As police nationwide struggle to bring down crime rates, frequently with their lives, academics grieve over the criminals—for credit. “A major goal in the course was to provide students with a variety of competing voices questioning the hegemonic belief that simplifies the world into bad criminals and good citizens,” Catherine Chaput states of one such college course offering. “Such a goal requires that students continuously grapple with the myths and ideologies that define the criminal class.”
“I divided the course into five sections:
“(1.) History of U. S. Prisons: Building the Nation and Criminalizing the Native;
“(2.) Imprisoning Difference and Deviance: Race, Gender and Sexuality;
“(3.) The Capitalist Political Economy and the Prison Industry;
“(4.) Policing the Border: From the Mexican-American War to the War on Terrorism; and,
“(5.) Globalizing U. S. Policy and the Creation of Resistance.”
An assistant English professor, Dr. Chaput wrote about her course, “The Rhetorics [sic] of Imprisonment: Globalization and the Prison Industrial Complex,” in a recent issue of the magazine Radical Teacher which describes itself as “a socialist, feminist and anti-racist journal on the theory and practice of teaching.” The collateral readings she assigned when she introduced the course at Georgia Southern make for interesting reading.
(Dr. Chaput was hired last fall at Brock University in Canada.)
“We were trying to piece together a map of the contemporary prison-industrial complex, not an indictment of any individual or group,” Dr. Chaput explains of her course at GSU. “I designed the course to be transdisciplinary—not just to study various disciplinary perspectives on criminality, but to include students from various disciplines so that no one interpretive frame became the dominant lens of the course.”
“We read academic articles from historians, political scientists, criminal justice experts, and cultural theorists, but also read ‘insider narratives’ that included Angela Davis’ Autobiography and John Edgar Wideman’s Brothers and Keepers; creative nonfiction accounts, including Henry Jack Abbott’s In the Belly of the Beast and Ted Conover’s Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing; and the short prison reports collected in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Live from Death Row.”
The transcripts of Abu-Jamal’s various hearings make for an interesting read as well. The former executive director of Accuracy in Academia, Dan Flynn, summarizes them in his pamphlet, Cop Killer: How Mumia Abu-Jamal Conned Millions Into Believing He Was Framed, published by AIA:
• “Five eyewitnesses implicated Abu-Jamal in the murder [of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981].”
• “Others reported that the suspect gleefully admitted to murdering a cop.”
• “Abu-Jamal was found at the scene wearing a holster, with a bullet from Faulkner’s service revolver embedded in his chest.”
• “Abu-Jamal’s .38 caliber gun containing five spent shell casings was found at the scene.”
• “Five bullets were fired at the officer.”
• “The shell casings and the fatal round retrieved from the officer’s brain matched; all were .38 caliber ‘Plus P’ ammunition.”
Abu-Jamal’s defenders, who include many academics like Dr. Chaput, still maintain that he was innocent of the charge that put him on death row a quarter century ago. (His sentence has since been commuted to life.)
As Flynn shows, the court record is not conducive to such an interpretation by Abu-Jamal’s advocates. “More than a decade after the shooting, the new defense team called to the stand Robert Harkins, a witness of the crime who had never testified at the original trial,” Flynn wrote. “To their horror, Harkins testified to a version of events mirroring the previous statements of the prosecution witnesses.”
Moreover, Flynn notes, “The only witness who claims to have seen someone other than Abu-Jamal kill Officer Faulkner has been consistently labeled by the defense [italics in original] as ‘a person whose recollection of what happened on the night in question we believe to be not entirely accurate.’”
Incidentally, the current liberal Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, was the Philadelphia District Attorney whose office successfully prosecuted Abu-Jamal in the early 1980s.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.