Mumia Abu-Jamal, the journalist and former Black Panther convicted for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, had his death sentence reduced to life in prison without parole in 2011, due to faulty instructions to the jury. Now in general population in a Pennsylvania prison, Abu-Jamal, 60, could find himself close to death once again. But this time it may be through medical neglect instead of execution.
On March 30th, Abu-Jamal was taken to the ICU of the Schuylkill Medical Center, after having collapsed from diabetic shock. The prison did not notify friends and family or allow visitors, initially. After pressure from social media and grassroots organizers, the prison relented and allowed some visitors, including Johanna Fernandez, a professor of history at Baruch College, a friend of Abu-Jamal and a coordinator of The Campaign to Bring Mumia Home.
I spoke to Fernandez on WBAI’s The Morning Show on April 6th as she drove to Pennsylvania to visit Abu-Jamal again. According to Fernandez, when Abu-Jamal arrived at the hospital his blood sugar was at 779, very close to diabetic coma, which registers at 800. On Wednesday, Abu-Jamal was returned to prison despite the fact that he had still not seen a diabetes specialist. Fernandez said, “Part of what is happening is that the state failed to execute Mumia in the 1990s…..And now it appears that the state is attempting execution through medical neglect. Diabetes in not rocket science. For three months he was lethargic, falling asleep.”
The state seems determined to silence Abu-Jamal. who has maintained his innocence as well as his journalism and organizing. After he recorded a commencement speech to graduates at his alma mater, Goddard College, Pennsylvania legislators passed a “mental anguish” law that lets crime victims seek injunctions against such speeches. Lawyers for Abu-Jamal are challenging the law in federal court, arguing that it violates free speech. The trial was to begin the same Monday that Mumia was rushed to the ICU.
Fernandez told me via e-mail that when she visited Abu-Jamal on April 6th, he “struggled to get out of his wheelchair so that we could take a photo of him. He remained in the wheelchair for the rest of the visit.”
The photos show Abu-Jamal’s decline. Fernandez wrote, “We share these photos to give you a sense of the gravity of Mumia’s condition. He has lost over 50 lbs and his entire body is covered with a hard, leathery layer of jet-black skin, that is bloody, painful and itchy.”
I juxtaposed what Abu-Jamal looked like in a recent photo (from 2013) with what he looks like today.
Fernandez relayed that Abu-Jamal told her that he had been so weak last Thursday that when he tried to go to the bathroom he collapsed onto the floor where he stayed for 45 minutes until he was found by a doctor and another prisoner.
Fernandez and Abu-Jamal’s supporters, who have created this petition, are demanding that he be seen by an independent team of specialists chosen by his family.