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In prison my whole life: Mumia Abu-Jamal and US criminal justice

Just back from chairing a panel discussion after the Belfast premiere screening of 'In Prison My Whole Life' as part of the Belfast Film Festival.

The film is the story of young English-American journalist William Francome's journey of discovery through the American criminal justice system and wider society as he explores the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for the murder, on December 9th 1981, of Irish-American police officer Danny Faulkner in Philadelphia. Faulkner left behind a widow. Abu-Jamal still languishes on death row. A series of appeals has just reached its latest stage and Abu-Jamal may still face the ultimate penalty of death by lethal injection.

On the same day as the killing and arrest, Francome was born and he later became fascinated with the case. The film he has made is a fascinating journey through the nether regions of American society – the dark corners little covered in the mainstream media – the institutionalised racism, the unjust criminal justice system, the radical black activists, the police killing of such activists … not what you'll find on CSI or the Ten O'Clock News. The most shocking scene for me (and, to be honest, not that much shocks me) was the 1985 bombing, by police helicopter, of a house occupied by MOVE, a radical black group which was under police siege and involved in a gun battle. Eleven people died, including four children in the ensuing firestorm. Dozens of black families lost their homes as the fire burnt out of control across the neighbourhood.

A trailer of the film is available and there's also a website with more information. It was made on a tight budget – a £1,000 camera and an Apple Mac, half-seriously claims Francome tonight – but serious effort has gone into travelling the country, interviewing witnesses and advocates. It's also cut through with striking graphics and backed by some powerful beats – including tracks from Mos Def, Snoop Dogg and Massive Attack.

William flew over to Belfast for the panel discussion, where he was joined by American criminologist Dr Shadd Maruna of Queen's University's School of Law. We had a good audience / panel discussion after the film with loads of topics coming up for debate from a knowledgable crowd containing a fair sprinkling of activists and students.

You can take action to abolish the death penalty here.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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