The Scrapbook gets a lot of attention-grabbing emails, plaintive appeals from Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Gabby Giffords warning that civilization as we know it is going to end RIGHT NOW (unless we pledge $5 or more to fight Republican extremism before the midnight fundraising deadline). We thought we were inured to the political celebrity come-on. But last week a new name popped up in the sender column: Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Readers of a certain age will remember Mumia as the Black Panther who was arrested for the murder of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner in 1981. The spectacle of his trial drew national attention because Mumia believed all the right (i.e., left) things and was so devoted to his beliefs that he chose to represent himself in court, even though he was being tried for a capital crime. He made such a spectacle of himself that the court eventually assigned counsel to him. He was convicted and spent 30 years on death row, before his sentence was commuted, in 2011, to life without parole.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is an interesting cultural figure. He’s a symbol of the lawlessness and radical politics that made “tough on crime” one of the more successful political stances of the 1970s and ’80s. A wholly unsympathetic figure, he’s the kind of defendant who caused middle Americans to reflexively side with law enforcement for a generation.
He’s also the last of the left’s glorious political prisoners. From Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to Alger Hiss to Bill Ayers to the SLA, the left spent two generations fixating on and defending a series of criminals. It was a curious predilection—that liberals felt they had to man the barricades for thugs, murderers, and traitors just because they were fellow travelers—but every political movement has its idiosyncrasies. What makes Mumia Abu-Jamal noteworthy isn’t that he was part of this train of causes. No, what makes him interesting is that he was the caboose. He was the last “political prisoner” to capture the hearts of the left in a lasting way. For whatever reason, after liberalism had its affair with Mumia, it woke up the next morning and was scared straight.
All of which is why The Scrapbook was surprised by the email from Mumia. It wasn’t from his actual email account, but rather from a do-gooder nonprofit group, Picture the Homeless. They have enlisted Mumia’s help in publicizing their annual fundraising gala in New York. This year’s guest of honor will be Frances Goldin, a “longtime warrior for social justice.” What does Miss Goldin do? Why, she’s a literary agent. In fact, she’s Mumia’s agent. Hence the email, which is a testimonial from Mumia on behalf of his agent, in an attempt to solicit donations for a charity that’s supposed to help the homeless. If there’s a more picaresque example of liberalism in the wild, we haven’t seen it.
By the by, this is actually the second bit of outreach from Mumia Abu-Jamal in recent weeks. The first was a press release the day before the email noting that Mumia would be giving the fall commencement address for Goddard College in Vermont.
Because of his unfortunate incarceration, he won’t be appearing at Goddard in the flesh. Rather he will pre-record his speech and it will be played at the ceremony. Maybe it’s a sign of progress on the part of the American left that the press release was sure to note that it was the students—not the aging boomer administrators—who had chosen to honor Abu-Jamal.