Abu-Jamal's Radio Broadcasts
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For over a decade,
five Black and Brown boys, caught in the crosshairs of the cops
and the press, suffered in virtual silence in the prisons and hell-holes
of New York.
have recently been exonerated, it is useful to review what happened
to them, and by so doing to learn how it happened, if we are to
learn if it may have happened to others, and may be happening today,
this process is the role of the press, a role that is often underestimated,
or at least understated, in any real recounting of the now-infamous
Central Park Jogger's Case in mid-town New York.
How did the
local medial fuel the furor that captured the dark imaginations
of the city in the Spring of 1989?
When one recalls
the covers of the NY dailies, and recaptures the visceral spirit
of the time, the official, media-sanctioned rage and hatred directed
at the five, and by extension, their families and their communities,
PARK JOGGER: WOLF PACK'S PREY" blared the cover of the NY "Daily
News." In a subtitle: "Female Jogger near death after
savage attack by roving gang."
DISEASE CALLED NEW YORK" was the message streaming across the
expanse of two pages of the "New York Post." There, two
of their prominent columnists wrote separate pieces under the same
thickened banner headline. The "Post's" celebrated Pete
Hamill would pen a piece of opinion that seemed to be a declaration
of war against the poor of the city, and served to reduce the 5
boys from youngsters theoretically armed with the heralded 'presumption
of innocence', to the dark mob who were living exemplars of pathology:
They were coming
downtown from a world of crack, welfare, guns, knives, indifference
and ignorance. They were coming from a land of no fathers... They
were coming from the anarchic province of the poor. And driven by
a collective fury, brimming with the rippling energies of youth,
their minds teeming with the violent images of the streets and the
movies, they had only one goal: to smash, hurt, rob, stomp, rape.
The enemies were rich. The enemies were white.
"Post" would give its readers a lesson in interpreting
this new urban underground, by tossing the word 'wilding' into the
lexicon, meaning, "... packs of bloodthirsty teens from the
tenements, bursting with boredom and rage, roam the streets getting
kicks from an evening of ultra-violence."
Edward I. Koch would pronounce the young suspects "monsters."
In this maddening
maelstrom of rank fear, printed, verbal (via radio and TV) violence,
the youths were blown into dark, threatening icons of perpetual
menace, and removed from the realm of boys. They were animalized,
monsterized, demonized into nonhumans, and as such, every official,
semiofficial, and worthy hand of influence was turned against them.
They were, in the deadening universe of legalism, in the province
of the law, utterly, terrifyingly alone. Indeed, those who one would
think, would be most responsive to their humanity, and most resistant
to the swelling chorus of chaos coming from the media, black journalists,
for career reasons, or for fear of alienation from the herd, offered
little different from the majority narrative. One journalist for
the now-defunct "Newsday," Sheryl McCarthy, recently recounted
her surprise at a salient fact that she didn't notice when covering
the case, "I was really surprised, in reading recent accounts,
to learn that the defendants were only fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen
at the time." ("Columbia Journalism Review", [Jan-Feb
journalist, who covered the story for her paper, never really noticed
the actual ages of the accused. She never noticed.
did anyone else.
rant on the poor of the city did not reflect the backgrounds of
the boys or their families. Most had hard-working mothers and fathers,
and went to good or decent city schools. Salaam went to Catholic
school, and was well-regarded by his classmates, who called him
made them vulnerable, more alien, and more distant than the writers
who were crafting their treks to the gulags.
They were presumed
to be guilty, and it is interesting that all of the problems with
the so-called 'confessions' that have emerged were present before
they were formerly indicted 13 years ago. And no Supreme Court (trial
court in New York), no Appellate Court, no justice of the Court
of Appeals found any of it problematic. These weren't 'citizens',
or even 'juveniles' -- they were "monsters", and the law
is no protector of monsters.
They had every
institution of white, corporate power arrayed against them, a 'savage',
venal press; the cynical police, and a complacent judiciary, who
were (to quote Hamill) "driven by a collective fury."
These boys, and too many boys like them, never had, nor have, a
They were but
the forerunners of the war against the poor, and the young that
has come to typify the American prison industrial complex.
Over 40 years
before their legal lynching in New York's Supreme Court, the U.S.
Supreme Court wrote:
A 15-year old
lad, questioned through the dead of night by relays of police, is
a ready victim of the inquisition... We cannot believe that a lad
of tender years is a match for the police in such a contest.
He needs counsel
and support if he is not to become the victim first of fear, then
He needs someone
on whom to lean vest the overpowering presence of the law, as he
knows it, crush him. [fr. "Haley v. Ohio", 332 U.S.
the Haley case dealt with a 15-year old Black boy, who falsely confessed
It is also ironic
that the very case that so stigmatized the families and communities
of those 5 youth, revealed that there was an inherent, deep, undeniable
imbalance in the allocations of power in the U.S. For the man who
confessed to the crime, who raped the jogger, also raped a nonwhite
woman, nearby, in that same park, scant hours before.
And we do not
know, nor really care to know, her name.
unleashed on these dark boys was occasioned by the toxin of race;
the race of the accused; the race of the victim, and the bone knowledge
that a barrier had been breached. They were 'wildin', in the eyes
of the white press, not because they were allegedly rapists
but because they were Black and Brown rapists of a white woman.
Who was wildin'
Check out Mumia's
"Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life
of African and African-American People" at www.africanworld.com
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© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.