Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Black American political activist and journalist, has been incarcerated since he was convicted in 1982 and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia police officer.
When a federal judge overturned the 1982 death sentence in 2001 due to sentencing improprieties, Maureen Faulkner (Daniel Faulkner’s widow) and the Fraternal Order of Police were bitterly disappointed.
But Mumia Abu-Jamal and his supporters were disappointed that the federal judge rejected Abu-Jamal’s challenge to his conviction and ordered that he should stay in prison and was not entitled to a new trial — despite evidence that his defense counsel was ineffective, that the prosecution engaged in racial discrimination during jury selection, that the trial judge made racist comments, and that prosecutors engaged in racist tactics.
More than 40 years after Daniel Faulkner was murdered, Maureen Faulkner and Mumia Abu-Jamal continue to hold starkly conflicting views about what justice means.
Faulkner realized in 2011 that her desire for Abu-Jamal to be put to death would not happen. She believes Abu-Jamal should die in prison as a condemned murderer.
Mumia Abu-Jamal believes he was wrongly convicted, wrongly denied a new trial, and is now in such frail health due to congestive heart disease that he should be released from prison.
Despite their starkly differing views, Faulkner and Abu-Jamal appear to be imprisoned in a cell defined by her sorrow, fear and relentless bloodlust, and his sorrow, fear and relentless criticism about the racist criminal punishment system.
I view their plight through several lenses. I have experienced anger, sorrow and desire for revenge after my relatives and friends were murdered. As a state court trial judge who has presided over murder cases, I know firsthand the anger, sorrow and desire for revenge felt by relatives and friends of murder victims. As a pastor, I have grieved with relatives of murder victims. I also know painfully well how the criminal punishment system is corrupted by police, prosecutorial and judicial wrongdoing and how the corrupting effect of that wrongdoing affects people like Maureen Faulkner and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
“Bloodlust blinds, disfigures and disables us so deeply that we become its prisoner.”
I also know another painful truth. I know bloodlust never heals sorrow and there is a vast difference between bloodlust, sympathy for victims of murdered persons and justice.
As much as we respect the sorrow, anger and bloodlust of grieving relatives, history teaches that bloodlust never heals sorrow. Bloodlust blinds, disfigures and disables us so deeply that we become its prisoner.
That is why judges remind jurors, crime victims and the public that court decisions cannot be based on sympathy, prejudice and bloodlust. No matter how much we sympathize with Maureen Faulkner and other victims of murdered persons, we never allow relatives of murdered persons to decide whether accused persons are guilty and, if so, how they should be punished.
Justice is not served by worshipping Faulkner’s sorrow and bloodlust. Justice also is not served by excusing prosecutorial concealment of exculpatory information relevant to the issue of Abu-Jamal’s culpability for the murder of Daniel Faulkner. Although key witnesses have died and Philadelphia prosecutors, Maureen Faulkner and her supporters prefer that Abu-Jamal die in prison, justice is not served by ignoring the prosecutorial concealment of exculpatory information out of deference to Faulkner’s bloodlust.
“That freedom does not entitle them to dictate what justice requires.”
Faulkner and her supporters are free to hold onto their bloodlust. That freedom does not entitle them to dictate what justice requires.
Justice requires that Mumia Abu-Jamal be released because prosecutors concealed information relevant to his innocence from defense attorneys. Justice requires that prosecutors decide whether to attempt to prove his guilt on retrial. If prosecutors do not believe they can prove Abu-Jamal’s guilt on retrial, justice requires that he live the remainder of his life outside of prison.
Justice cannot restore Daniel Faulkner’s life. Justice cannot take away Maureen Faulkner’s sorrow and bloodlust. Justice cannot restore Mumia Abu-Jamal’s years and health.
After all that has occurred, the only thing justice can do is set Maureen Faulkner and Mumia Abu-Jamal free from one another. Then, justice can only hope that somehow, they will each find a measure of peace from the torment they have suffered for so long.
I hope a judge finds the courage, compassion and strength to set them free.
Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.