Mumia Abu-Jamal is Scheduled for Open-Heart Surgery –Racism Remains the Greatest Medical Threat to Mumia’s Health

(A new Medical Professionals for Mumia petition co-written by Dr. Alvarez is reprinted at the bottom of this article. Read “A Christmas Cage,” Mumia Abu-Jamal’s personal account of what happened to him on the morning of Dec. 9, 1981)

As this article goes to press today, April 15th, Mumia is now scheduled for open heart surgery tomorrow. We only know that he has severe blockages of his coronary arteries or coronary artery disease (CAD). Mumia was left incommunicado for at least 3 days prompting an international movement to barrage the governor, the secretary of the PA Department of Corrections (PA DOC) and a variety of other targets with the PA DOC.

It is a basic right that a patient be allowed to seek counsel from loved ones, supporters, spiritual advisors and chosen medical counsel. There was no call to family and his medical lawyer has suggested that his location was kept intentionally secret. Mumia has a deeply well-founded distrust of institutions including medical institutions and the behavior of the PA DOC perpetuates his trauma.

We can never forget that shackling is the standard for incarcerated persons including frail elders and pregnant women in some states. After the barrage of calls Mumia has finally been able to speak with his wife and Pam Africa this morning but he still has not been able to speak with his spiritual advisor Mark L. Taylor, and I have not been able to speak with Mumia or with other medical providers.

Before this week’s health emergency, Mumia Abu-Jamal was already suffering from COVID-19, congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, liver cirrhosis, and a worsening of a severe and debilitating chronic skin condition. It remains very clear that treatment can only go so far in the setting of a prison. When he does go to a hospital he is painfully shackled in four point restraints, as happened last month when Mumia was hospitalized for four days with congestive heart failure and COVID-19. The shackling severely aggravated his skin condition and caused multiple open wounds. We are demanding that the shackling be stopped.

The cirrhosis is clearly related to years of delaying effective treatment for Hepatitis C and there is well-documented medical negligence that caused him to go into a completely preventable diabetic coma in 2015. The new diagnosis of coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure makes it even more urgent that Mumia be released as soon as possible.

The legal system must not be manipulated to slow down his eventual release from prison, like has recently been done with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and Maureen Faulkner’s King’s Bench Appeal, which was rejected following a nearly one-year hold imposed on Mumia’s appeal process. In March, the FOP and Faulkner filed another legal motion to have DA Krasner removed from the case. They clearly want Mumia to die in prison, and they are using the legal system to achieve that end.

State Sanctioned Violence

The greatest medical threat to Mumia’s health now is state sanctioned violence. On February 3, 2021, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and his colleagues, Grady Gervino, Lawrence Good, Nancy Winkelman, and Carolyn Engel Temen, filed a brief that fully embraced the conclusions of the racist Judge Albert Sabo. They openly declare on page five in the “Statement of Facts”:

(quote begins)

Officer Faulkner was put in a police van and rushed to Jefferson University  Hospital. When the police attempted to handcuff defendant and place him in a police  wagon to transport him to the hospital, he violently resisted. He continued to struggle  against the officers when they subsequently brought him inside the hospital, the  same one in which doctors were attempting to save Officer Faulkner’s life. The officers carrying defendant—he refused to walk—temporarily placed him on the floor  of the lobby next to the entrance to the emergency room. While lying there, defend ant boasted, “I shot the mother fucker and I hope the mother fucker dies.” A few  moments later, as the officers were about to carry him into the emergency room,  defendant repeated, “Yeah, I shot the mother fu**er and I hope the mother fu**er  dies.” Shortly thereafter, Officer Faulkner was pronounced dead (N.T. 6/19/82, 176-200, 263-64; 6/21/82, 4.109; 6/24/82, 27-30, 33-34, 56-61, 112-16, 133-36).

(quote ends)

This Statement of Fact is the legal reckoning of Mumia’s guilt or innocence.  It is the foundation on which the courts proceed with future legal decisions. The presumption that Mumia violently resisted arrest and then confessed is wrong, can be easily proven wrong, and is a form of harm that denies Mumia’s humanity. Medical evidence clearly demonstrates that Mumia was first shot in the chest and was then beaten by arriving police instead of being immediately transported to the nearby hospital emergency room. The police initiated what defense witness Dessie Hightower called “an attack.” In his book, “The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” J. Patrick O’Connor summarizes Hightower’s trial testimony:

“He said that shortly after the first police officer showed up, about eight or nine other officers arrived. He then observed three or four of them striking Abu-Jamal with nightsticks while one or two others were kicking him and pulling him by his dreadlocks. He also saw the police, in carrying Abu-Jamal to the police van, ram his head into a no-parking pole and drop him to the ground.”

This police attack and deliberate withholding of emergency hospitalization was just the beginning of the state sanctioned racial violence that Mumia would continue to experience for the next 39 years. For Larry Krasner and company to describe Mumia as “violently” resisting arrest or “refusing” to walk perpetuates racist trauma. It is inconceivable that DA Krasner and his colleagues who signed onto the Feb. 3 brief could fail to understand how they dehumanize Mumia by such a statement of fact.

