Mumia and Free Speech
Could an American citizen be sentenced to jail simply for making a speech? If the speech is in defense of Pennsylvania death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal and the speaker is an activist in the struggle to save Abu-Jamal from the executioner's needle, the answer may be yes. C. Clark Kissinger, head of Mumia-support activities of the New York City-based Refuse & Resist!, an organization that's leading the international campaign to gain a new trial for the former Black Panther, will find out on December 6, when he faces a parole hearing in federal court in Philadelphia.
Technically, the issue is parole violation, but the charge for which Kissinger was convicted this past April--failure to obey a lawful order (to move) during a sitdown protest at the Liberty Bell--led to his being fined $250 and placed on one year's probation with what his lawyer, Ron Kuby, calls the stiffest terms he's seen for such a minor violation. Those terms, which were also imposed on eight other protesters, include surrendering his passport, having to file income and expense reports for himself and his wife, providing a list of anyone he contacts who has committed a crime and having to get permission from his probation officer whenever he wants to leave New York City or Long Island. "You have to remember that Philadelphia is ground zero for the Mumia case," says Kuby. "This is clearly an attack on Mumia and on Mumia's supporters. It is aimed at preventing Clark and others from doing any support activities at all."
"I turned in my passport, and I report to my parole officer," says Kissinger, "but when it comes to First Amendment stuff, I have refused to cooperate." He says he has not complied with an order to avoid any contacts with felons, saying, "In my line of work, most of the people I see have been arrested for something!" Nor has he filed any financial information about his family, a requirement Kuby's office says is simply an effort to gain information on the operations and funding of Refuse & Resist! As for his travel restrictions, Kissinger says, "Whenever it's been a request for something personal, like visiting my sick mother in Massachusetts, it's granted by my parole officer, but whenever it's something political, he has referred it to the sentencing judge, Federal Magistrate Arnold Rapoport, and he's always refused me permission." That's what happened in August when Kissinger asked for permission to go to Philadelphia during the Republican National Convention to make a speech at an officially sanctioned Mumia demonstration. When no permission was forthcoming, Kissinger simply went and gave the speech. Shortly after that, his probation officer notified the magistrate, claiming Kissinger had violated the terms of his parole--thus setting in motion the hearing to have it revoked.
The move comes as other Mumia support activities have also been facing what they say is harassment. Several weeks ago, following a regular weekly protest on Philadelphia's Broad Street, Ernst Ford, one of the organizers, says he found himself being followed home by a police car. As he began unloading signs from his truck, he claims, one policeman approached him saying, "Mumia's gonna die, and so are you." Ford and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia, sponsor of the protests, filed a complaint with the police, but so far they haven't heard back. The police department declined to comment, saying that "the investigation of the complaint has not been completed."
The international Mumia group is itself having problems, including facing a review of its charity registration by the state, which includes a request for ten years' worth of financial records--a review made more difficult thanks to a suspicious burglary of the organization's headquarters earlier this year. Computers and expensive stereo equipment were left untouched, but a drawer of financial papers was rifled.