The GOP senator from Pennsylvania sent a scathing letter Oct. 1 to Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont, condemning their invitation to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who gunned down Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
“I cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer—one who ambushed a police officer, shot that officer in the back, and while that officer lay wounded and defenseless on the ground, lowered a gun to the officer’s face and took his life,” wrote Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) in his letter to the school’s interim president Robert Kenny.
Toomey wrote: “Abu-Jamal has never apologized or expressed any regret for his heinous crime. To the contrary, after the murder, Abu-Jamal boasted, ‘I killed the [police officer], and I hope the [police officer] dies.’”
The senator also said he was concerned about the message to Faulkner’s family, when a college honors the police officer’s murderer.
“What lesson is Goddard teaching its students about their moral responsibilities, as members of a civil society, to their fellow citizens? Danny Faulkner’s family has been subjected to three decades of untold pain,” he said.
“They have been forced to sit by and watch as political opportunists exploited Danny Faulkner’s death to further their own agendas—spreading lies about the trial and the evidence and organizing rallies that, amazingly, portrayed Mumia Abu-Jamal as the victim,” Toomey said.
“They have watched Abu-Jamal be made a cause célèbre, complete with adoration from Hollywood celebrities, “Free Mumia” t-shirts & posters, his own HBO special, and a street named after him in France,” he said.
Now compare Abu-Jamal’s life with what he took from the Faulkner’s, the senator said.
“While Danny’s widow Maureen has only memories of her husband and can only dream of the children and grandchildren she and Danny should have had, Abu-Jamal gets to hug his wife, talk to his children, and play with his grandchildren every time they visit him,” he said. “Did anyone bother to raise the question of how celebrating this unrepentant murderer might affect the victim’s family?”
Abu-Jamal, serving a life sentence without parole, is scheduled to appear at the Oct. 5 commencement by audio recording with an address to the graduates of Goddard’s undergraduate program at the school’s Haybarn Theatre. There will also be a video and slideshow about Abu-Jamal as part of his section of the event.
John Wetzel, the secretary of Pennsylvania Corrections, said although he is personally upset, inmates have the right to use the phone and he has no control over whether their conversations are recorded.
“I cannot express my disdain enough about Goddard College’s decision to allow this individual to be a commencement speaker,” Wetzel said. “Police officers put their lives on the line every day to protect society and now we have a college allowing an individual convicted of murdering a police officer to share his opinions with impressionable students. This fact is very troubling.
The video to be presented was produced by Stephen Vittoria, who created the HBO documentary “Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal” in 2012.
In a Sept. 29 statement, Kenny celebrated the choice of Abu-Jamal by the 20 students receiving their degrees.
“As a reflection of Goddard’s individualized and transformational educational model, our commencements are intimate affairs where each student serves as her or his own valedictorian, and each class chooses its own speaker,” he said.
“Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that,” he said.
Born Wesley Cook, Abu-Jamal changed his name as part of his transition into 1970s black radicalism, which included stints with the Black Panthers and National Public Radio.
On the night of Dec. 9, 1981, Abu-Jamal was driving a cab and came upon his brother William Cook in a traffic stop by Faulkner. Minutes later, Abu-Jamal was standing over the police officer’s body with five empty casings at his feet. The revolver found at the scene had been fired by Abu-Jamal and the bullet fragments matched the revolver.
Four eyewitnesses came forward with identical accounts of Abu-Jamal rushing Faulkner from behind and shooting him in the back.
Abu-Jamal graduated from one of Goddard’s distant learning programs in 1996.
According to the school’s website: “Goddard alumnus Mumia Abu-Jamal is a revolutionary journalist and writer. After more than 30 years in prison, Mumia continues to report, educate, provoke, and inspire.”
Dean Richard Kelsey, the assistant dean of the George Mason University School of Law, said Goodard’s invitation to have Abu-Jamal speak to 20 students was a cheap stunt.
“This guy is going to spew out left-wing propaganda from his cell,” he said. “This is really about a sub-standard college trying to use a little publicity, so they can get their name out there—and doing something outrageous—it’s akin to being a prank or being punked.”
Kelsey said Abu-Jamal discusses institutional racism in his address and the message to the students is that violence against law enforcement officers is a reasonable response.
“Remember, this had nothing to do with the old Black Panthers or the new Black Panthers,” he said. “It was not wrapped around some form of political protest—this was a traffic stop.”