Inmate Abu-Jamal challenges victim-anguish law
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Mumia Abu-Jamal, fellow inmates and prisoner-rights groups asked a federal judge on Monday to overturn the 3-week-old law, which allows prosecutors or victims to take legal action when an offender’s conduct “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime,” including mental anguish.
The prisoners along with Prison Radio, the Human Rights Coalition, and Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal argued that the law violates free speech rights and has a chilling effect on inmates who would otherwise speak out.
State and city officials Monday defended the measure, which won unanimous approval in the Pennsylvania legislature last month after Abu-Jamal, 60, delivered a pre-recorded commencement address Oct. 6 to two-dozen graduates of tiny Goddard College in Vermont.
“We’re not trying to silence inmates,” Jennifer Storm, the state’s victim advocate, said. “We’re trying to level the playing field to give crime victims a chance against harm being incurred.”
Storm said the law was written broadly to reflect various forms of taunting, intimidation and harassment and that it was “not just about Mumia.”
Lawmakers backing the measure, however, tied it directly to Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for the 1981 shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed the measure into law at an Oct. 21 ceremony on the Philadelphia street where Faulkner was slain and, speaking over the chants of protesters, called Abu-Jamal an “unrepentant cop killer” who has “tested the limits of decency.”
Abu-Jamal drew international support in the decades since his conviction with claims — repeated in weekly radio commentaries and books including “Live From Death Row” and “All Things Censored” — that he is the victim of a racist justice system.
He attended Goddard College briefly in the 1970s and studied remotely through the institution from prison. He told graduates to “think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better” but did not mention Faulkner or the shooting in his taped speech.