Dear Dr. H. Sharif Williams,
My name is Christopher Paslay, a frequent contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a longtime teacher and guidance counselor with the Philadelphia School District; I also have an MEd in Multicultural Education, and have followed the Mumia Abu Jamal case closely for the past 20 years. I’d like to address some of the points you raised in your October 5th OP-ED: “Our Students and Educational Philosophy: Working Toward a Just and Civil Society.”
You state, “Mumia Abu-Jamal, as a Goddard College alumnus (BA ’96), social critic and member of the millions of people incarcerated in the United States, represents something incredibly important in the context of our commencement ceremony. He knows what is means to obtain a degree in the face of overwhelmingly challenging circumstances.”
Before I continue, Dr. Herukhuti, let me ask you this: Do you believe in redemption? I do. And that’s the fundamental problem with your decision to have Mumia Abu Jamal speak at Goddard’s graduation. If Mumia had owned what he did, repented, and tried to make amends, I’m sure most people would have no problem with Goddard choosing Mumia as a commencement speaker; a remorseful and repentant Mumia would fit Goddard’s educational philosophy perfectly.
But Mumia has never, ever, taken responsibility for murdering another human being. He’s also never, not once, shown any meaningful sign of remorse for his actions. Now, I know what you are thinking: Mumia’s innocent. He’s a political prisoner, etc. But even if he is innocent (the evidence overwhelmingly points to his guilt), he’s still done nothing to reach out and ease the pain of Maureen Faulkner, or to help in the effort to bring the “real” killer to justice. The irony here is that you state Mumia, “knows what it means to raise troubling and provocative questions that lead one to compelling answers.”
Fine. But what about the most troubling, provocative question of them all: What happened the night Daniel Faulkner was murdered? Mumia was there, and so was William Cook, his brother, and they saw the whole thing. Why did Cook never take the stand on his brother’s behalf? Why has Mumia, who is supposedly in this unique position to open pathways of critical discussion, never clearly communicated the events of that night, and why does he refuse to even address the question in interviews? Why has Mumia never offered his cooperation in helping bring the killer of Daniel Faulkner to justice? Why has he never reached out to Maureen Faulkner in his infinite wisdom and compassion and tried to ease her plight?
I think we know why. And this is the hypocrisy of you, Dr. Herukhuti, and your educational philosophy of a “just and civil” society. Just and civil societies do not give unrepentant killers a commencement platform at the expense of grieving women (Maureen Faulkner, by the way, publicly said your decision was “disgusting”). Regardless of what you believe about his guilt, he is still a cold and callous man, who has mocked civil society, and whose refusal to discuss the night of Faulkner’s murder has tormented the friends and relatives of Daniel Faulkner, as well as the Philadelphia community.
When you speak of Goddard’s educational philosophy of a “just and civil society,” it begs the question, Justice for whom? For the grieving Maureen Faulkner? For America’s police officers? For the Philadelphia community and it’s law abiding citizens who made up the jury and found him guilty as charged? Do we not count? And if we don’t, why not? Because too many of us are white? Because we represent the establishment? Because we abide by the law and are not “radicals”?
Let’s now for the sake of argument assume Mumia is guilty of shooting Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner first in the back, and then point blank in the face. Let’s assume the four witnesses who identified Mumia as the shooter and so testified in court were right. Let’s assume the two people who signed a sworn statement that they heard Mumia say, “Yeah, I shot the mother fucker and I hope he dies” are telling the truth. Let’s assume the reason why Mumia and his brother William Cook never testified or gave a clear version of events of the night of the shooting is because Mumia did it. Let’s assume the reason why Mumia’s .38 was found at the scene with five empty shells was because Mumia actually fired it—he saw his brother getting pulled over by a white cop, lost his temper, and ran across the street and shot Faulkner in the back and then the face (which is why the bullet removed from Faulkner’s brain matched Mumia’s gun, and why the bullet from Faulkner’s gun was removed from Mumia’s chest).
Let’s assume these things are true, just as the jury did, just as every appeals court over the past 32 years—including the PA Supreme Court—have found to be true. What does this say about Goddard? It says that Goddard College supports giving a voice to an unrepentant murderer (not a man who has turned around his life and made amends), that Goddard has no qualms of giving a platform to a man who used violence—first degree murder—to build a platform for his views. This is the most extreme form of radicalism: using murder to deliver a message. That’s what Mumia has done, and Goddard has supported it.
The biggest tragedy, though, the most egregious crime against free thought and Goddard’s supposed fight for “social justice” is the fact that your school has indoctrinated its students into believing Mumia is either innocent or did not receive a fair trial. Why else would your graduates request him as a commencement speaker? If you deny this, ask yourself this question: Did you show your students both sides of the issue EQUALLY? Did you lead them back to the primary sources of the case against Mumia—the trial transcripts; the original news stories filed about the murder and trial; the literature written by Maureen Faulkner and Philadelphia syndicated radio host and columnist Michael Smerconish?
My guess is that your didn’t. My guess is that you exposed your students to pro-Mumia literature, much of which can be classified as agitation-propaganda based in conspiracy theory, questionable sources, and half-baked conjecture. As a Philadelphia public school teacher, THIS is the most reprehensible part of Goddard’s decision to study Mumia, the fact that you failed to leave it up to the students to decide for themselves, rather, manipulated them into swallowing whole ideas that support your underlying political agenda.
Your educational philosophy of “working toward a just and civil society” is hypocrisy, Dr. Herukhuti, at least in light of your callous and misguided decision to use Mumia Abu Jamal as a commencement speaker; I think it had more to do with getting free publicity for your obscure college than it did with “justice”. As a Philadelphia teacher and guidance counselor, I will from this point forward advise my students against attending a school as irresponsible and insensitive as Goddard College.
English Teacher/Guidance Counselor
Swenson Arts and Technology High School