Police hold vigil for fallen officer, protest killer's speech

Philly police held a silent vigil Sunday in protest of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal's commencement speech at a small Vt. college


By Julia Terruso
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia police held a silent vigil Sunday in protest of convicted police killer Mumia Abu-Jamal's commencement speech at a small Vermont college.

Abu-Jamal, a onetime death row inmate, is serving a life sentence for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

He spoke by video to 20 students receiving bachelor degrees from Goddard College, from which he earned a degree in prison.

"Think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better," Abu-Jamal said in the video.

He said his studies at Goddard allowed him to learn about important figures in distant lands.

"Goddard reawakened in me my love of learning," he said. "In my mind, I left death row."

At the time he spoke, police officers, members of the Fraternal Order of Police, and two cadet classes assembled at Faulkner's memorial plaque at 13th and Locust Streets, where Faulkner died after he was shot.

They stood at attention for 25 minutes -- the approximate duration of Abu-Jamal's speech. About 400 people attended the vigil, including a group of family members of Officer John Pawlowski, who was killed in 2009.

"We need to demonstrate how ludicrous this is," Chief Inspector Anthony Boyle said in an interview before the vigil. "We knew that just by standing here silently we will be louder than the message he sends. It will be a positive message and a more important message."

State Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery) said he planned to introduce legislation that would allow family members to challenge a prison's decision to allow prisoner contact in certain circumstances.

Right now, no law permits a legal challenge in a situation like this, Vereb said. "If we don't stop this, in some order, we might as well start building production studios in prisons," he said.

"It's another example of a guy tearing the scab off of Maureen Faulkner's wound, and we think addressing public gatherings, colleges, is a bit of a stretch of what the privileges of communicating out of prison are."

Goddard, a small school of about 600 students, does not have tests or grades and holds 20 commencements a year so each degree program can design its own graduation ceremony and choose its speaker.

Students and staff spend only eight days twice a year on campus.

Abu-Jamal's speech was for a commencement ceremony of 20 graduating students.

"Think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better," Abu-Jamal said in the video.

He said his studies at Goddard allowed him to learn about important figures in distant lands: "Goddard reawakened in me my love of learning. In my mind, I left death row."

Abu-Jamal's speech did not address the crime for which he was convicted. He originally was sentenced to death for killing Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981, but was resentenced in 2012 to life.

Abu-Jamal has attracted international support for claims he was victimized by a racist criminal justice system. A radio show, documentaries, and books have helped publicize his case.

The speaker selection has angered not only Philadelphia law enforcement but the Vermont Troopers Association, which says the move disrespects Faulkner's memory and is an insult to his widow.

Maureen Faulkner did not attend the vigil, but in a post on the "Justice for Daniel Faulkner" Facebook page, she said the college's decision was another "assault" on her family.

The school has said the graduates chose Abu-Jamal as a way to "engage and think radically and critically," an explanation Faulkner rejects.

"Many at Goddard College have said that this is a matter of Abu-Jamal's First Amendment right to speak and be heard. What a convenient way to dodge their responsibility to take a moral position on this situation," the Facebook post says. "This is not a matter of First Amendment rights — it's a matter of right and wrong."

Faulkner's partner in 1981, Garry Bell, who retired in 1996, said after the vigil he found the college's move despicable.

"I don't get it. He silenced Danny's voice almost 33 years ago. He made sure Danny would never live again, never speak again, never breathe again, and now he wants to hide behind the First Amendment."

Instead of being in the patrol car with Faulkner that night, Bell was assigned to the foot beat on nearby Market Street. After the shooting, he raced to the hospital to see Faulkner, who had already died on the street.

"I'm here for Danny's memory and I'll be here forever and ever," Bell said. "As long as I'm breathing."

Copyright 2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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