The United States Senate by a 52-47 vote, pulled one of its most outrageous stunts yet this past Wednesday when it voted to block a man who has proven himself to be a foremost Civil Rights champion of the 21st century, Debo Adegbile, from being nominated to head the Civil Rights Division of the United States Justice Department. Adegbile is probably best known for his decade-long work as a member of the legendary NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), which he moved into the head position of in 2012. While it was by no means shocking that Republicans uniformly opposed Mr. Adegbile, as they have done the same to practically everyone President Barack Obama has nominated to fill a vacancy in the federal government for the past 5-6 years, it did come as a surprise that no less than seven members of the President’s own party joined their colleagues in rejecting this more-than-qualified candidate for the position. (*) Debo Adegbile was representative of everything the Democratic Party claims to care about. He has been the most ardent champion of voting rights on the legal front for the past ten years, even successfully making the case before the Supreme Court in 2008 for the need to preserve the Voting Rights Act. What was it then that drove these supposed political allies of the President of the United States to so needlessly and outrageously deliver what some have called a politically embarrassing defeat for him?
The answer lies in the tense, unyielding campaign of opposition to the very existence of one man: Mumia Abu Jamal. Apparently just the fact that Debo Adegbile worked for the Legal Defense that argued the most recent case involving Abu Jamal, a case that threw out Jamal’s death sentence but still left him imprisoned for life, was enough to disqualify him from potentially working in the United States Justice Department in the eyes of a majority of the U.S. Senate. In truth, Adegbile wasn’t even that explicitly involved in Mumia Abu Jamal’s case. The LDF had long since been working on it when he became head of the organization, and he wasn’t actually part of the legal defense team tasked with arguing Mumia’s case. Regardless, the fact that a candidate’s rejection based solely on prior legal work was an unprecedented move is made more than clear in a letter sent by the American Bar Association to Senate leaders last week. The letter stressed that “LDF’s advocacy of Mr. Mumia Abu Jamal does not disqualify Mr. Adegbile from leading the Civil Rights Division. To conclude otherwise would send the wrong message to any lawyer who is affiliated, or might be asked to become involved, with a difficult, unpopular case for the purpose of enforcing and preserving important constitutional principles.” That the Senate would break precedent in a bipartisan vote to block such an extraordinary nominee based on something so completely irrelevant to the position for which he was nominated demonstrates just how politically toxic the case of Mumia Abu Jamal still is in some admittedly rather influential circles. The intensity of the immense political opposition to anyone who so much as expresses anything less than absolute hatred for Pennsylvania’s most notorious Political Prisoner is best represented by the repressive Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
Without the intense lobbying efforts of the FOP, it is unlikely that Democrats would have succumbed to the pressure of voting down President Obama’s nominee. When the nomination of Debo Adegbile was first announced back in January, an immediate firestorm set off in the Fraternal Order’s various chapters, with the Philadelphia Chapter’s president John McNesby declaring, “It’s an absolute slap in the face to every police officer, especially those who gave their lives in the line of duty… There’s outrage, there’s resentment there’s disapproval. You name it and our cops are feeling it.” This was followed up by a letter sent from the organization directly to President Barack Obama in an apparent attempt to intimidate him into withdrawing Adegbile’s nomination by asserting that Mumia Abu Jamal’s “just sentence – death – was undone by your nominee and others like him.” The police unions’ smear campaign was given a big boost early on when they enlisted the ultra-conservative Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey to spearhead the cause in the Senate. At a recent speech at the annual clown festival known as CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), Toomey declared that those who rallied to Mumia Abu Jamal’s cause had “hatred for America.” This was accompanied by a 24-hour recycling of this trash on Fox “News” Channel in which Mumia Abu Jamal was repeatedly referred to as an “unrepentant cop-killer.” Of course, the reality is that he has never confessed to the murder and maintained his innocence for over 32 years; this is altogether different from being simply “unrepentant”.
Senator Pat Toomey’s role in the opposition undoubtedly put a great deal of pressure on Pennsylvania’s other Senator, moderate ‘Blue-dog’ Democrat Bob Casey. Whether it was the pressure from police organizations or a result of his own convictions, Casey’s subsequent announcement that he could be counted on as a reliable “No” vote on Adegbile’s nomination opened the floodgates for other Democrats who were feeling the heat from the FOP and others. Specifically, there was Delaware Senator Chris Coons, usually a progressive supporter of the President, who explicitly stated, “My vote was more about listening to and respecting [law enforcement officers’] concerns than about the innate qualifications of this nominee.” Here he is trying to have it both ways by admitting that the nominee himself isn’t unqualified, but that he voted in accordance with police wishes. (**)
One thing that was obvious from the very beginning of this ugly episode was that not only would the right-wing fascists completely misrepresent Debo Adegbile’s and the LDF’s work on Mumia’s case, they would completely embellish the scanty evidence originally used to convict Mumia Abu Jamal in the first place. So it was that when GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell repeated on the Senate floor verbatim the long-since discredited “ballistics” and other “evidence” used to convict Mumia of murder back in 1982, he was not even challenged. He falsely noted how “witnesses at the hospital heard him confess to the crime.” Of Debo Adegbile, he declared that his “advocacy on behalf of the nation’s most-notorious cop-killer… most calls into question his fitness for the powerful government position he seeks.” In response, Vermont’s Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy decried the GOP attacks on Adegbile as “very similar to those that were made against Thurgood Marshall” – drawing a direct parallel between current opposition to the most recent president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the man who eventually became the first African American to be nominated and appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Marshall, it’s worth noting, was himself formerly the head of the LDF.
