Sunday, March 30, 2008

Injustice and its non-celebrity victims

Over at Hit and Run, Michael Moynihan has a post about Mumia Abu-Jamal that got me thinking. Why did Mumia Abu-Jamal become such a prominent cause, as opposed to any of the myriad other people imprisoned in this country, many under circumstances far more questionable? I wish more people so interested in the inequities of the legal system would take some interest in some of its less prestigious victims.

Where’s the uproar over, say, Cory Maye? It ought to push a lot of the Left’s buttons- Maye is an African-American currently serving a horrendously unjust life sentence for shooting what turned out to be a (white) police officer in self-defense during what turned out to be a an unannounced nighttime no-knock police drug raid meant for the resident of the other half of Maye’s duplex. He was on death row until 2006. He’s still in prison. The police, as often happens when this sort of raid goes awry, repeatedly changed their story about whether or not they found marijuana in Maye’s home. If a fraction of the time and energy devoted to Abu-Jamal were to be directed at the terrible injustice against Cory Maye, what might have been accomplished?

For that matter, he seems like he could be a cause much of the Right would have an interest in– he was a gun owner who fought to protect his home and his child, and ends up serving life in prison because the armed, unidentified man forcing his way into the bedroom of Maye’s daughter at 9 o’clock at night turned out to be a police officer. It’s not hard to see how that sort of thing could have a chilling effect on people’s ability to bear arms for home defense, even if no actual laws are passed.

Unlike the tangled web of the Munima Abdul-Jamal case, the injustice of what happened to Maye is less ambiguous. Standing up for Maye seems like it could be an ideal cause Left and Right could agree on. And to be fair, many have spoken out for him. But it’s certainly nothing even close to the degree of attention given to Abu-Jamal.

I suppose some the things that could potentially give him appeal also hurt him. I suspect that what Cory Maye is in prison for- using a gun to defend himself during a home invasion- probably doesn’t endear him to a lot of the Left, a few genuine anarchists (as distinguished from social democrats who want to sound rebellious) aside. After all, keeping a gun in the house to protect yourself is for right-wing Neanderthals, anti-government nuts, and rural white trash.

And most conservatives, as has become more and more evident, only disapprove of jackbooted thuggery when a Clinton is in office. Now that he’s gone, agents of law enforcement are infallible gods, especially when they’re after drugs. If something like Waco or Ruby Ridge happened today, can you imagine most American conservatives today expressing even a tenth of the outrage they did when they happened in the 90’s? I sure as hell can’t.

I really shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed by this; I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that most of the good (from a libertarian viewpoint) aspects of most modern statist ideologies are just poses, covers, or, at best, the vestigial remnants of better days, the leftover rubble of a shattered classical liberal ideal that hasn’t been entirely swept into the trash yet. Too bad.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I suspect that part of the reason Mumia Abu Jamal personally got so much attention has to do with simple organizational dynamics.

Mumia was a Black Panther and then a well-known activist and radical journalist in Philadelphia. He was a member of a number of groups, and in contact with a number of other groups, which (out of necessity) already had well-developed mutual aid and support networks for imprisoned members. That gave him a number of pre-existing and pre-organized advocates, and, not coincidentally, he also got a good lawyer (Leonard Weinglass) with a history of making hay out of politically-charged court cases. All that, combined with his own gifts as a writer and a speaker, and his ongoing stream of writing and speaking from death row, kept his case on the radar long enough for it to be picked up and talked up at length by high-profile supporters like Rage Against the Machine. (Mumia's history as a Black Panther also helped him out a lot here, since the anarchist revival in the late 1990s brought a lot of sympathetic attention to the Panthers and other radical New Left groups.)

As far as I know, Cory Maye had no real pre-existing support network other than his family, until Balko started writing about the case. Given the situation, frankly, the amount that Radley Balko has been able to accomplish single-handedly on this case, without any significant pre-existing network behind Cory Maye, is inspiring and nothing short of heroic.

This may not entirely explain why Mumia in particular got so much more attention than even other Leftist "political prisoners" in similar circumstances (e.g. Jamil Al-Amin, or Leonard Peltier). I expect that part of it is just that these cases come and go in popularity, and Mumia's came in at a time when the radical and anarchist Left had (for other reasons) was making a momentary and unusual flash appearance in pop culture. Before Mumia's case was The Big Thing, Leonard Peltier's case had been The Big Thing, but the people supporting him didn't have much media presence. After Mumia's case was The Big Thing, other cases became The Big Thing in leftist activist circles, but by then the post-9/11 regimentation of popular culture was going on, and things in the media were settling back down to the old permanent war-footing pattern, which required erasing the radical Left.

As far as the "murkiness" of the case goes, personally, I've never made any serious attempt to find out whether or not Mumia Abu Jamal shot that cop. Reason being that I don't care. I'm not Mumia's priest and I'm not his lawyer either, so my only concerns in this case are (1) that the State shouldn't murder him in retaliation, no matter what he may or may not have done; and (2) that if he did shoot a cop in an attempt to defend his brother from getting arrested, he was probably justified in doing so. Of course, that's an argument that you can't make in court these days, so understandably, but unfortunately, most of the people lined up behind him exhaust a lot of time and energy on arguments that are really, morally and politically speaking, irrelevant.