miss Carroll,

    I just had a sex change operation and I’m now an Italian stallion. Don’t tell my wife I called myself a stallion, she’ll laugh for hours.

  2. @Randy-Well said. There are too many folks who follow whatever “their side” believes for no other reason than their side said it. I occasionally guest-lecture at a few Universities and law schools and the problem I see is not that the students are incapable of critical analysis or thought. Rather, they seem utterly incapable of applying critical analysis or thought to their own belief systems. For most of them it’s as simple as: I’m a Republican/Democrat. A Republican/Democrat said X. Therefore, X is right. It drives me crazy. And I always hope that they’ll grow out of it, but then I turn on cable news and realize that they just become older and more obnoxious.

    1. Edward, the real travesty is that the graduates of a college cannot use their heads and THINK and see through this crap. It is almost as bad as one F/O I had who voted for W Bush because he hated the fact that Clinton got a blow job in the White House. I told him that I did not know Al Gore got one too. He shut up and was embarrassed. Of course, he got his four year degree from Liberty U, so I expected his lack of intellect. I expect more from those who doubt the authorities, since they should apply the same kind of skepticism to the left as well. Following the herd is NOT a good feature the left should copy from the right.

  3. My hubby is so mean to women. I am embarrassed sometimes when my friends ask me why I’m still married to him. I tell them he is my groom, today and forever! That’s true love.

  4. I don’t want to get into personalities but your characterization of Bettykath as your example is not archetypal, if she is, and I don’t know if she is lock step or not although I think I recall instances where she has not been. it is merely anecdotal. That again is the problem. One person, one example, and I am not singling you out Nick, at all, becomes the spokesperson for all rather then one person’s personal beliefs and belief system.
    That’s why its one person, one vote, not one person, and they vote for all. (:

  5. Please over look all the bad grammar and spelling in my last comment. I was multi-tasking and drinking coffee at the same time. That is a reason, not an excuse.

  6. leej, If you follow bettykath, and that is the person I was considering w/ my sarcastic comments, she is a caricature on this topic. Just within the past few days, bettykath has agreed w/ Louis Farrakahn that Ebola is a white man conspiracy. She asserts the prosecution took a dive and lost the Zimmerman case on purpose, and now this. There is much more evidence in the archives but I wanted to keep it recent. You need to understand bettykath’s mindset and direct your words toward her, because she embodies the stereotype. She is the reason for the derision expressed. Now, bettykath does not represent all liberals. I complimented you on this very thread for not being lockstep. But, you have to acknowledge there are people who think that everything is a white man conspiracy. And, I think there are more white liberals w/ that flawed thought process than black people. But, I have no data to support that. I just know a lotta black folks who laugh their asses off @ the bettykaths of the world. They KNOW there is racism and they KNOW calling everything racism hurts the cause to stamp it out. You have proven, and I have acknowledged, you are not one of those people. But, they do exist and bettykath is the archetypal example.

  7. Seems too many want to box others into, if they think Mumia is innocent they are liberals and therefore that means they think all black men convicted of crimes, at least murder, are innocent.
    I am a liberal, no surprise there but I believe Mumia is guilty. I believe Carter was correctly exonerated.
    The right on here, more so then the left, from what I have seen, is much faster to say if you believe A, with which we disagree, then therefore you also believe B,C, D, etc. That is the reason it is so hard to have civil conversations and debates in this country. The line is drawn and each side can only see straight lines that verify their positions, regardless of facts or looking into them, to see if maybe the other side might have some legitimate points and positions.

    1. leejcaroll – if it is any comfort to you. I think the police murder Mumia’s compatriots, but that Mumia was guilty as hell. I think the Carter was not guilty, but not until we say more evidence which came out after the trial. I also thought there was no way the jury was going to convict OJ. šŸ˜‰

  8. This piece of human garbage should have been fried thirty years ago. Had that happened, we would not be debating this now. Why does this animal’s alleged rights trump his victim’s rights to be free of his continued victimization? A waste of oxygen.

  9. Dredd, I did watch the films. They are some of the worst things I have seen. They go into everything that is wrong with the defense of this killer. I almost fell off my chair laughing when he referred to the jury selection, and the narrator forgot to mention that there were TWO black jurors. It got worse when he states the cops made a mistake by not completing the investigation and transmitting over the radio. Then he uses the old defense lawyer trick of trying to suggest there were others who could have done the crime, and since the cops did not pursue all of those leads, he MUST be innocent. I have no doubt the cops and DA did some of the pressure, but it hardly makes him innocent.

    Then we have the FACT that two black jurors could have shot down the trial by holding out and hanging the jury. Since those two black jurors heard ALL of the evidence. they came to the conclusion that he not only was guilty., but deserved the death penalty there was so little doubt in their minds. So this is of the same ilk of the defense of the Rosenbergs, and Sobel. Any rational person has to believe that he is guilty as charged and found in a court of law. Still think the Rosenbergs and Sobel were victims of a frame-up? History and the confession recently of Sobel has shown that the verdict was right. Excluding the other witnesses who heard him say he shot the cop and hoped he was dead was not shot down or dealt with. As I said, this was a real work of bad propaganda.

  10. I love the dredlocks. I wish my hubby could grow some, but he’s bald as a billiard ball, sigh.

  11. There seem to be a whole bunch of left-wing White Boys who desperately want to believe that Killer X was innocent, as long Killer X was black and the victims were white. Why? Because all white people – except them – are racists.

    You see they are different. They are superior. They’re not racists like other whites. So, Hurricane Carter – innocent, OJ -innocent, Mumia -innocent, and of course Mike Brown – innocent.

  12. So . . . that whole unanimous conversation about Hurricane Carter’s wrongful conviction was “black men accused of a crime must have done it.”

    How did you arrive at that conclusion based on these comments?

  13. Dredd, thanks for posting the video. It’s a shame that no one is watching it. But then, if they had open minds, it might put in just a tad of doubt. There are too many on this list who really believe that justice is blind, that Black men who are killed deserved it, that Black men accused of a crime must have done it. No point in looking at the evidence, the real evidence, not the crap put up by the crooked cops. btw, It’s my understanding that Faulkner was one of the good cops who wouldn’t play along with the bad cops.

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