In the early morning hours of Dec. 9,1981, 25-year-old police officer Danny Faulkner pulled his patrol car behind a light blue Volkswagen Beetle in the heart of Philadelphia’s red-light district. Alarmed by the circumstances, he radioed for a wagon to help with an arrest. He never had the chance to explain what alarmed him.
A police car arrived two minutes later. To his unending horror, the arriving patrolman found Faulkner face up on the sidewalk, a bullet in his back and another right between his eyes—“complete instantaneous disability and death.”
Sitting dazed nearby, with Faulkner’s bullet in his chest, was a cabdriver named Mumia Abu-Jamal. Next to Mumia was his gun, all five bullets spent, two of them in Faulkner. Four eyewitnesses at the scene, two of them black, immediately identified Mumia as the shooter.
Although his attorneys would later serve up the classically lame TODDI defense—“the other dude did it”—Mumia never offered an alternative story, nor did his brother, William Cook, the driver of the Volkswagen and the man Faulkner tried to arrest before Mumia intervened. Cook’s only words of explanation were the honest ones he muttered at the scene, “I ain’t got nothing to do with it.”
Mumia was, as our southern friends say, guilty as a goose. By comparison, the cases against Scott Peterson or O.J. Simpson were strained and circumstantial. The prosecutor claimed often and publicly that “he never had a stronger murder case” in his long and successful career, and he was not exaggerating. To no one’s surprise, a mixed-race jury convicted Mumia of murder and sentenced him to death.
One would think at this point that the man’s career options were not terribly attractive, ranging as they did between gas and electric. But to think thusly is to underestimate the creative mischief of the American cultural community. Truth be told, Mumia’s career was just about ready to shift into high gear.
The noise soon reached the sensitive ears of the international left, culminating in a visit to Mumia’s remote Pennsylvania prison cell by one Danielle Mitterand, the former first lady of the dependably gullible France. Indeed, in a defining moment of international tomfoolery, the city of Paris officially named Mumia “Citizen of Honor,” the first such honoree since artist Pablo Picasso 30 years prior.