January 2000 - Matt Doeringer and Sam Ellison
We are Matt Doeringer and Sam Ellison, two students in Newton, MA, right outside of Boston, and we have been working for the cause of Mumia Abu-Jamal — a man currently on death row for a murder he did not commit — and stopping police brutality, for the past year.
Last spring, we became first interested in the cause, which was brought to our attention by a benefit concert held in New Jersey. Upon first hearing of this travesty, we did in depth research of our own. Not only did we read books and other materials but also established contacts here and across the country, which were affiliated in some way with his case. Some of these contacts were Revolution Books, International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Amnesty International, REFUSE AND RESIST, etc. We called our state representatives, senators, governor, and mayor, as well as government officials in Pennsylvania and in Washington to express our position as to what they should do, as our to represent us and support Mumia’s cause. Some of them responded well, including Congressman Barney Frank, Massachusetts State Representative Ruth Balser and Massachusetts State Representative Peter Katoujian. We were not always met with the warmest of welcomes, as the secretary for Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, told us that no matter what we would not be able to contact him in any way.
We knew that due to overwhelming facts (which go way beyond a reasonable doubt of Mumia’s innocence), if enough people were educated as to what was happening within the justice system, they would realize that what had happened with Mumia was wrong. If enough people were aware of this injustice, then we could help stop this innocent man from having any more of his life stolen from him. The obvious way to alert people about the case was by writing an article for our school’s newspaper. In preparation for this article we contacted Leonard Weinglass (Mumia’s Lawyer), and many other of our contacts previously mentioned, as well as others. After hours of trying to get the number, we spoke with a representative from the prison where Mumia is currently jailed. Arguments followed (on the record, of course) and before he hung up on us, we asked the following questions.
In the process of writing our article we realized that time was quickly ticking away and that we had to do something far more drastic then a newspaper article. (since that time, Mumia’s scheduled execution date has been approached and delayed again) We decided that we should personally educate students in our grade. Upon discussing the facts with the other kids we decided that we would stage a student walkout and march. To engage in a walkout we knew that there were a lot of things that had to be done in a short time. We were constantly on the phone, trying to rally up as much support as we could. We had a few meetings with our mayor, who was once a key member in Massachusetts’s fight against the Death Penalty, and concluded that we would walk out from our school and march to our city hall. He gave us support in whatever way we needed. We talked with our principal, who was very against the idea of his students standing up for what they believed and walking out for a cause. We were also called by more than a few police officers that challenged our commitment to our cause, because of our age, 14 years old at the time.
By the time the day of the walkout came, we had educated the entire grade, and passed a petition around for the re-trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal, which had over 300 signatories, as well as acquiring a parade permit, so we would have no official legal problem with a march. At exactly 1:15 PM on April 13, 1999 around 200 students boldly stood up and walked out of the school. Many students had prepared signs and we marched to city hall. Our shouts of protest cut through the peaceful suburban silence on this Tuesday afternoon and we were acknowledged by several passing motorists honking their horns in approval, and some in disapproval. The important thing, though, is that people noticed. They went home with some thoughts in their heads about Mumia Abu- Jamal. We held a rally on the front teps so that no politician could get in or out without noticing. The mayor, Representative Peter Koutougian, a member form the Massachusetts Citizens against the Death Penalty and others gave speeches, and the police even blocked traffic in the streets because our numbers were so large. It was a successful day to say the least.
Following that, we attended more protests, mainly in Boston and gave speeches and began to receive frequent phone calls from one of our contacts in Philadelphia. She wanted us to write a speech for the demonstration there on the 24th of April. We wrote a speech about what we did, and how it affected people. Our speech was read from the main stage that day, though we were not able to get down to the Philly to deliver it ourselves.
In addition to raising awareness in Boston and Newton with our demonstrations, newspaper articles, leaflets and speeches, we started a chain reaction; after our walkout (which was documented in local papers and Mumia websites, but for some reason nowhere else), other schools in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut followed suit. In New York, 5 kids were arrested for their demonstration, and in Wayland, MA, many more were incarcerated in another Mumia Demonstration. They were met with much harsher reactions, and we have to recognize them for doing everything that they could for his cause.
In addition to that, the police began to crack down on our cause- in Wayland kids were arrested and charged with felonious “tagging.” No, not spray painting your name on a wall. They were charged with a FELONY for putting up leaflets on telephone poles for Mumia. After our walkout, the principal of our school only gave us 1 hour detentions after school, and he still got angry emails from all over the country, as far away as Arizona, demanding that we not get any punishment at all.
Since then we have been active in many demonstrations, and continue to actively support his cause. We are trying to help coordinate a massive statewide protest in front of the State house in Boston, with enough people to block every exit. We need publicity to succeed in this effort, and to continue on, until Mumia Abu-Jamal is a free man.
If racist police officers are allowed to have their way with whomever they want, then we will never live in a free world. No one should look at our society and go along with whatever they are told, if they disagree. Many people do not know that our “sweet land of liberty” is capable of carrying out such immeasurable wrongs. Once people are informed of the facts, they realize that this can not go on anymore without a voiced opposition. This is just one more prime example of how ignorance kills. But no matter how hard they try, they’ll never silence the voice of the voiceless.