All posts by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Legalized Cop Violence

“When a gang member is beaten by persons unknown in a mixed neighborhood, and the black gangs begin terrorizing whites, it is called racism, a bunch of cops can ride through black neighborhoods all day beatin’ ass, and call it law, when a bunch of blacks beat one of these cops’ ass it’s called mob violence.” John Africa (May 1967)

A young woman, engulfed in a diabetic coma while sitting in her car, is repeatedly shot by a corps of cops, who say they are threatened by the young woman. Tyesha Miller, of Riverside, California, becomes a statistic.

A young man sitting in his car in North Philly is surrounded by a phalanx of armed cops, whose guns are pointed at him from all points. He is ordered to raise his hands. When he does so, he is shot to death by one of the cops, who insists he thought he saw a gun. The 18-year old is unarmed. Dontae Dawson becomes a statistic.

An emigrant from the West African nation of Guinea comes to America, taking an apartment in New York’s Bronx Borough. When four NYPD cops approach his door, reportedly because of a suspected rape (he was not a suspect), he is shot at 41 times. Nineteen shots hit him. Amadou Diallo was unarmed, and will never return to West Africa.

In case after case after case, in city after city, from coast to coast, such cases arise with alarming regularity, worsened by the realization that, in most cases, cops who have committed these acts, that if committed by others would constitute high crimes, will face no serious prosecution, if any prosecution at all.

They are, the corporate media assures us, “just doing their jobs”, “under an awful lot of pressure”, or “in fear”, and therefore justified in what they do. In the language of the media, the very media that make their millions off of the punishment industry calling for the vilest sentences known to man, turn, in the twinkling of an eye, into paragons of mercy, who lament that the “fine young men” who “served their community” are in “trouble”, or have “suffered enough.”

The suffering of the slain, because they are young, and black, are all but forgotten in this unholy algebra that devalues Black life, while heightening the worth of the assailants because they work for the state.

The worst lie that is often trotted out when such cases occur is when politicians and media people sing the praises of such people, who are called, by virtue of their jobs, “public servants.” Since when have servants (of any kind) acted in the vile, arrogant, monstrous manner that many of these cops do in Black, Hispanic and poor communities? Since when have such servants been in the position to slaughter, shoot, humiliate and imprison the very public they are sworn to serve?

They are servants, if at all, of the political structures of which they are a part, not of the people. They are servants, if at all, of the state. They serve the interests of capital, of the wealthy, of those who run this system from their bank vaults and corporate offices.

They do not serve the poor, the powerless, nor the uninfluential. They never have.

They are an armed force organized to protect the interests of the established, and those who own capital. The history of labor in this country is splattered by the blood of trade unionists who were beaten, shot and crushed to the earth for striking against the trusts, combinations, and megacorporations of capital. Who did the beating? The shooting? The crushing? The cops, who served the interests of a state that declared, as did the Supreme Court, that unions were “criminal conspiracies”, and that “The Constitution was. . . based upon the concept that the fundamental private rights of property are anterior to government and morally beyond the reach of popular majorities”.

Capital’s voice (the media) and their agents (the politicians) unite in a chorus of support for their legalized killers, who bomb babies with impunity (remember May 13, 1985 – Philadelphia), who shoot unarmed kids in their cars, and unarmed African emigrants, whose only capital crime is being Black in modern-day America.

This legalized violence that they do daily proves that violence is not a problem to the system – when it is their’s against the people. This awful crime must cease.

Ruchell Cinque Magee: Sole Survivor Still

Slavery is being practiced by the system under color of law. Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today;  it’s the same thing, but with a new name. They’re making millions and millions of dollars enslaving Blacks, poor whites, and others – people who don’t even know they’re being railroaded.

– Ruchell Cinque Magee*

If you were asked to name the longest held political prisoner in the United States, what would your answer be?

