Rage Against the Machine Incidents

Zack De La Rocha's Complete Press Conference Statement Regarding the Mumia Abu-Jamal benefit concert in New Jersey on January 28th, 1999.

"Working to ensure the legal rights that all of us presume to enjoy certainly has turned out to be controversial. Let me say straight up that tonight's benefit is not to support cop killers, or any other kind of killers, and if there were no question about the guilt of Mumia Abu-Jamal, we would not be holding this concert. But whether Jamal is guilty, or is himself the victim of an outrageous miscarriage of justice, is precisely what is at issue.

Tonight's benefit seeks to answer that question by allowing Jamal to have the fair trial and impartial judicial review that he was denied by the state of Pennsylvania. The proceeds from tonight's event go to, not Mr. Jamal, but to pay for the investigators, forensic experts and lawyers needed to get an unbiased hearing of this case within the Federal courts.

Parents should be proud that their children are attending and standing up for the rights to which all people should be entitled. Rage Against The Machine and the artists participating tonight are hardly alone in questioning what has happened to Mr. Jamal. Among those who have questioned the Pennsylvania proceedings are Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate and head of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association, the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, and Amnesty International who's with us tonight at the concert.

We first heard of this case some years back when the Fraternal Order Of The Police and Senate majority leader Bob Dole pressured National Public Radio into censoring a series of commentaries on prison life recorded by Mr. Jamal. The Pennsylvania prison authorities put Mr. Jamal into punitive confinement and punishment for writing his first book, "Live From Death Row," published by Addison-Wesley. We began to ask ourselves, "shouldn't political dissidents in this country enjoy the same rights that the U.S. government demands for political dissidents in China or Iran?"

When we looked into the case, we found that Mr. Jamal was a prominent radio journalist in Philadelphia. He frequently reported cases of police misconduct on the air, and was threatened, along with other journalists, by then-mayor Rizzo. He had no criminal record, but as we later learned, he had an enormous F.B.I. surveillance file they had kept on him since he was 15 years old.

His trial, in 1982 was nothing short of a travesty. He was denied the funds necessary to hire expert witnesses. His court appointed attorney did not interview a single witness before putting them on the stand. He was denied the right to represent himself, and then he was barred from attending his own trial when he continued to protest these outrageous acts. Important evidence was withheld from the defense by the police and prosecution. Witnesses were induced to change their testimony, and the state used its preemptory challenges to knock off perspective jurors on the basis of race.

Perhaps the most absurd allegation against Jamal is that he confessed to shooting Officer Daniel Faulkner. Jamal had been shot by Officer Faulkner and was beaten by other police arriving at the scene. Two months later when Mr. Jamal filed police brutality charges, the police officers who were with him that night suddenly remembered that he had confessed. This was accepted by the court even though the emergency room doctor and written police reports from that evening said that Jamal had made no statement.

We were then shocked to find that when he was granted a hearing on whether his first trial was unfair and whether he should be granted a new trial, this hearing was conducted by the same judge who had conducted the original trial that was in question. This judge was a former member of the Fraternal Order of Police, and had pronounced more death sentences than any other sitting judge in the country. Almost all of them were black defendants.

If that were not enough, when his case went to the Pennsylvania supreme court, we found out that five out of the seven justices were endorsed by the F.O.P., in their electoral campaigns for that court, and most of them bragged about receiving various awards by police organizations.

I think it would be important to note that we have a great deal of sympathy for anyone who is a victim of tragedy, including the widows of slain police officers, but we do not feel that the proper answer to tragedy is to inflict injustice on others. We need to base ourselves on fact, not on emotion, and our path to closure should be paved with a search for truth and justice, not a search for revenge against whomever is targeted by the police.

Rage Against The Machine is not a stranger to controversy. And we are happy that our small effort in doing this benefit has focused increased attention on this case.

We find ourselves following in the footsteps of Bob Dylan, whose famous song and concert for Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in 1975 helped to free someone who was falsely accused of murder right here in New Jersey.

It is ironic that tonight, on the day after the Pope called for an end to the death penalty in the United States, we will have others outside tonight calling for the taking of a life on the flimsiest of evidence.

One of the great things about young people is that they do question, they do care deeply about justice, and that they will have open minds. And we hope that some of them brought their parents tonight.

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