Review: ALL THINGS CENSORED VOL I
Mumia's voice to be heard at commencement
by Kevin Michaels
Imprisoned journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal is known the world over as the "voice of the voiceless" for his resolute advocacy of the rights of the dispossessed. Few of us, however, have had the opportunity to actually hear his voice because of his physical isolation on Pennsylvania's death row since 1982. We have instead had to rely on his syndicated column and the two published collections of his writings, LIVE FROM DEATH ROW and DEATH BLOSSOMS.
When National Public Radio announced its intention in 1994 to air a series of commentaries by Mumia on its flagship news program "All Things Considered," his supporters rejoiced at this blow against the silence imposed on Mumia. The feeling was short-lived, however, as the forces of reaction led by then-Senator Bob Dole and the Fraternal Order of Police went on the offensive to prevent Mumia's voice from being broadcast. National Public Radio capitulated to the pressure and locked its tapes away in a vault.
Despite this instance of the media's complicity in the stifling of the right to free speech, the world now has a new chance to hear Mumia speak for himself. The Quixote Center's Prison Radio Project was able to conduct three recording sessions with Mumia which have been put together with introductions by prominent supporters of Mumia, such as Alice Walker and Robert Meeropol, and released on compact disc as ALL THINGS CENSORED VOL I. All the proceeds from the sale of the recordings will go toward Mumia's legal defense.
'ALL THINGS CENSORED'
The importance of the recordings is underscored by a November 1996 dictate from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections banning anyone from photographing or using any electronic device to record a prisoner. This harsh restriction has withstood a U.S. Court of Appeals hearing.
Mumia's topics on ALL THINGS CENSORED VOL I are diverse. They range from the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court case to NAFTA, from the Philadelphia police force's ongoing war against the MOVE organization to the death of his mother. What characterizes these remarkable essays is his conviction that American civilization is deformed by race and class oppression and that the criminal justice systemand ultimately the death penaltyis the most salient manifestation of this deformity.
This message comes across with great impact in the piece "Acting Like Life's a Ballgame," one of the suppressed National Public Radio essays read here by the late radical lawyer William Kunstler. In it Mumia describes how the retributive nature of the criminal justice systemwith its glib "three-strikes" metaphorserves to dehumanize those young lives caught in its clutches by describing its effect on just one young Black man he has come to know in prison. Mumia reminds us that although his case has succeeded in gaining the world's attention, hundreds of thousands of other Black, Latino and Native American prisoners will serve out their long sentences in the brutal anonymity of today's overcrowded prisons and jails.
VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS
ALL THINGS CENSORED VOL I is a valuable contribution to the urgent struggle to free Mumia, which will in all likelihood be the outcome of his winning a new trial. Now that Mumia's case has entered a stage of dire emergencyPennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge is poised to sign a death warrant at any momentthis struggle, taking place at a time of severe political reaction, should be of the utmost priority for partisans of human freedom. Mumia and the voiceless masses for whom he speaks in these recordings deserve no less.
The upcoming "Millions for Mumia" march in Philadelphia on April 24Mumia's 45th birthdayshould be a date on all of our calendars.
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