CAST: Me, Mumia Abu-Jamal Supporter, Mumia Abu-Jamal Supporters, Pedestrian, and Dutch Tourists One and Two (“Dutch Tourists”)
MLK, Jr. weekend 2014. 11 am on Friday, January 17th. Philadelphia. A sunny winter day at 4th and Market Streets. On the southeast corner, MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTERS hold up large signs as drivers and pedestrians pass by. On the northeast corner, a bank’s employees distribute new account brochures and trinkets to pedestrians.
On the southwest corner, a MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER holds a sign: “Mumia is innocent. Seth Williams is a (****). Free Mumia.” I hold a sign: “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now!” Some MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTERS chant slogans as Mumia Abu-Jamal’s voice booms from loud speakers.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: We should move over to the other corner so the people who stop at the light can see us.
ME: Sure. Watch the cars. You know some of them probably want to run us down.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: Right.
I move to the opposite corner with the MUMIA ABU JAMAL SUPPORTER. We hold our signs aloft and smile when drivers honk at us and nod their approval. When they don’t, we vigorously shake our signs.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: We have to hold them higher.
ME: I need to go to the gym.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: What?
ME: My arms are tired already.
We laugh. A PEDESTRIAN pauses, then stops in front of me.
PEDESTRIAN: What does Mumia Abu-Jamal have to do with the bank?
I walk with the PEDESTRIAN.
PEDESTRIAN: It’s confusing.
ME: Sorry. Would you like to hear about Mumia Abu-Jamal? He was wrongly convicted and incarcerated, and–
PEDESTRIAN: I know who he is. He’s a cop killer.
ME: Sir, he’s not. He’s–
PEDESTRIAN: A cop killer.
The PEDESTRIAN quickly walks away, and I turn back, toward the crosswalk. The DUTCH TOURISTS walk toward me. They smile and read my sign. I meet them halfway and walk them through the crosswalk.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: This is interesting.
ME: Definitely. Are you tourists?
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Yes.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: Who is this man people are shouting about?
ME: Mumia Abu-Jamal.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: What does he have to do with the bank?
ME: Nothing. The bank is a different group. Where are you from?
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Amsterdam.
ME: Fab city.
They nod yes.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: We like it too.
ME: How is Philadelphia treating you?
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: It’s good, and pretty. We don’t have much time.
We step up to the curb and I rest. They pause.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Do you live here?
ME: Close by.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: Could you tell us more about your protest?
ME: How much time do you have?
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: We have a few minutes.
ME: In short, Mumi Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: What did he do?
ME: Nothing. He was falsely accused of killing a policeman. Total sham trial. Witnesses backed out of their stories, irregular procedures for evidence. Awful.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: Where is he now?
ME: In prison. For life.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Where?
ME: In this state, in Pennsylvania. The entire ordeal has been an egregious–terrible–injustice.
A motorist honks loudly at MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTERS, and gives a fist of support. I hold up my sign and smile.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: And you think it is because he’s black?
ME: No. I know it’s because the legal system is inherently racist, and this country has serious problems with racism.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Is it not better here now? You have a president who is black.
ME: We do. But one man doesn’t change the power structure in this country. Don’t get me wrong–President Obama’s election is a sign, but of what, I’m not so sure.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: There is still a lot of racism?
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: It’s nice you can yell out here.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: Yes.
ME: It truly is, and because of that, I’m one of the most patriotic people I know.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Really?
ME: I don’t think I could yell and scream like this in many other countries in the world, not in this body, anyway.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Oh. Maybe you’re right.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: But now, the government can watch you. With the internet and the cameras.
ME: They’ve always watched us. People are just waking up. This country is becoming more like a military state each day.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: I’ll look up information about him when we get home.
ME: Great. I think it’s easier for Europeans to talk about racism here than it is for white Americans.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: I understand what you’re saying. Every country has its problems.
ME: And its blind spots. Paris has a street named after Mumia, but France doesn’t want to deal with Algerians. France knows it was wrong, and they try to shut down their protests.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: And Germany doesn’t like to confront the Holocaust.
ME: I know. And neither does the Netherlands, much less the whole Afrikaners in South Africa thing.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: Yes. We do have this too, this…
ME: Blind spot.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Blind spot.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: Blind spot. We have to start to move now.
ME: Where’re you headed?
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: The Liberty Bell.
ME: Don’t forget to visit the President’s House. It’s right next to it.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: OK. Thank you.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO: We don’t want to run out of time. There’s so much to see in this area.
ME: Lots. Philadelphia’s one of our oldest cities. Just remember that the U.S. government started here.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Right. That’s why we want to see the Liberty Bell.
DUTCH TOURIST TWO checks her watch.
ME: You’re fine. You’re less than two blocks away. There’s a big visitor’s center with great maps. It’s right across from the President’s House.
I point down Market Street toward the Liberty Bell and the President’s House.
DUTCH TOURIST ONE: Thank you. We’ll look up Mumia Abu-Jamal on the Internet.
ME: Fab. Spread the word.
They walk away. The MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER walks over to me.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: That looked like a long conversation.
ME: They were nice. Tourists from Amsterdam.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL SUPPORTER: What were you talking about?
ME: Democracy, I think.