Have Black Lives Ever Mattered?
Mumia Abu Jamal.
City Lights Open Media Series.
San Francisco: City Lights Books.
202 pp., $15.95.
The core of this book, the author’s ninth from prison and fifth collection of commentaries, is at the end: “To Protect and Serve Whom?,” a 2015 pamphlet for the Black Lives Matter movement. Abu-Jamal’s Black radical, revisionist history of the Civil Rights Movement that centralizes the blood and anger of young people is in his deceptively simple agitprop style. In that pamphlet, briefly post-scripted for the end of the Obama era (“As far as the Black Lives Movement is concerned, by raising their voices under the Obama period, they established their sound integrity—and perhaps it may be seen that it’s possible that they should have yelled louder”), he reminds his symbolic charges that movements come from oppression and will guarantee violent resistance.
In the pages that precede his extended meditation, Abu-Jamal compiles his brief commentaries about the justice system and Blacks from 1998 to 2016, a time spanning from President Bill Clinton to President-elect Trump, from Death Row to his release into general population to his fight to get the Hepatitis C treatments he finally got two months ago. He has constantly used writing to fight for life—a craft the 63-year-old began at 15 as a member of the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party. The fact that his writings about police brutality in 1969 are not different from his writings in the late 20th and early 21st century does not show his intellectual stagnation, but America’s bloody consistency.
The columns list the roll call of victims in real time, from Abner Louima to Travyon Martin and beyond. This is a book containing examples of, as one column called it, “legalized police violence,” killings and abuse “you pay for….every time you pay taxes, endur[ing] this every time you vote for politicians who sell out in an instant.” To Abu-Jamal, “Americans are blind to everything but color” because “United States history is a history of denial.”
Abu-Jamal may no longer be “The Voice of the Voiceless” in the social media-era, a world now filled with scattered prophets of digital rage worldwide. However, the lifelong rebel’s compiled writings are still important because he shows the difference between progressive movements and radical movements: the latter believes that America’s systems need either radical reform or revolution. His intellect and talent remain directly in opposition to America because America has proven it is opposed to Black and brown people.