Mumia Abu Jamal supporters are accusing the state of orchestrating a new way to legally execute the man convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1982 — denying him life-saving hepatitis-C treatment.
Demonstrators late Wednesday afternoon gathered outside the front entrance to Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, which was lined with about 15 uniformed police officers. The event was the last of three demonstrations at various locations in Center City, as part of a Day of Rage campaign aimed at raising public awareness about prison inmates systematically denied the treatment.
The group estimates that 6,000 of the state’s prisoners suffer from the disease.
Ramona Africa, one of the protesters, sat in a folding chair across the street from the demonstrators, almost hidden from view.
“We’re out here to let people, official and unofficial, know we’re not going to let the government plan, plot and conspire to kill our brother Mumia,” said Africa, of the 62-year-old Abu Jamal, a former journalist and supporter of the urban activist group MOVE.
“The government hasn’t abandoned their plan to kill Mumia,” said Africa, a MOVE member and survivor of a 1985 police bombing that killed 11 of the group’s members and burned down an entire city block of homes. “They’re just doing it in a different way.”
Africa said Abu Jamal’s sentence of life without parole for killing Officer Daniel Faulkner “is, in itself, a death penalty.” He was originally sentenced to death before the sentence was commuted.
A diverse crowd of demonstrators, young adults to middle-aged, men, women, Black, Asian and white, carried signs with pointed messages, “Everyone has the right to Hep C Cure — prisoners too,” and “Hep C cure for Mumia Now.” The life-threatening disease attacks the liver and can cause cancer, according to advocates.
“Day of Rage” demonstrations were also held Wednesday outside the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Gov. Tom Wolf’s regional office in Center City before moving near the historic John Wanamaker building, where the offices of the District Attorney are located.
The rallies followed a federal judge’s ruling in Pennsylvania earlier this month that found the Department of Corrections policy amounts to “conscious disregard” for inmates’ health. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Mariani rejected Abu Jamal’s petition for hepatitis-C treatment for himself and other inmates, on grounds that he sued the wrong prison officials.
In state prisons, new antiviral drugs are costly, with treatments ranging from $50,000 to $75,000 and higher. Statistics show promising cure rates as high as 95 percent. The cost of providing daily oral pills for a 90-day period to 6,000 of the state’s prisoners estimated to have the disease could cost up to $500 million, some experts said.
The legal team has signaled intentions to revise the petition to include the members of the hepatitis treatment committee that created a policy that delays treatment for prisoners with hepatitis-C until late stages of the disease.