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. Nick Spinelli

    Fore some, all those black, convicted felons look alike.
    That would be you and your mate PC the S.

    RandyJet: See videos at 9:57 and 10:33.

  2. randyjet

    Dredd, so far all you have posted is your pronouncement that he is not guilty.


    I posted a documentary showing all of the evidence, including the mob control of parts of the relevant P.D.

    Do you remember that recently judges were sent to prison from that area for sending good looking teens to private prisons so they could be molested?

    That area is corrupted by the mob like NJ where the hurricane Carter was falsely put away.

    Only those overdosing on hopium do not see what is going on.

    I posted two videos on the case.

    It was a total frame job just like the Carter frame job.

    Happens every day my man.

  3. [music]
    Here comes the story of the Hurricane!
    The man society came to blame.
    They’re gonna put his arse in stir!
    They’re gonna PIN this tripole mur der on HIM!
    He aint no Gentleman Jim.

    1. Some people have a built-in injustice detector. They can just sniff it out. Problem here is that there is no injustice. Guy is guilty as hell.

  4. The ONLY similarities between Hurricane Carter and these killer shitbird is they are both black. Maybe those comparing the 2 think all black, convicted killers are alike?? If Dylan were to do a song about these loser then he and Hurricane would have 2 things in common. But, that ain’t gonna happen.

  5. david2575, I guess my thought is how would this hurt the little guy? Charges are not a conviction and until then you would have plenty of speech to fight trumped up charges. I do see where you are coming from, but I’m just not sure it would play out how you describe. Ultimately though, it is depressing that there is an audience for this murderer.

    1. Jim, consider the case of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who was unjustly convicted. Wasn’t it his book read by Lesra Martin that led ultimately to support that led to overturning his wrongful conviction?

      I just have in mind that if a person is in prison wrongly convicted, he should still have the right to speak. Otherwise, prison truly does become a way for government to silence its critics.

  6. @bettykath

    You said, “Mumia didn’t kill Faulkner. He was convicted by racism. He was an outspoken journalist documenting the rabid racism in Philly. He had to be stopped.”

    Let’s see, you support both Mumia The Murderer and Trayvon.The Mugger. Hmmm. What do they both have in common??? Oh! I see! Pardone, but your racism is showing.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  7. david2575, I guess I see a difference between free speech to defend oneself and free speech to the public. I have no issue with this murderer being able to speak within the court of law in the form of appeals and what ever is required there. But outside of that, to me, this murderer has lost the right to free speech. In the event that the murderer is found not guilty through appeal, then the murderer should/would get his 1st amendment back.

    1. Jim22 wrote: “But outside of that, to me, this murderer has lost the right to free speech.”

      If our justice system was perfect, I might be inclined to agree. However, this perspective rigs the system against the little guy. It would allow for political prisoners who are put in prison on trumped up charges. What does speech cost us? Nothing. Let them talk from prison, if someone will hear them.

  8. Jim22, criminals lose some of their rights. Our Constitution even allows slavery for convicted criminals. But notably, in Skinner v. Oklahoma, prisoners were not allowed to be sterilized because of their inalienable right to marry and have children.

    If we allow free speech to be taken away from prisoners, that would mean that we believe in having political prisoners. I do not think that is a good direction to go. Sometimes people are convicted unjustly, and their freedom to speak should remain in order to defend themselves, and also to warn others of corruption in government or other pertinent issues.

    As Professor Turley points out, speech should be combated with speech. Using the concept of victim protection to curtail speech seems to dissemble their true intentions.

  9. randyjet – I was not familiar with Carter. Thanks for the reference. I looked into his trials, and you’re right, there was no real evidence against him. The ammunition found in the car were for the same caliber weapons, but had different coatings than the spent casings found at the crime scene. It’s absurd to call them evidence because they could also have been used by the murder weapons. The evidence just wasn’t there. And no fingerprints taken! Sounds like the police really botched the case. Poor man. Wrongful convictions do happen sometimes.

    And I agree that Abu-Jamal’s case is entirely different.

    1. Dredd, so far all you have posted is your pronouncement that he is not guilty. THAT is not proof or rational argument. I guess you still think the Rosenbergs and Morton Sobel were not guilty of the crimes that they were convicted of.
      Then to state they are exactly the same is ludicrous. Carter did not wind up with a bullet in him from a dead cop, nor was there any real evidence of any kind against him. Of course, I have read the apologia offered, and it is actually funny it is so bad. They all refuse to answer how the dead cop managed to acquire a bullet hole in his head at that angle. Nobody who has an ounce of intelligence can buy this idea he is innocent.

  10. Mike Appleton – “Most of the comments on this thread entirely miss the point. The proposed law is blatantly unconstitutional.”

    MA, I’m not trying to be stupid here, but how is this unconstitutional? Convicted murderers have the right to free speech? If so, I’ve learned something new today.

  11. 5 witnesses identified him. He had a gunshot wound from Faulker’s gun. A gun registered in his Abu-Jamal’s name was the murder weapon, and was found at his feet, with 5 missing rounds. Abu-Jamal helped pick the jury, which was 10 whites and 2 blacks, which convicted him. His brother, who was there, has never defended him, to my knowledge.

    He has stated that he believes that all African American inmates are political prisoners. His appeals are based on an assertion that the Philadelphia court system is racist, because African Americans, a minority, comprise a majority of inmates, without exploring root causes besides racism.

    At the time of the murder, he belonged to MOVE, organized by John Africa, which stated that all of society’s ills, including wife abuse, and drug abuse, were due to Western capitalism. Personal responsibility had zero effect.

    And there are still people and organizations that give him a platform.

    He’s entitled to exhaust the legal system, but why he’s considered by the Left to be a folk hero is beyond me.

    I consider him a racist murderer.

  12. bettykath:

    He was not convicted by racism. He was identified, and had the murder weapon on him. He lost his appeals based on evidence, not racism.

    I agree with Lee about this guy.

  13. Why does academia glorify murderers and terrorists?

    I agree with Professor Turley that we should not curtail free speech.

    The answer is for parents and students to vote with their dollars. Schools who employ murderers and terrorists, or who use them as commencement speakers, should find that parents are less willing to pay their tuition. There should be protests on campus. The school needs to utilize a minimum standard for its commencement speaker. Gee, you’d like Charles Manson to speak at graduation? Too bad, because convicted murderers are prohibited.

    They wouldn’t do this if it drove away students.

    The responsibility lies on the students and their parents who continue to go to these schools, signaling that this is OK.

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