Wadiya Jamal talks about her husband Mumia Abu-Jamal's mistreatment around his medical issues while in prison in 2015. Photo credit: The Mercury

Wadiya Jamal, wife of jailed journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, unexpectedly dies shortly after a significant turn in husband’s case

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For most of her adult life, Wadiya Jamal spent fighting for her husband’s release. Eleven days following a historic decision by a Philadelphia judge, she passes away.

On Friday, Jananza services for Mydiya Wadiya Jamal will be held in Philadelphia. Jamal was the wife of jailed journalist and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. She passed away this past Tuesday on December 27.

Outpourings of sympathy on Jamal’s death show her passing was unexpected. The Malcolm X Commemoration Committee posted in a Facebook message that they are “stunned and brokenhearted to learn of the sudden passing” of Jamal.

For over four decades, Jamal has been advocating for her husband to be released from jail for the 1983 murder conviction of Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner. The highly publicized case amplified years-long accusations by Black activists of corrupt law enforcement and elected officials targeting and detaining them on false charges. Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence since his arrest.

Jamal was Abu-Jamal’s third wife. From this union, they birthed Dolly Samiyah Abdullah, known as “Goldii”. In 2015, Abdullah passed away after battling breast cancer diagnosed in 2011. At the time of her death, she was 36 years old.

For much of her public life, Jamal used her visibility to advocate for her husband. In 1981 at the height of Abu-Jamal’s journalism career for his coverage of the MOVE 9 case, he was arrested for the Faulkner murder. MOVE was a Philadelphia-based Black liberation, naturalist, and environmental justice group. At the time of Abu-Jamal’s detainment, nine of the MOVE members were convicted in 1980 for the murder of James Rump, a Philadelphia cop. Rump died during an exchange of gunfire between MOVE and police in 1978. The confrontation occurred when city officials attempted to evict the group from their property.

Defendants in the MOVE 9 trial repeatedly pointed out how mainstream media’s reporting was biased, and eventually detrimental to their case’s outcome. “A lot of that negative press is what led up to the things that happened to MOVE over the years,” Davis Africa Jr. said in an interview years-before concerning coverage of the MOVE 9 trials. “That negative press is what gave people the justification to spew their hatred, and their racism, and their anger, and all of that stuff.”

At the time of his arrest, Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panther Party of Self Defense, was the president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and a syndicated correspondent for a number of publications including National Public Radio, National Black Network, Mutual Black Network, and Associated Press Radio. With this background, he presented MOVE defendants drastically different from local news outlets such as the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ironically, it would be the same news agency that would report negatively about his case, often depicting him as a criminal and Jamal without much regard. For over 40 years, a number of activists, celebrities, law experts, and as of late, a sitting judge, have called for the release of Abu-Jamal due to the faulty evidence of the case, which includes a trail of misconduct by law enforcement.

Johanna Fernandez and colleague meet with Mumia Abu-Jamal in Correctional Facility in 2014. Photo credit: Johanna Fernández Twitter page

‘Free Mumia’. Justice postponed

Jamal’s passing occurred days after Judge Lucretia Clemons ruled that Philadelphia’s District Attorney share all of its files with Abu-Jamal’s defense team, including unseen documents uncovered in 2019. It was discovered that at least six boxes of exculpatory evidence were found in the D.A.’s office containing information of officer misconduct, bribery and judicial prejudice.

Johanna Fernández, CUNY Baruch professor and longtime friend of Abu-Jamal said that the “smoking gun” found in the recovered boxes is a handwritten letter by the star witness, Robert Chobert, who said he saw Abu-Jamal on the night of the murder. In the letter, Chobert asks the lead prosecutor, Joe McGill, “Where is my money?” Prof. Fernández explained to Democracy Now that Abu Jamal’s lawyers argue that the correspondence shows Chobert was bribed.

As well, another star witness, Cynthia White, was a sex worker facing time for multiple charges, is believed to have traded testimony to remove 30-plus violations.

Included in the evidence, was an affidavit released in early 2000s, of a court stenographer named Terri Maurer-Carter. In her testimony, she overheard the presiding Common Pleas judge in the Abu-Jamal case, Albert F. Sabo say ,“I’m going to help them fry the nigger.” The comment indicated his intentions of manipulating the jury’s decision in the Abu-Jamal case. Maurer-Carter’s affidavit was thrown out, but with the release of the boxes changes this action.

While Abu-Jamal’s case gets a break, he mourns his wife’s death with family and friends. Jamal’s Jananza (Muslim burial) will be held at the Khadijah Alderman Funeral Home. The viewing is from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. with prayer following.

Notes from Jesse Shramenko contributed to this article

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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