…..is right here.
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.
To Protect and Serve Who? Organizing a Movement to Abolish Police Violence.
City Lights Open Media Series.
San Francisco: City Lights Books.
16 pp., $5
Mumia Abu-Jamal, the imprisoned journalist known worldwide for his writing and speaking, has, not unsurprisingly, hand-typed a document about fighting as he battles to get the needed medication that could cure his Hepatitis C. A memorable pamphlet responds to the current moment with both stationary (historical) and fluid (current) thought, and this one doesn’t disappoint. In his first pamphlet in nearly three decades, the former Black Panther Party member attempts a tutorial for the Black Lives Matter movement. The radical writer gives a revisionist history of the Civil Rights Movement that centralizes the blood and anger of young people. He reminds his symbolic charges that movements come from oppression and will guarantee violent resistance. A brief-but-serious examination of the cost of struggle as Black America heads into the 50th anniversary of both the Black Power movement and the founding of the Black Panther Party during 2016, Abu-Jamal continues to step into the role of social historian legends Lerone Bennett Jr. and Howard Zinn, in his own, deceptively simple agitprop style.
Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Edited by Johanna Fernandez. Foreword by Cornel West.
San Francisco: City Lights.
370 pp., $17.95 (paperback).
If the fight earlier this year for the right of imprisoned writer Mumia Abu-Jamal to get correct care for his diabetes had failed, this book, his eighth, would have been possibly the last he would get to approve under his name. The diabetes complication was not just a shock to his system. There is an insane sense of normality that has now developed around the idea of Abu-Jamal’s work—the assumptions that he is writing, and will be writing frequently, that his commentaries will get emailed around the world, that his recorded voice will be on YouTube. Frankly, Abu-Jamal’s rat-a-tat journalistic contribution would be almost taken for granted if he hadn’t almost died. The ubiquitousness of the author and product shows how much he has succeeded in creating a foothold in Black radical thought in the last 20 years.
And that Panther-inspired bootprint continues here. Following in the steps of Noelle Hanrahan’s 2000 Abu-Jamal column collection “All Things Censored,” Fernandez, an assistant professor of history and Black and Puerto Rican Studies at Baruch College/City University of New York, creates a second unofficial “Mumia Reader” of 107 columns and speeches that span from the former Black Panther Party member’s 1981 arrest for the killing of a white Philadelphia police officer to 2014. The editor takes significant time to explain the how, when, what and why of Abu-Jamal’s essays. She shows that the intellectual scope and depth of Abu-Jamal’s writings precede Hanrahan’s mid-1990s recordings—the ones that, along with a 1995 death warrant and a ready-to-go international anti-death penalty movement, jump-started the “Free Mumia” movement and pushed it straight to the international Leftist stage.
The “new” gems discovered here are, ironically, among his oldest. “Christmas In a Cage,” his rarely read 1981 account of his own arrest and treatment by the police (“Where are the witnesses to the [police] beating that left me with a four-inch scar on my forehead? A swollen jaw? Chipped teeth?”) is worth the price of the book alone.
The editor situates the first few columns in a way that explains him, not just his opinions. Upfront, his love for the MOVE Organization and its founder, John Africa, is clearly articulated, using the 1982 trial and conviction statements he made as an understandably angry young man. (“John Africa is not a slave to this foul, messed up system—he is not bought and sold.”) An example of what he told the court after it decided it wanted his death: “On December 9, 1981, the police attempted to execute me in the street; this trial is just a result of their failure to do so.”
And as the wall writing progresses with a combination of memories, obits and news riffs that, policy-wise, string Reagan to Obama, the reader feels the air from the older Abu-Jamal’s steady, intellectual darts thrown at, for example, the post-911 legalization of COINTEL-PRO under George W. Bush, the devastation that followed Katrina, et. al. Abu-Jamal’s commentaries, taken together, target the contradictions of the established order, pointing to its corrupt nature versus the natural power of people-fueled resistance. (“The objective of all politics is power,” he writes in a 2000 column about the police killing of Amadou Diallo, a Black man shot in his building’s vestibule in New York City. “No major political party in America can even begin to promise Black folks in America the power to stand on their own doorstep[s], or ride their own car[s], or walk the streets of the urban center, without the very real threat of being ‘accidently’ blasted into eternity.”) The book, therefore, is a half-lifetime of well-researched, historically radical Black print rage, from waxing nostalgia about his brief political brush with Huey Newton in and the Black Panther Party circa 1970 to predicting in advance the acquittal of George Zimmerman of the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin.
It is now assured that, whatever his future health in prison, Abu-Jamal’s body of work will outlast his actual one. The writer, as Cornel West discusses in the preface, belongs in “that cultural continuum of struggle that shaped urban Black people between 1950 and 1980.” It remains to be seen in a 2015 world of social media if the masses of “Black Lives Matter” Tweeters will develop the skill, discipline and commitment of their now- elder statesman Abu-Jamal, who wrote in the margins of the society decades before it became cool.
Got this the other day.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 18, 2015
Larry Hamm, People’s Organization for Progress, 973-801-0001
Donna Nevel, Communities for Marylin Zuniga, 917-570-4371
Supporters Fight to Reinstate Talented Teacher
School Board capitulates to pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police
In an outpouring of community support, hundreds of community members, educators, and parents called for the immediate reinstatement of Marylin Zuniga to her position as a third grade teacher at Forest Street Elementary School in Orange, New Jersey. In spite of this overwhelming support, the Orange Township School Board terminated Ms. Zuniga from her position because she allowed her third grade students to write get-well letters to political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
As educator and minister Nyle Fort, who is working with Communities for Marylin Zuniga, pointed out: “The Orange Board of Education is supposedly accountable to the community. After the public meeting, in which people spoke overwhelmingly in support of Ms. Zuniga, the school board adopted a resolution identified only by its number, and then got up and left the room. Until calls were made to the school the next day, no one knew that the board had decided to terminate her. That is hardly public accountability.”
Further, according to Alan Levine, one of Ms. Zuniga’s lawyers, “The Orange Board of Education flagrantly violated Ms. Zuniga’s right to due process. She never received a notice describing her misconduct, and had no opportunity to confront her accusers or to present witnesses on her behalf. Her termination lacked those constitutional safeguards designed to insure that government agencies act fairly.”
Hundreds of educators across the country sent a letter to the school board in which they “insist[ed] that Ms. Zuniga be immediately returned to her position as third grade teacher at Forest Street Elementary with supportive mentorship. The educational community is looking to you to develop, and not punish, this committed and qualified educator.”
Educator Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price also added that “Ms. Zuniga’s termination was grossly disproportionate to whatever offense she may have committed. Clearly, her termination was not about her student’s education or safety, but, rather, a reflection of the Board’s capitulation to outside pressures of the Fraternal Order of Police.”
As Mark Taylor, community activist and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary made clear, “ At the heart of this matter is the question of who controls what happens in public school classrooms. As long as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) can influence what our children can and cannot learn, the right to democratic education is lost.”
“Marylin Zuniga was beloved by her studentsand was a wonderful teacher. If we are thinking about what is best for the children, which should be our only concern, Ms. Zuniga would be back in her classroom, “ said Tamia Chatmon, one of the parents of a student in Ms. Zuniga’s class.
Ms. Zuniga has asked her lawyers and her union to challenge the termination so that she can be reinstated to her classroom
Relevant links and attachments:
statement from educators and scholars across the US:
EMAJ letter posted for Zuniga, April 13, 2015
statement from National Lawyers Guild
news post: Putting Our Children First