In 1981 radio journalist and political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal was inadvertently involved in a late-night altercation that left police officer Donald Faulkner dead. By July of the next year, Judge Albert Sabo had convicted Abu-Jamal of Faulkner's murder and sentenced him to death. Almost 10 years after the trial, Leonard Weinglass, former Clarence Darrow Award-winner and the eventual chief counsel for the defense, has published Race for Justice, a complete set of the court documents he put together in an attempt to overturn Abu-Jamal's conviction.
After a clarifying introduction by E.L. Doctorow that lays out the basic time line and facts, Weinglass has inserted two helpful lists defining key figures and legal terms. This short opening section is invaluable while reading through the legal papers that follow, increasing their accessibility to the layman reader as Weinglass unravels the prosecution's case.
First, a "Statement of the Proceedings" shows how the Philadelphia police leaked erroneous and false information to the press. Then Weinglass details facts from the case that the prosecution either knowingly suppressed or inaccurately released, including key eyewitness testimony that the actual shooter fled the crime scene while Abu-Jamal lay wounded. He also shows evidence of police intimidation of key witnesses as well as incompetence in the medical examiner's report.
The evidence for Abu-Jamal's innocence mounts as the documents unfold. Judge Sabo, the Philadelphia police, and the prosecution team circumvented most of the precepts that we take for granted as pillars of the American justice system. Abu-Jamal, acting at first as his own attorney, was actually banished from the courtroom during important moments, including when one jury member was unfairly removed to reduce the number of African-American jurors.
Race for Justice is a frightening book. Weinglass makes a credible case that Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death only because he was once a Black Panther and is now a vocal activist. It's enough to make readers echo the book's last and most important question: How could this happen here?