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This is not about Mumia Abu-Jamal but the death penalty
Thu Dec 8, 2011 7:04pm

The merits of any one celebrity convict's case are immaterial. The state should simply not be in the business of killing citizens

Teresa Wiltz

It doesn't matter to me whether Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent or guilty – though there are those for whom it matters quite a bit, not the least of whom is the widow of the police officer Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing in 1981. And there are those who fought long and hard – celebrities, college students, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Amnesty International – for Abu-Jamal's release; those who argued that his was a case of racial injustice perpetrated against a black man, a Black Panther party member, accused of killing a white cop.

I'm not here to debate the merits of the case, to hash over whether his trial was corrupted by a racist judicial system – though there have been plenty of cases that fit that description. It doesn't matter to me that Abu-Jamal, a former radio journalist, became a dreadlocked icon immortalised on countless "Free Mumia" posters, authored books from prison, including Live From Death Row, that he was his own best advocate. Or that the Beastie Boys held a concert to raise money for his defense and rapper KRS-One released a stinging single, "Free Mumia".

Ultimately, none of that matters to me. I just believe, fervently, that the government shouldn't be in the business of killing its citizens.

Now that the Philadelphia district attorney has announced that he will no longer seek the execution of Abu-Jamal, that is one less citizen the government will be killing. And for that, I am grateful. (Abu-Jamal, now 58, will spend the rest of his life behind bars, however.)

But it's not just the celebrity convicts with a compelling case that we should be lobbying for. Troy Davis shouldn't have been executed – and neither should serial killer Ted Bundy, who once called himself "the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you'll ever meet". Even if a killer murdered countless victims in cold blood, admitted it, crowed over it and never felt a single moment of regret afterwards, we should not be killing the killer.

I don't believe in the death penalty. Not now, not ever. I don't like that innocent people are often executed. I know that the death penalty is rarely a deterrent. I'm deeply troubled that the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death in homicide cases is the race of the victim: as in, if the victim is white. But even if all things were equal and each death sentence was perfectly executed with no racial or class bias and only the guilty were put to death, capital punishment should still have no place in our society, any society – "civilised" or otherwise.

I understand the urge for revenge, but we are not the ones who should be deciding who lives or dies, even if the person on death row was someone who took it upon himself or herself to decide who lived or died. I was disappointed when Muammar Gaddafi was, in essence, lynched on the streets of Libya. I would much rather have seen Osama bin Laden tried for war crimes, even though I know the chances of that happening were slim to none.

But then again, I'm the person in the multiplex who isn't cheering when the bad guy gets blown away by the hero at the end. I'd rather see him rot in jail for all eternity. To my mind, it's much worse to have to sit for years and think about what you did. And even if it isn't worse, and sitting in prison is an endless orgy of cable TV and special privileges, I don't care: the alternative is beyond barbaric.

A few years back, when I was a cub reporter for the Chicago Tribune, I covered a protest rally held by the loved ones of murder victims. They were marching through the streets of Chicago to protest the death penalty. I interviewed many of them that day: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses. And they all said the same thing: killing the killer won't bring back my mother, father, brother, sister, wife, husband …

An eye for an eye, they said, and we'll all be blind.

  • D.A. won’t seek death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal December 07, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER Image 1 of 10View Gallery DA Seth Williams during a press conference today. Pictured ... more
    • This is not about Mumia Abu-Jamal but the death penalty — Britta, Thu Dec 8 7:04pm
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