A Reply to Dom Giordano About Mumia Abu-Jamal
I don’t blame Dom Giordano for wanting convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal to shut the hell up. But even after reading Giordano’s case for anti-Mumia legislation in today’s Daily News, I’m still worried about what the bill would mean for the First Amendment.
Giordano, bless him, quotes me in making his argument for a bill that would give victims the right to sue offenders for “perpetuating” their anguish long after the crime and conviction are over.
In fact, Joel Mathis, a Philadelphia Magazine writer that I really liked, argued that the contents of this bill and its theory parallel a 1991 Supreme Court ruling in the matter of Henry Hill of “Goodfellas” fame. The court said a New York law that would silence Hill would have also silenced Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Emma Goldman and Sir Walter Raleigh.
With all due respect to Joel’s point, I think Abu-Jamal’s crime is different. The blood-stained celebrity he derives from this is a direct slap in the face to Maureen, the surviving Faulkners, cops and taxpayers.
Dom: I hear you. And in my original piece, I went out of my way to say that Abu-Jamal doesn’t really belong on a list with any of the people named above.
But have you looked at the bill in question? It doesn’t just silence particularly egregious and offensive convicts for egregious and offensive conduct — it could silence any former offender at any time, for just about any conduct, even if they’ve paid their debt, moved on and made good with their lives.
Here’s what could get a former offender sued under the law:
“CONDUCT WHICH PERPETUATES THE CONTINUING EFFECT OF THE CRIME ON THE VICTIM” INCLUDES CONDUCT WHICH CAUSES A TEMPORARY OR PERMANENT STATE OF MENTAL ANGUISH.
That could be anything. And since there’s no limitation written in the bill — not the end of a prison term, not the end of probation or parole — it means a former offender would never be free of the threat of lawsuit.
The bill, as written, restricts the rights of far too many people for far too long. It’s so broad, in fact, I doubt it could possibly withstand a legal challenge from the ACLU.
That’s how the bill does too much. Here’s where it does too little. Giordano again:
This bill is also a shot back at places like Goddard and their passive-aggressive faculty, self-absorbed students and alumni that thumb their noses at laws, traditions and commonsense decency. Samantha Kolber, one of their communication people, when involved in a Twitter battle over the Abu-Jamal commencement speech tweeted out “Gandhi was also a convicted felon, should he not have had a platform?” Of course, Gandhi did not assassinate another human being between the eyes as Abu-Jamal did at 13th and Locust when he murdered Danny Faulkner.
Again, I don’t blame Dom for his irritation here. I characterized Goddard College — where Mumia delivered the commencement speech recently, setting off this whole debate — as “a hippie-dippie sort of place that places a high priority on ‘radical’ thinking.” And I called Mumia’s fans “a cult of feeble-minded radical chic.” Dom’s conservative, I’m not, but we’re pretty much on the same page as far as this goes.
But: The bill does absolutely nothing to affect Goddard College. Nothing. Zero. Zip.
Which is how it should be. Goddard’s action in inviting Abu-Jamal to speak is irritating, no doubt, it also seems the First Amendment was designed pretty much to protect expressions “that thumb their noses at laws, traditions and commonsense decency.” The First Amendment doesn’t protect the stuff we like, otherwise it wouldn’t be needed. The way you deal with Goddard College is to say, loudly and repeatedly, that it is wrong. And hope that someday, some of those students will be ashamed of themselves.
The anti-Mumia legislation before the Legislature is not a good bill, however. One needn’t be a fan of Mumia Abu-Jamal to be concerned about it.
A final thought: The topic of Mumia Abu-Jamal brings out passions in people who care about the matter. I don’t agree with Dom Giordano on this topic, but I do appreciate that — in an era of screaming, hyperbolic partisanship — he made his argument against me in respectful, thoughtful fashion. I hope I have reciprocated here.