Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mumia, Jesus, and Bortella Philisten

An anonymous commentator was put off by my comments about Mumia.
I don't understand the anti-Mumia resentment. Seems more grounded in hostility to his supporters than anything else. I have worked on behalf of many people on death row, not really on Mumia's, but I respect and admire his supporters and their efforts. They should keep up the good work.
I started to write a responsive comment, but decided to do this instead.

I suppose I wasn't as clear as I might have been.

I'm neither anti-Mumia, nor anti-his supporters. I have enormous respect for both. They're articulate, passionate. They raise important issues of race, class, and social justice. Of course they should keep up their work.

But I'm troubled that the cult of celebrity drowns out the cases of those less charismatic. They, those without charisma, without followings, are after all the vast majority. Singularity, exceptionalism, can be rallying points. But they can also be distractions.

Give us the resources and energy that have been pumped into Mumia's case over the past 28 years or so and see what we can do for numbers of others. I don't mean that exactly the way it may sound. But why him? Or, more precisely, why not, say, Bortella Philisten? He's also on Pennsylvania's death row, also for the killing of a police officer. He's been there for about 15 years now.

Do you know anything about the case? Probably not. Ever heard of him before? Probably not. Are the international forces of nobility out marching and rallying on his behalf? Probably not.

Did he get a fair trial? Probably not. Is there evidence that he might be innocent? I have no idea, but it wouldn't shock me. Why aren't the glamorous folks out there holding fund-raisers for him?

I just pulled Philisten's name off a list. I don't believe I've ever heard of him before, either. And that's the point.

I'm not suggesting, have not suggested, that Mumia doesn't deserve attention. But so do all the others. Philisten and Ohio's Mark Brown and the rest. All of them. Mumia's no more important than they.

Jesus was not the only one the Romans crucified just then. But the only one of the others we know is Barabas - who received clemency. And for that Jesus preached about social justice, his celebrity took root a whole lot more than his message. And, of course, he and the others (except Barabas) were executed.

I don't mean to denigrate Jesus, either. But look at all the anonymous others who got killed while the focus was on him. Then ask:

What would he do?

1 comment:

  1. You make an excellent point! However, to change this we would also have to look at the grass root organizations and the NGOs. It is understandable that they pick and choose but if there is no change at their level you will not find more help for all death row inmates. This is a great discussion but it will need more players to get results!