Most would probably reply Geronimo ji jaga (Pratt), Sundiata Acoli, or Sekou Odinga,all 3 members of the Black Panther Party or soldiers of the Black Liberation Army who have been encaged for their political beliefs or principled actions for decades. Some would point to Lakota leader, Leonard Peltier, who struggled for the freedom of Native peoples, thereby incurring the enmity of the US Government, who framed him in a 1975 double murder trial. Those answers would be good guesses, for all of these men have spent hellified years in state and federal dungeons, but here’s a man who has spent more.

Ruchell C. Magee arrived in Los Angeles, California in 1963, and wasn’t in town for six months before he and a cousin, Leroy, were arrested on the improbable charges of kidnap and robbery, after a fight with a man over a woman and a $10 bag of marijuana. Magee, in a slam-dunk trial, was swiftly convicted and swifter still sentenced to life.

Magee, politicized in those years, took the name of the African freedom fighter, Cinque, who, with his fellow captives seized control of the slave ship, the Amistad, and tried to sail back to Africa. Like his ancient namesake, Cinque would also fight for his freedom from legalized slavery, and for 7 long years he filed writ after writ, learning what he calls guerrilla law, honing it as a tool for liberation of himself and his fellow captives. But California courts, which could care less about the alleged rights of a young Black man like MaGee, dismissed his petitions willy-nilly.

In August, 1970, MaGee appeared as a witness in the assault trial of James McClain, a man charged with assaulting a guard after San Quentin guards murdered a Black prisoner, Fred Billingsley. McClain, defending himself, presented imprisoned witnesses to expose the racist and repressive nature of prisons. In the midst of MaGee’s testimony, a 17 year old young Black man with a huge Afro hairdo, burst into the courtroom, heavily armed.

Jonathan Jackson shouted Freeze! Tossing weapons to McClain, William Chirstman, and a startled Magee, who given his 7 year hell where no judge knew the meaning of justice, joined the rebellion on the spot. The four rebels took the judge, the DA and three jurors hostage, and headed for a radio station where they were going to air the wretched prison conditions to the world, as well as demand the immediate release of a group of political prisoners, know that The Soledad Brothers (these were John Cluchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and Jonathan’s oldest brother, George). While the men did not hurt any of their hostages, they did not reckon on the state’s ruthlessness.

Before the men could get their van out of the court house parking lot, prison guards and sheriffs opened furious fire on the vehicle, killing Christmas, Jackson, McClain as well as the judge. The DA was permanently paralyzed by gun fire. Miraculously, the jurors emerged relatively unscratched, although Magee, seriously wounded by gunfire, was found unconscious.

Magee, who was the only Black survivor of what has come to be called The August 7th Rebellion, would awaken to learn he was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy, and further, he would have a co-defendant, a University of California Philosophy Professor, and friend of Soledad Brother, George L. Jackson, named Angela Davis, who faced identical charges.

By trial time the cases were severed, with Angela garnering massive support leading to her 1972, acquittal on all charges.

Magee’s trial did not garner such broad support, yet he boldly advanced the position that as his imprisonment was itself illegal, and a form of unjustifiable slavery, he had the inherent right to escape such slavery, an historical echo of the position taken by the original Cinque, and his fellow captives, who took over a Spanish slave ship, killed the crew (except for the pilot) and tried to sail back to Africa. The pilot surreptitiously steered the Amistad to the US coast, and when the vessel was seized by the US, Spain sought their return to slavery in Cuba. Using natural and international law principals, US courts decided they captives had every right to resist slavery and fight for their freedom.

Unfortunately, Magee’s jury didn’t agree, although it did acquit on at least one kidnapping charge. The court dismissed on the murder charge, and Magee has been battling for his freedom every since.

That he is still fighting is a tribute to a truly remarkable man, a man who knows what slavery is, and more importantly, what freedom means.

Cinque’s supporters have organized the Ruchell Magee Defense Fund, PO Box 8306, South Bend, IN 46660-8306 [E-mail]


Column Written 5/27/97

1997 Mumia Abu-Jamal

All Rights Reserved

*from radio interview with Kiilu Nyasha Freedom is a Constant Struggle, KPFA-FM (12 Aug., 1995)