Published: Jul 15, 2012 04:15 PM
Modified: Jul 15, 2012 04:17 PM
2nd of 2 parts
Many have heard his rousing commentaries about life on death row. He has used his weekly broadcast to probe the lives of the voiceless. His words after Hurricane Katrina compelled his listeners to consider the humanity of those standing on roof tops in prayer that the waters would reside before it was too late.
His weekly 15-minute broadcast from death row has captured the imagination of people around the world. In Paris, every Wednesday a group gathers to protest Mumia Abu-Jamal’s conviction. Up to a thousand people have gathered each week for the past 17 years.
“Rain or shine, they show up every week,” says, Keith Cook, the brother of Abu-Jamal.
On April 29, 2006, a newly-paved road in Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris, was named “Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal” in his honor. When officials in Philadelphia protested naming a street in honor of the man convicted of killing one of the city’s police officers they received a cold response from Paris.
“They told them to run your country and we will run ours,” Cook says.
France has a stamp in honor of Abu-Jamal. People send correspondence with his face there to remind them of the struggle.
Last year, Cook was invited to France to receive a humanitarian award on behalf of his brother. In all the years of broadcasting from death row, Abu-Jamal doesn’t talk about himself. His words from what he calls “the small dog cage” have made Abu-Jamal popular in Europe.
“One of the candidates for president asked me what it would take to get my brother’s endorsement,” Cook says. “He told me he would win in a landslide of Mumia would endorse him.”
Cook took the stage to thank those present for honoring his brother. He depended on his interpreter to translate his speech. He offered a few words in French to break the chill. Then his brother called from death row.
“He spoke for five minutes, and did the entire speech in French,” Cook laughed, the pride evident as he talked about his trip to Paris. “He made me look bad by doing the whole speech in French.”
A group committed to come to America to visit his brother. Everywhere he went people raved about the impact of those words from death row, and the need for a new trial to set his brother free.
Cook, who lives in Orange County, is making the rounds to speak on behalf of his brother. In November, he attended a rally in Philadelphia. Cornel West and Desmond Tutu were present and spoke on the need for a new trial. The police rode up on motorcycles and held a rally of defiance of their own. The tension was a reminder of why it’s been so difficult for Abu-Jamal to get a new trial. The powerful Fraternal Order of the Police refuses to let go of its claim of guilt.
Cook says life for his brother has changed since Philadelphia prosecutors stopped pursuing the death penalty and he left death row.
“They treated him worse than when he was on death row,” Cook says. “They told him they would let him see people if he cut his hair. He said he’s not gonna let his hair stop me.” Abu-Jamal cut the locks that once hung near his knees to his shoulders. It wasn’t the first time he was told to cut his hair. The first time came while on death row. He refused to cut his hair due to his deep spirituality, and how the hair was part of a journey.
Cook is able to see his brother more now that he is off of death row. He gave up his chance to see him on April 24 because eight people from France came to see Abu-Jamal for his birthday. They had come a long way. Cook can wait. Now that his brother is off of death row his heart doesn’t beat as fast as before.
“Mumia is learning to play the piano,” Cook says. “He says when he gets out everyone can hear him play.”
I wonder what song Abu-Jamal will play. Maybe he’ll play a tune about the love of family, or a song about the prayers of a community. I want to be there to listen.
Whatever he plays, it will sound much better than it would if played on death row.
I don’t wanna hear about death row no more. That’s a catchy tune.
Contact Carl Kenney at email@example.com and follow his blog at http://rev-elution.blogspot.com/