Dec 9, 2021 - News

Reflecting on the Abu-Jamal-Faulkner case, 40 years later

From left to right, a projection of slain Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner; Mumia Abu-Jamal leaves City Hall.

(Left) A projection of slain Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 8, 2006; (Right) Mumia Abu-Jamal leaves City Hall after a hearing on July 12, 1995. Photos: Matt Rourke and Chris Gardner/AP

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the arrest of Mumia Abu-Jamal for the killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Why it matters: The Dec. 9, 1981 fatal shooting in Center City is one of the most high-profile police shooting cases in Philadelphia and around the world.

  • The arrest and conviction of Abu-Jamal sparked a global movement to free the activist and former journalist.

State of play: Abu-Jamal, 67, is serving life in prison at State Correctional Institution Mahanoy in Schuylkill County.

  • Born Wesley Cook, Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering Faulkner in 1982. His sentence was reduced to life in prison in 2011 after spending decades on death row.
  • Abu-Jamal, who's always maintained his innocence, has published dozens of books and commentaries while behind bars, including "Live from Death Row" in 1996.

Flashback: There's still much disagreement about what happened on Dec. 9, 1981, but the few details known include:

  • Faulkner pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, for a traffic stop early that morning.
  • Abu-Jamal, who was working as a taxi driver nearby, attempted to help his brother.
  • An altercation ensued between Abu-Jamal's brother and Faulkner, leaving Faulkner dead and Abu-Jamal shot in the chest.

Between the lines: The case has become a symbol for the inequities of the American criminal justice system over the past four decades, said Linn Washington, a journalism expert at Temple University.

  • Washington noted the dozens of wrongful convictions in Philadelphia that have been overturned over faulty or fraudulent police investigations over the decades, saying the "Abu-Jamal case encapsulates all of them."
  • "Everyone of these exonerations, the reasons for them in terms of the improprieties, are writ large in the Abu-Jamal case."

What they're saying: Faulkner's widow Maureen, who lives in California, told Axios that ahead of the anniversary, she reflected on the support she's received over the years. But she also looked back on the toll of returning to the state to attend court proceedings for decades.

  • Escaping the notoriety of the case has also been difficult, she added.
  • "He haunted me. I felt like I was in a mental prison."

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 held a memorial Mass for Faulkner on Tuesday.

  • "We never forget Danny's sacrifice and courage to serve our great city," police union President John McNesby said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Pam Africa, a spokesperson for the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, said the group continues to push for Abu-Jamal's innocence and release, maintaining he is a "political prisoner."

  • "Our thing is to keep on pushing, be consistent and get the information out. We're still fighting a corrupt government," she said.

What's ahead: Abu-Jamal supporters plan to demonstrate around City Hall at 1pm on Saturday.


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