From “Rights of the Condemned”

Excerpt from Rights of the Condemned

By David Lee

What follows is an excerpt from a longer article written by Lee in response to an editorial by Dom Giordano that appeared in The Philadelphia Daily News on October 15, 2014. In Giordano’s own editorial, he vigorously voices his support for the ‘Silencing Act’ – a reactive, unconstitutional piece of legislation that was introduced in the fall of 2014 by PA Representative Mike Vereb following a remotely delivered commencement speech by Mumia Abu Jamal for Goddard College. The bill, which passed both the PA House and Senate overwhelmingly, was challenged in the courts on several fronts and was ruled unconstitutional.

It is vitally important for those of us condemned (in the eyes of prejudiced people) to maintain our human right to voice our pain. Mr. Giordano suggests that every time that Mumia Abu Jamal speaks that it revictimizes Mrs. Maureen Faulkner, the widow of slain police officer Danny Faulkner. Well, if he is going to be honest then it is safe to suggest that there are many instances in which she is exposed to painful issues by people not in prison. Do you silence those voices too? Moreover, listening to the broadcast commencement address at Goddard College is optional; people who do not wish to listen, do not have to listen. Furthermore, Mumia has maintained his innocence throughout the entire process, and many facts have been presented to suggest that he is in fact innocent. But due to political reasons those issues are not given the same considerations that a police officer would get if he/she were even charged with killing a Black man. Additionally, what about Mumia’s family – do they count? They are subjected to painful rhetoric as well, but who is speaking about their pain?

Now let us look at this situation from a reverse standpoint: what if a police officer had killed Mumia and 33 years later this officer was presented with an opportunity to speak on the radio. Does any honest person believe that this would raise an issue for Mr. Giordano? Would he care about how Mumia’s family felt about the program being aired with the police officer responsible for killing Mumia? Does he care about all those family members of the thousands who have been convicted of crimes and have spent years, even decades, in prison for crimes they did not commit, before being found to be innocent and released? Or the thousands who are innocent, but sadly lack the resources to prove their innocence? Or the thousands in prison for taking deals because they’re afraid of being over-prosecuted by overzealous and uncaring prosecutors. These victims do not count in the minds of those working to smash the voices of the wretched beings in the nation’s prisons whose real crime is mere underdevelopment and poverty.

In American society, it is always a safe bet to vent your absurdity on the most vilified and powerless segment of this country: prisoners! We, for the most part, are powerless to fight back. Sadly, in the minds of some people, it is okay to further trample upon our human rights because we’ve been condemned and demonized by those who view us as not in the special class of human beings. I cannot help but to cogitate in regards to how Giordano might feel about all the Black men being killed by cops around this country. Are the cops allowed to have a voice and to go onto the internet and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend themselves and to elevate their standard of living in the process? Are these takers of human life deemed worthy of having a voice? Accordingly to some people, only certain types of people accused of killing someone are allowed to speak. We the condemned masses filling up the nation’s prisons have no such rights. We must be silent while we’re being persecuted because some people might get upset with us for challenging their lunacy.

I am an impoverished Black man who has spent close to three decades in prison for a crime I did not commit and my human rights are stepped on every day of my existence in Pennsylvania’s cages of despair and agony. I could care less about Mr. Giordano’s foolishness, but he seems to represent enough people to force me to speak on this issue. We prisoners and our families can ill afford to allow people like this to just continue to walk over our rights to live as human beings. We must organize our voices too! We have a right to voice our pain! I do have compassion for those who have lost loved ones to senseless violence, but placing innocent people in prison does nothing to assuage your pain. Justice cannot be about throwing people into these cages and allowing them to just waste away. And if we’re going to speak about victims, what about all those victimized by the criminal justice system, some of whom have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. Do we have any say in this matter?

Most of those able to overturn their cases do so through DNA evidence, but what about those of us who do not have DNA evidence available to prove our innocence? What about all those people who have been time barred by unjust laws and cannot even raise vital issues in court? We must understand that we too have rights, and we must continue to organize and fight in order for our rights to be respected and honored. We cannot continue to allow venomous people to silence us due to our status. We must exercise our voices at every possible opportunity because we have no other weapons available to us. We must resist attempts of anyone who wishes to further strip us of our humanity. These are our God-given rights, and we must protect them with a profound passion, or lose them due to others’ fears and insanity.