Mini-Book Reviews: A Challenged Life Redeemed And A Graphic Novel’s Serious Twists

Jones

Veronica & The Case Of Mumia Abu-Jamal, As Told To Her Sister Valerie Jones.
Foreword and Commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal. Legal Afterword by Rachel Wolkenstein.
 Xlibris.
161 pp. $19.99 (paperback).

In many ways, writing a book is a great act of self-determination. You can take your name and put new definitions around it, attempting to make yours stick for eternity. So instead of “Veronica Jones, prostitute” or “Veronica Jones, scared,” this book attempts new search terms for one of the witnesses of the murder of a white Philadelphia police officer in December 1981, 31 years ago this very month. For Jones, it was a long, grimy, exploitative road from being acknowledged just six years prior as a 14-year-old community fundraising success in The Camden Courier-Post.  “I felt like one of those poor little animals that get snared in a hunter’s trap,”  said Jones when the Philadelphia police came to find her.

The question: Who killed Officer Daniel Faulkner (the man Jones claims here to have had a sexual relationship with, the memoir’s big reveal) while she was working her trade near 13th and Locust, the city’s red-light district? She told her truth during their interview, but she accused the police of subsequently pressuring her to lie on the stand in the murder trial—to finger the man, a former Black Panther-turned-MOVE-supporter that the police grabbed at the scene. The cops had something to pin on her for at least a 10-year bid—away from her children, away from everything. So, on the stand, she did what she was taught to do by men: she performed as they demanded. But only to a point. She recanted her original story, but refused to name the dreadlocked cabbie as the shooter. “The defense was not pleased at all,” she remembered. In the book’s foreword, the man then on trial for his life—now a lifer for the crime, after decades on death row—recalled in tribute: “She did not say what the government wanted her to say. In spite of ungodly pressures.” With the guilty verdict read, she was “free” to escape, but only after a bar scene as powerful as any from the hottest street-lit.

There’s no real freedom for those who feel guilt, however, because a lie’s ghost never really fades. So Jones stood again. She spent much of the last 20 years telling the original version of what happened that night to anyone who would listen. The tears on the cover match the ones inside, the sacrifices of 1981 and the mid-1990s ever present. But the straight, street-talk realness also matches inside-out. The author died in 2009, a sister, a mother, a grandmother, an important documentary interviewee. (Audio version is here.) This book—the latest story in the saga, told in gripping first-person style and detail—frees Veronica Jones with as much effort as Jones tried to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

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RIGHT-STATE

Right State. A Graphic Novel.
 Mat Johnson and Andrea Mutti.
Vertigo/DC Comics.
 144 pgs. $24.99 (hardcover).

In his third graphic novel, Mat Johnson is proving to be the master of the simple comicbook drama that gets more complicated as it zips along. His graphic work draws you in, allowing you to think you’re just reading another story about racism, with some class issues tossed in for added value. But he’s just setting up a good, fast-paced yarn, with twists that only occur if they’re believable. In “Right State,” he molds the residue of the 2008 presidential campaign into some good fodder for this alternative future, in which the nation’s second Black president is targeted for assassination by a white militia group. The hero is a white right-wing TV host (visually think, perhaps, FOX News Channel’s Brett Baier) who is asked by the government to access this group (read: spy). Myths and fears live side by side. (Do militia members really think that peanut allergies exist because George Washington Carver bred peanuts into biological weapons against Europeans?) Andrea Mutti’s art, particularly in black-and-white, has a direct-line, not-trying-too-hard quality that makes me think of the late, great Joe Kubert.  (Is the antagonist a post-modern Bizzaro Sgt. Rock? Hmmm….) “Right State” is a thriller that goes so fast, you have to purposely slow down the reading to make sure it’s all being absorbed. This not-so-funnybook is just the thing for that “Homeland” fanatic in your family.

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