Mumia, young journalist in charge of the communication department of the Black Panthers in Philadelphia
One of the few media people to accurately report on MOVE and make a serious effort to understand the organization was Mumia Abu-Jamal, a highly regarded Philadelphia journalist and president of the local chapter of the Association of Black Journalists.
Throughout the 1978 confrontation and resulting trials, his in-depth MOVE coverage often left him at odds with his employers. Rather than compromise his integrity as a journalist, he began free-lance reporting while driv-ing a cab at night to support his family. On December 9th, 1981 around 4:00 am, Mumia was driving through downtown Philadelphia, when he came upon William Cook, his own brother, whose car had been stopped by a police officer. What happened in the next few minutes has become obscured by conflicting testimony, altered or missing evidence, and misleading inflammatory publicity. By the time back-up police arrived on the scene, gunshots had been fired, Mumia was badly wounded, and Officer Daniel Faulkner was dead. During his arrest and subsequent hospitalization, Mumia was abused and beaten by police. His brother was charged with aggravated assault, though later testimony and evidence indicated the officer had beat William over the head with a flashlight hard enough to draw blood.
Charged with first degree murder, Mumia maintained his innocence and, like MOVE members in trials he had reported on, exercised his constitutional right to argue his own case. The high-publicity trial was presided over by Judge Albert Sabo who quickly denied Mumia's request to be represented by JOHN AFRICA. During jury selection, Mumia put his well honed interviewing skills to use. As his impressive dignity and eloquence became apparent to prospective jurors, Sabo stripped Mumia of his right to conduct the defense and ordered the court appointed attorney, Anthony Jackson to take over the case. Mumia then refused to participate in a blatant railroading and his version of the crime scene events was never recounted.
Some eyewitnesses saw a man running from the scene who was never identified by police. Others gave descriptions of the gunman that did not match Mumia's appearance. The political nature of the case became apparent when prosecutor Joseph McGill argued that Mumia deserved the death penalty because of statements he made over 12 years earlier as a Black Panther spokesman. The jury, from which over ten Blacks were systematically excluded and on which two Blacks remained, returned a verdict of guilty and a sentence of death.