One of the reasons my love of America continues to grow and rejuvenate is because I keep discovering and re-discovering its heroes. In fact, most times I think of a true hero, it is often an American who comes to mind.
When I think of America's history of struggling against injustice and oppression, its battles for freedom and civil rights, and the courage, wisdom and sacrifice of its individual citizens, I am reminded of how much this journey has to teach us all.
The Bill of Rights and the Constitution were born out of revolution. Fearless dissent in the name of justice is arguably America's greatest legacy. You only need to read a book like "Voices of a People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove to get enough inspiration for a lifetime.
Last week, I found a new hero in the spirit of this tradition.
Judge Ambro, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, honored America's great tradition by writing a 41-page dissent following the ruling on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Abu Jamal is possibly the most famous death row inmate in the world. He is considered by many to be a political prisoner. He has spent the last 27 years on death row for having allegedly murdered a policeman, Daniel Faulkner, on the night of December 9th 1981.
Following a hearing in front of a 3-judge panel last May 17, 2007 Mumia's attorney, Robert R. Bryan, argued four main points concerning major violations of the United States Constitution:
1. The judge who presided the original trial was biased and racist, and was even overheard saying during the trial that he was "going to help them fry the nigger".
2. The prosecutor's "appeal-after-appeal" argument encouraged the jury to disregard the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt, and err on the side of guilt, and mislead them into believing that their decision would not be final.
3. The prosecution engaged in racism in jury selection by purposely excluding African Americans from sitting on the jury.
4. The death penalty was improperly imposed because the judge precluded jurors from considering any mitigating evidence unless they all agreed on the existence of a particular special circumstance, in contravention of established law.
After almost a year, the three judges have now ruled that Abu-Jamal is entitled to a new jury trial as to whether he should be sentenced to life or death, but they refused all the major points raised by the defense that would entitle him to a new trial on the question of innocence or guilt.
Judge Ambro was one of the 3 judges on this panel. He expressed publicly his strong disagreement with the majority by the lengthy dissent in which he clearly says that relief should be granted. He also asked why the majority changed the law for Mumia's case: "I query then why they would choose to come out now with a federal standard when that was not the law heretofore in our Circuit."
He went into detail about the prosecution's exclusion of African Americans from sitting on the jury. As he pointed out in the first sentence of the dissent: "Excluding even a single person from a jury because of race violates the Equal Protection Clause of our Constitution."
These same points have been raised in 2000 by Amnesty International in calling for a new and fair trial.
In his concluding paragraph to the dissent, Judge Ambro pointed out: "No matter how guilty one may be, he or she is entitled to a fair and impartial trial by a jury of his or her peers."
One cannot help asking, what is it about this case that makes the State so afraid to live up to the legacy of justice and equality that I have come to so admire about this country?
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