Rue-ing The Day

Bobigny Mayor Catherine Peyge (center) opens Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal, as Mumia's son Jamal (right) looks on.
Bobigny Mayor Catherine Peyge (center) opens Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal, as Mumia's son Jamal (right) looks on. (LINN WASHINGTON / FOR THE DAILY NEWS)

By renaming a byway for Abu-Jamal, the French fight for 'respect and justice'

Posted: October 16, 2012

BOBIGNY, FRANCE - Some Philadelphians hate to hear this, but people around the world love Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Yeah, that one - the convicted cop killer who spent three decades on death row before his flawed sentence was converted to life in prison last December.

When the Paris suburb of Bobigny named a street in honor of Abu-Jamal on Saturday, among the 100-plus attending the rain-splattered ceremony were people from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Attendees included Myriam Malsa, from the Caribbean Island of Martinique, and Lanquiray Painemal, from the South American country of Chile.

Malsa, an environmental activist, is from Sainte-Anne, Martinique, a city that named Abu-Jamal an honorary citizen a dozen years ago.

Bobigny and Paris are among the cities worldwide that have extended honorary-citizen status to Abu-Jamal, imprisoned since his Dec. 9, 1981, arrest.

Painemal, a Maputhe Indian activist in Chile, said that many in her country consider Abu-Jamal a freedom fighter.

This is a designation some Philadelphians find insulting. Others find it appropriate due largely to their having read something many Philadelphians have not: Abu-Jamal's perceptive social and political commentaries penned regularly from prison.

Noted Paris playwright Alain Fox incorporated passages from Abu-Jamal's writings into his latest work, which Fox said received "great reaction" when performed at France's largest theater festival this summer.

The politicized, polarizing Abu-Jamal case is cast in Philadelphia as a "whodunit," with some seeing it as guilty as charged, case closed.

But others from Philadelphia to Paris and beyond see the "who" of Abu-Jamal: his intellect, and he as a symbol of injustice in America.

Unbroken by death-row deprivations like isolation, Abu-Jamal has written acclaimed books and delivered recorded speeches from prison. This continues the legacy he began as a journalist before his arrest: as the "Voice of the Voiceless" - ironically, a mandate for all American journalists contained in the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Prosecutors, police and politicians in Philadelphia dismiss Abu-Jamal supporters as uninformed or dupes.

But those questioning the propriety of Abu-Jamal's conviction know the profound problems with America's justice system.

In 1981, Philadelphia police and prosecutors charged five people with high-profile murders, proclaiming each guilty.

However, evidence later proved the innocence of four of those five - including releasing one from death row, leaving only Abu-Jamal imprisoned despite comparable evidence that courts have continually rejected.

Bobigny Mayor Catherine Peyge said that the street-naming is part of her city's fight for "respect and justice" for Abu-Jamal and others.

That Bobigny street-naming, the second in a Paris suburb, resulted from 10 years of effort, including the construction of a new street.

Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal intersects a major artery in Bobigny named after French author/journalist Paul Vaillant-Couturier.

Abu-Jamal's son, Jamal, who attended the ceremony, said that his father ultimately will walk on "this street of liberation."

Linn Washington Jr., a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune and a professor of journalism at Temple University, is a former Daily News reporter who has closely followed the Abu-Jamal case since 1981.

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