Why We Petition the Department of Justice

This petition calls on the U.S. Department of Justice to uphold its charge to ensure that U.S. citizens have federal protections against racial and ethnic discrimination by state and local governments and their court systems.  Although the Office of the Attorney General has been in existence since the early republic, the Office acquired greater importance when in 1870, in the aftermath of the Civil War, it became the US Department of Justice (DOJ). With the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which eliminated slavery and created our current federal civil rights protections, the DOJ was charged with intervening in and prosecuting civil rights violations by state authorities. In the following years, in 1939 and again in 1957, the executive branch of the government heeded the call of domestic and international voices denouncing human and civil rights violations against African Americans and others with a long history of second-class citizenship in the United States. In those years, it reinforced the importance of federal civil rights protections by establishing first a Civil Rights Section within its Criminal Division and later a Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

Numerous mainstream studies of the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal have found a preponderance of evidence of racial bias, police corruption, and political corruption. Because of the undue influence of the Philadelphia Police Department and its union—the Fraternal Order of Police—on the judiciary, Abu-Jamal, the most famous prisoner in theworld  has not been able to get relief in the state courts. The U.S. Department of Justice’s own investigations of the Philadelphia Police Department have corroborated systemic prejudice and the violent character of that body in its contact with African American and Latino detainees and defendants.

The constitutional violations in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal are numerous and profound. They merit intervention both because of their exceptional nature and also because they are typical of a greater crisis of constitutional rights violations in the administration of justice in local courts, which disproportionately incarcerate communities of color in cities like Philadelphia and beyond. The constitutional violations in Abu-Jamal’s case are a primer for understanding why the 21st century phenomenon of mass incarceration of African Americans and Latinos is the gravest civil rights crisis of our time.

Systemic police corruption, judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, and Abu-Jamal’s steadfast assertion of innocence, have all made this case a global symbol of U.S. justice gone wrong.  After having spent more than 28 years on death row on a sentence, which the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found violated his constitutional rights, and after more than 30 years of being denied a fair trial by the state courts, we call on the US Department of Justice to recommend that Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania immediately commute Abu-Jamal’s life sentence to time served and release him from prison.


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