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‘Do Not Bow’: Ex-Black Panther Praises Pro-Palestinian Student Protesters From Prison

Mumia Abu-Jamal tells New York City students they’re on the right side of history by deciding ‘not to be silent and to speak out’

The Gaza solidarity encampment at the City College of New York on Friday, April 26, 2024 ,(photo Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)


In a powerful and rousing live address to students at the City University of New York (Cuny) on Friday night, the incarcerated Black political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal praised the pro-Palestinian movement growing at US colleges as being on the right side of history.

"It is a wonderful thing that you have decided not to be silent and decided to speak out against the repression that you see with your own eyes,” Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, said while calling from Pennsylvania’s Mahanoy state prison. “You are part of something massive, and you are part of something that is on the right side of history.

“You’re against a colonial regime that steals the land from the people who are Indigenous to that area. I urge you to speak out against the terrorism that is afflicted upon Gaza with all of your might, all of your will and all of your strength. Do not bow to those who want you to be silent.”

As hundreds of students and supporters at the Cuny encampment in Harlem cheered, he continued, “This is the moment to be heard and shake the earth so that the people of Gaza, the people of Rafah, the people of the West Bank, the people of Palestine can feel your solidarity with them.”

Abu-Jamal was a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther party and went on to become a radio journalist as well as president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Association of Journalists. In 1982, he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia in 1981.

Abu-Jamal spent almost three decades in solitary confinement on death row before his death sentence was overturned by a federal court, citing irregularities in the original sentencing process.

A prolific writer on Black struggle and critic of the US criminal justice system, Abu-Jamal is serving life without parole, and his supporters regard him as a political prisoner.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, former Black Panther activist and journalist convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, leaves a Philadelphia court 12 July 1995.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, former Black Panther activist and journalist convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, leaves court on 12 July 1995. Photograph: Chris Gardner/AP

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Student protests calling for divestment in Israel have spread across the US in the past 10 days – in solidarity with the Palestinian liberation cause as well as the Columbia University students who were arrested and suspended after administrators allowed the NYPD on to campus.

Cuny is the largest public urban college in the US, with a large working-class Black and brown student and teaching body, with 25 campuses across the city’s five boroughs.

The mood on Friday night in Harlem was buoyant despite the cold. Students wrapped up in donated blankets amid Shabbat rituals, Muslim community prayers, lectures and the screening of documentaries about the history of student protests, the South African apartheid regime and the Palestinian struggle.

Nationwide, students – and a growing number of faculty – are demanding administrators disclose and divest from funds and corporations doing business with Israel in it. Those include Amazon and Google, which are part of a $1.2bn cloud-computing contract with Israel’s government, as well as manufacturers of weapons and other military equipment.

Police have responded with brutality on some campuses, such as at Emory University in Atlanta, provoking international condemnation – and, in turn, more student protests.

Joe Biden and many lawmakers have criticized the protesters as “antisemitic” despite the fact that Jewish students who reject Zionism are organizing many of the college protests.

In response to the 7 October Hamas attack that killed about 1,200 Israelis and resulted in the kidnappings of more than 200 others, Israel has killed at least 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, with thousands more buried under the rubble and presumed dead.

Deaths from starvation and extreme heat are rising, according to UN agencies, amid ongoing Israeli attacks and blockades stopping the delivery of humanitarian aid that some US officials acknowledge could be a violation of international law.

As the Israeli military appears to be preparing to launch an attack on Rafah in southern Gaza, where a million Palestinians have been displaced, Abu-Jamal urged students to expand protests.

“The people of Gaza are fighting to be free from generations of occupation so it is not enough, brothers and sisters, it is not enough to demand a ceasefire,” he said. “Make your demand cease occupation, cease occupation, and let that be your battle cry because that is the call of history of which all of you are part.

“You are part of something magnanimous, magnificent and soul changing, and history changing. Do not let go of this moment, make it bigger, make it more massive, make it more powerful, make it echo up into the stars. I am thrilled by your work – I love you.”

The students erupted into chants of “brick by brick, wall by wall, free Mumia Abu-Jamal”.

Abu-Jamal has a track record of supporting student movements and has been invited as a commencement speaker by numerous colleges. He participates in those commencements through recordings.

He has published dozens of essays and several books – including 2017’s Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? – about his time on death row and the history of the Black Panthers.

Cuny voted to divest from South Africa in 1984 by cutting ties with companies supporting the apartheid regime. Columbia was the first Ivy League university to sever financial links with the apartheid regime.

Nina Lakhani is senior reporter for Guardian US. Twitter @ninalakhani