When a PA Department of Corrections official falsely claimed Mumia Abu-Jamal was being hospitalized with COVID-19 at 5 pm on April 15, the news was shared worldwide in minutes. Supporters around the world, who have been misled by DOC statements in the past, immediately called the institution and demanded confirmation from Mumia himself. By 8:45 pm, the DOC allowed Mumia to call his supporters and he confirmed that the official report was false. “I am fine, I am not hospitalized,” he can be heard on the recorded call saying, part of which was played at the press conference, “…What I need is freedom.”
The whole incident adds to a long list of lies and misinformation by the PA DOC since Mumia was first unjustly incarcerated in 1982. Why did a person at the SCI Mahanoy Superintendent’s Office on an official phone tell a concerned advocate that Mumia was being hospitalized with COVID-19?
How would you react if someone in authority falsely told you your elderly relative was sick with COVID-19? As a concerned person, you would be outraged. So were the participants in the April 16 virtual press conference.
Santiago Alvarez, the UC Santa Cruz student who called the prison, not only described the recorded conversation he had with the DOC official but played a portion of it. The person clearly said “Mumia was taken to the hospital 30 minutes ago … suffering from headaches and breathing problems … to be tested for COVID-19 as a precaution.”
Johanna Fernandez, Baruch College professor whose uncle died as a result of the pandemic last week, explained US prisons have the highest rates of infection in the world. She demanded that the official’s callous misinformation, which was recorded, should lead to disciplinary procedures and his firing.
Temple Professor and activist Marc Lamont Hill exposed high rates of infection at Rikers Island prison many times worse than in New York City or in Italy. He explained that imprisoning people for small crimes like gambling and prostitution basically sentences them to the possibility of death because of the pandemic. Hill called the prison spokesperson’s actions “shocking — a stunning level of cruelty and indifference.”
Megan Malachi’s statement from the Philadelphia activist group Philly For REAL Justice said in part: “The false statement issued by the prison in the middle of a global pandemic is yet another example of the inherent violence of mass incarceration. This cowardly attempt to spread fear amongst the family and supporters of Mumia has not stopped our efforts…to demand the release of Mumia Abu Jamal and all prisoners. Free Mumia! Free ‘em all!”
Delbert Africa, recently released MOVE 9 member, recounted how these “racist, sadistic guards and staff did the same thing to me, denying I was sick, denying I was hospitalized”, misleading his friends and family when he was actually very ill in prison. Calling for the release of Mumia, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Mutulu Shakur, Jalil Muntaqim, and other political prisoners, he complimented the solidarity movement for forcing the DOC to take Mumia from his cell to make the call confirming his condition – a very unusual step.
Dr. Suzanne Ross described the support for Mumia by solidarity organizations in Japan, Europe, and Latin America. She recounted how the movement forced the PA DOC to make hepatitis C medicine available to Mumia and other prisoners. She added that a committee, including legal and medical experts, is urgently reviewing the possibility of legal action on behalf of Mumia to release him. The issue is the deadly threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to the lives of all prisoners, but especially so to the elderly or otherwise medically vulnerable (both of which pertain to Mumia), given the reality of prison conditions – the crowding, unsanitary conditions, the lack of testing kits, the notoriously poor medical care, and the frequent unavailability of hot water.
As of April 15, there have been a total of 53 tests out of 45,000 Pennsylvania inmates with a 17% positivity rate. Officials are not testing in high enough numbers to understand the full transmission of the virus. The prison reduction mitigation efforts are not at all commensurate with the epidemic. In the last month, there has only been a reduction of 474 state prisoners.
Instead of reducing incarceration numbers, the DOC is making a dire situation tenser by imposing system-wide lockdowns. On the call Mumia reported “everyone’s locked down – 23 hours in a cell, 45 minutes to clean cell, shower, plug up tablet to the kiosk, to the yard every 3 days – all in 45 minutes. It’s insane. The fear is getting sick and dying. Guards are in fear too.”
Abu-Jamal also mentioned Rudolph Sutton, incarcerated at SCI Phoenix, who died April 8 of respiratory distress due to COVID19, “with contributing factors of hypertensive cardiovascular disease and liver cirrhosis.” Mumia also suffers from cirrhosis of the liver, caused because of the refusal of the DOC to treat him years ago for hepatitis C in a timely manner. Like Mumia, Sutton had fought for his freedom for over 30 years. Innocence Project Legal Director Nilam Sanghvi said on April 15: “Mr. Sutton should never have been incarcerated in the first place. … His tragic death underscores the urgent need for the Governor, the Department of Corrections, the legislature, and the courts to act quickly so that another factually innocent person does not risk death in prison due to COVID-19.“
Mumia was convicted because of police, judicial, and prosecutorial misconduct. Like Sutton, COVID-19 threatens to end his life before he can prove his innocence.
The pandemic disproportionately affects people of color because of the effects of low wages, poor nutrition, inadequate housing and inability to pay for healthcare. Black men are hesitant to wear recommended masks to prevent infection for fear they will be falsely seen as a threat by racist whites and cops. And as in society as a whole, disproportionately imprisoned Black and Brown incarcerated prisoners face higher risks of death from the pandemic because of their increased rate of compromised health.
Organizers have planned a series of events marking Mumia’s 66th birthday from April 23 to 26, including a press conference on April 23rd, a Teach-In on 4/24, “Mumia Libre, an Instagram Live Dance Party” on April 25 and “Poetry in Motion, a 24 hour reading of Mumia’s works” on April 26. Go to https://mobilization4mumia.com/new-events or https://www.facebook.com/cbmhome/ for more details.
Celebrate Mumia’s 66th Birthday April 23 Press Conference
Launch of a weekend of resistance as we celebrate Mumia Abu-Jamal’s birthday
Join us for a Press Conference organized by the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, Mobilization4Mumia, Uncompromising International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
We will inform the public about the fight for Mumia’s legal, political, and urgent health care issues amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers: Pam Africa, Danny Glover, NYC Assemblyman Charles Barron, Janine Africa, Mireille Fanon (daughter of Frantz Fanon), Linn Washington,Suzanne Ross, Blak Rapp Madusa, Gregory Muhammad, Michael Schiffman, Razakhan Shaheed, Santiago Alvarez Register at this LINK
Register for the TEACH-IN here.
A recording of the complete press conference can be heard HERE. Use password z4^Q0.lm (The actual program begins around the 12-minute mark.)
Clips of individual speakers: