Americans of every background should take offense at news of an Oakland school district assignment asking high school students to draw parallels between slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Specifically, the lesson plan for 11th-graders drawn up by teacher Craig Gordon asks students to "critically examine a possible parallel" between King and "someone else many believe is currently targeted by the U.S. government, Mumia Abu-Jamal."
Abu-Jamal's given name is Wesley Cook. He was a member of the militant Black Panthers in the 1960s and later a radio journalist in Philadelphia.
In 1981 a police officer named Daniel Faulkner conducted a traffic stop of Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook. Three witnesses testified they watched from close distance as Abu-Jamal jumped from his car across the street from where his brother had been stopped and fired five shots at Faulkner. Faulkner returned fire, wounding Abu-Jamal. Faulkner died. Ballistics tests tied the fatal shots to a gun owned by Abu-Jamal that was found at the scene. The gun fit a shoulder holster Abu-Jamal was wearing when arrested.
Two more witnesses who saw Abu-Jamal at the hospital after the shooting said he confessed to the crime, saying "I shot the mother(expletive) and I hope the mother(expletive) dies."
Abu-Jamal's defense was largely in the form of character witnesses from the Philadelphia literati, people who said he was a talented and gentle person. That didn't go far with the jury. Abu-Jamal was convicted of first degree murder and originally sentenced to die, although that sentence was changed to life without parole after a series of appeals.
Put simply, the case against Abu-Jamal is ironclad. But sometimes in life it is all about who you know. Abu-Jamal's case became a cause celeb for Left Coast academics and Hollywood members of the wine and cheese set. He counts actor Tim Robbins among those who proclaim his innocence and persecution. There is actually a street named after Abu-Jamal in a French suburb of Paris.
Although Abu-Jamal's case has received copious media attention, the Oakland lesson plan states "The media, the prison system and law enforcement organizations have censored Mumia Abu-Jamal" and "â ¦despite the widespread support for Abu-Jamal that has made his case the most renown and controversial death penalty case in the world today, these stories are extremely rare and always refer to him as a 'convicted cop-killer.'"
Fox News in its reporting on the matter notes that Abu-Jamal will turn 60 in prison this month, and quotes Faulkner's widow as saying, "What about my husband's 60th birthday? He's been in the ground for the past 32 years. My husband has missed 32 birthdays, 32 Christmases, 32 anniversaries. It's an abomination."
That it is. The reality is that much of the support for Abu-Jamal comes from the fact that he calls himself a journalist and writer. To his supporters, evidence does not matter and the victim certainly does not matter. Nor does the family of the man he killed. Adding to the disgrace is the fact that the Oakland school exercise was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education - your tax dollars at work.
As for Rev. King's family, the civil rights icon's niece, Alveda, told Fox News that while she knows little of Abu-Jamal, any comparison to her uncle should be rooted in an understanding of his non-violent philosophy. "I believe that law enforcement officials, anyone who is at odds with the law, and anyone who has a conflict for any reason would be best served by embracing the non-violent philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr."
If Oakland high schoolers learn any lesson about the martyred civil rights leader, it should be that one.