Monday, October 29, 2007

In Prison My Whole Life

Via the indefatigable Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, I hear of a new film, designed to tickle the bien pensant by confirming each of their delicious prejudices. It is centered on the 25 years spent in prison by Mumia Abu Jamal, the Black Panther convicted of the murder of policeman Daniel Faulkner in 1982. His original death sentence was overturned in 2001 and replaced with a sentence of life imprisonment, a federal decision currently under appeal by both the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Abu Jamal's lawyers.
It's been a cause celebre for decades now - there were very tatty old stickers up the Cowley Road calling 'Free Mumia' when I went up 10 years ago - but the evidence was pretty solid, and there has been nothing particularly infamous about the passage of justice: Faulkner was shot by a .38 bullet identical to the one remaining bullet in the gun held by Jamal - five had recently been fired. Jamal was caught at the scene, having already assaulted Faulkner and been shot by him. I'm not an expert in the legal minutiae of the trial, but the Birmingham Six this isn't. It's just a very convenient rallying cry for both racial activists and anti-death penalty acitivists - plus it's undeniably a catchy name.
So, a film excoriating the American justice system on the basis of this case might be said to be hanging its argument on a pretty flimsy hook. But then, look at the rest of the balls served up around it:
The film linked this abomination with Abu Ghraib, the execution of the Rosenbergs and the treatment of the Black Panthers in that land of the free. This is the ugly America, usually covered over with the stars and stripes. The Firths will be damned by patriotic Americans, including their fans. Like many other British "luvvies", so derided by the press – Juliet Stevenson, Emma Thompson, Ken Loach – they use their names for a greater good. There are such people in the USA, but today most have been silenced.
Jamal was a Black Panther, and, although Yasmin hasn't gone into specifics on what it was about their 'treatment' that so outrages her (I assume it wasn't the repealing of a law allowing the carrying of loaded shotguns and rifles in public) the fact that in 1967-1969, nine police officers were killed and nearly sixty wounded in altercations with the Panthers rather suggests that something needed to be done. As for the Rosenbergs, those pin-ups of the left for so long, they were guilty of passing nuclear weapons secrets to the Soviet Union. They were spies. Simple as that. And as for that last sentence, what a complete load of twaddle! This belief that some appear to have that all dissenting voices in America are being rounded up and 'silenced' is more than bizarre - it's demented.

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