Democratic Senator Tom Harkin decried what he called a double-standard in Republican opposition. For example, Republicans had no issues confirming former Florida Attorney John Roberts, who once represented a man who allegedly killed 8 people, to serve as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 2005, a position he currently holds. And one of Adegbile’s most vocal critics, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, in his days of legal practice represented a man named Robert Merick, who built private juvenile detention facilities and funneled money to Pennsylvania Judges in order that they would send children to the detention centers so that the owners could make a profit.
But this isn’t the first time right-wing fascists have used Mumia Abu Jamal as a political lightning rod with which to strike at President Barack Obama’s Administration, regardless of the fact that Mumia and the President’s respective ideologies are diametrically opposed to each other. In 2009 Glenn Beck and Fox News conducted another smear campaign with the goal of having Civil Rights advocate Van Jones removed from his position as adviser to the President on Green Jobs, a campaign in which they were unfortunately successful. One of the weapons the right-wing found so useful in attacking Jones was a previous remark they discovered where Jones expressed his desire to see Mumia Abu Jamal granted a newer, more fair trial. As Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington notes, “Mumia Abu Jamal remains a convenient bogey man. It is perhaps the most well known murder case in the United States… the Republicans are going to continue to try to prove guilt by association for anyone who they think they can link to him. At this point, it’s pattern and practice.”
The real root of much of the anger and hatred for Mumia Abu Jamal does not lie in the events of December 9, 1981 when Officer Daniel Faulkner was killed. It goes back earlier than that, to when Mumia, born Wesley Cook, was just 14 years old. At that young age he joined the Philadelphia Chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and the FBI through its notorious COINTELPRO began tracking his every move. That is because ever since his political consciousness was awakened, Mumia Abu Jamal was a true American Revolutionary in every sense of the term. But it was his brave and unconventional stance as a journalist on an radio show broadcast on a local Philadelphia station which earned him the eternal ire of the Philadelphia Police Department, especially when it came to his defense of John Africa’s controversial MOVE Organization. Mumia was the lone indignant voice who could be heard in the public arena voicing opposition to the rough and brutal tactics used by the militaristic police force in their vicious attack on MOVE’s headquarters in 1978. Later, from the depths of death row he became equally incensed upon hearing the news of an even larger attack by the Philadelphia police on MOVE headquarters in 1985, one that involved dropping a large bomb from a helicopter directly over the organization’s building!
A total of eleven people were killed in this government-sponsored terrorist attack, five of them young children! And yet not a single police officer nor anyone in position above them has ever been charged with a crime related to this nor have they spent a single day in a jail cell. Even more outrageous is the fact that nine MOVE members who somehow managed to survive this P.P.D.-orchestrated terrorist assault were subsequently charged with trumped-up murder charges and have been incarcerated in maximum-security prisons for the past 30 years. What the MOVE case and Mumia Abu Jamal’s case both demonstrate is that, according to American law as it’s carried out, one only seems to be deemed a “murderer” if they’re a pro-Black Revolutionary accused of killing a police officer; but if you’re an officer of the law who drops bombs on innocent men, women and children you’re simply “working for the protection of the community.” One wonders, which community is that exactly?
* If Senator Harry Reid’s final vote is counted then it makes 8 Democrats who opposed the nominee, although Reid only did so for procedural reasons as the Senate Majority Leader.
** Coons further elaborated, quite despicably I might add, that “the decades-long public campaign by others, however, to elevate a heinous, coldblooded killer to the status of a political prisoner and folk hero has caused tremendous pain to the widow of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner and shown great disrespect for law enforcement officers and families throughout our region.” Maureen Faulkner, Daniel Faulkner’s widow, has been at the forefront of the campaign to kill Mumia Abu Jamal from the beginning. Her reasoning is to some extent understandable, as she believes the man who took her husband’s life is who the system claims it was, but some of her own actions are a bit questionable. Case in point the following picture, where she is seen autographing a copy of her book at a protest rally mainly composed of skinheads and neo-Nazis.
– The final vote tally in the Senate was 47-52, with 44 Republicans and 8 Democrats joining to defeat the nomination. The New York Times has the entire list of Senators and how they voted available on its website.
Additional Links from around the Web:
- 3 Lessons From Obama’s Failed Justice Department Nomination – NPR
- Myths And Facts About DOJ Civil Rights Nominee Debo Adegbile – Media Matter for America
- Fox News Can’t Tell All These Civil Rights Attorneys Apart – Media Matters for America
- This Is How Right-Wing Media Start Their Inevitable Race-Baiting Of Certain Presidential Nominees – Media Matters for America
- Silencing the Record: Misrepresentation, Gender Politics, and Truth in the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal – Feminist Wire
- FOP Groups Plan Protest Of Sting. The Union Is Targeting Mumia Abu-Jamal Supporters. Rage Against The Machine May Face A Boycott – Philly.com
- Benefit Concert For Abu-jamal Leads To Boycott. The Fraternal Order Of Police Targets First Union, The Arenas It Sponsors And Promoter Electric Factory – Philly.com