In her March 28 SF Bay View Newspaper article, Pam Africa of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, argues that police behavior at the crime scene was nothing short of “an attempted police lynching” of Mumia. It is an inescapable fact that with his Feb. 3 brief, DA Krasner has consciously chosen to sanction what the police did to Mumia on the morning of Dec. 9, 1981 before transporting him to the hospital for emergency treatment.

Medical Evidence Contradicts the “Hospital Confession”

In his Feb. 3 brief, District Attorney Larry Krasner’s also chose to officially endorse another highly problematic aspect of the Mumia Abu-Jamal case: the perjured trial testimony given to support the  alleged “hospital confession.” Prosecution witnesses Officer Gary Bell and hospital security guard Priscilla Durham both testified that Mumia loudly confessed to shooting Officer Faulkner while at the hospital.

As documented by the Jamal Journal the “hospital confession” testimony is an undeniable case of perjury that should be a national embarrassment for the 1981 FOP Police. Accounts of the “hospital confession” first surfaced during an internal investigation into Mumia’s police brutality case to months after Mumia’s arrest. Gary Wakshul was one of the officers who then claimed that Mumia confessed.

However, in Wakshul’s official report from the morning of Dec. 9, 1981 he stated that the “negro male made no comment.” Wakshul was not called as a witness by Assistant District Attorney Joseph McGill and on the last day of trial, when Mumia’s lawyer attempted to bring Wakshul in for testimony, Judge Albert Sabo denied the request and told Mumia: “You and your attorney goofed.”

At Mumia’s 1982 trial, there was powerful testimony from two medical professionals that directly contradicted the perjured “hospital confession” testimony from Gary Bell and Priscilla Durham. Dr. Anthony Coletta, a respected surgeon and medical leader, testified that Mumia suffered injuries consistent with the reported police brutality, that he was with Mumia the whole time, that Mumia never shouted a confession and that Mumia could barely even speak.

Dr. Regina Culdemo also did not testify to hearing the “hospital confession.” But Dr. Culdemo did testify that she witnessed a police officer kick Mumia when he was laying on the floor of the hospital entrance.

Silencing the Medical Community

Medical professionals are part of a web of professionals who are all in service of our communities. We are “mandatory reporters” when we observe child abuse, intimate partner violence and elder abuse.

As Mumia’s medical consultant I have compelling evidence of an abuse of an elder that is deeply loved and respected by his family and community and across the world. It is our ethical responsibility to intervene when we see abuse by police, courts, and the district attorney’s office.

The correct Statement of Facts must read that Mumia was viciously beaten by police officers and that the confession was perjured by police officers.

Indeed every “Statement of Fact” now needs full review in relation to harm done to Mumia, whose well founded fear of state violence would call for the safety of community forums so that those in power are more accountable to the harm that is done when their “Statement of Facts” harm our elders.

It is time to free Mumia, free all political prisoners, free all our elders in prison!

—Dr. Ricardo Alvarez is a physician who worked 25 years in a community health center in the Mission district of San Francisco. Alvarez is the consulting physician for Mumia Abu-Jamal. He brings his medical sociology training to combine with his medical training to identify the social determinants of health to include an understanding of State Violence as the single greatest threat to Mumia’s health. He is working with Dr James McIntosh on the Medical Professionals petition featured at:


Written by Medical Professionals for Mumia Abu Jamal

March 23, 2021

As medical professionals, we seek to bring our collective voices and prayers to call for the immediate compassionate release of Mumia Abu Jamal, an internationally recognized political prisoner, radio journalist, author, student, and father.

Abu-Jamal was falsely accused of killing a police officer 39 years ago and has been unjustly imprisoned. Amnesty International describes openly racist legal proceedings in his case that were “irredeemably tainted by politics and race and failed to meet international fair trial standards.”

Of an alleged hospital confession, Amnesty International wrote, “The likelihood of two police officers and a security guard forgetting or neglecting to report the confession of a suspect in the killing of another police officer for more than two months strains credulity.”

In a report on what he saw on the night that Abu Jamal was shot, beaten by cops and left to die outside the Emergency Room of Jefferson Hospital on December 9, 1981, Officer Gary Wakshul wrote: “The Negro male made no comment.”

Two months later, Officer Wakshul reversed his statement, contradicting the testimony of Dr. Anthony Coletta, the ER physician who said that he was with Abu-Jamal the entire time and that he never made such a confession. Dr. Anthony Coletta told police investigators that because of the blood from the gunshot wound filling Abu-Jamal’s lungs, Abu-Jamal could barely speak.

Another doctor, Dr. Regina Cudemo also testified that the police directed her away from Mumia as a police officer was kicking him.

Silencing the Medical Community

Medical providers’ testimony in the case was overridden by corrupt police testimony, as well as prosecutorial and judicial complicity.

15 of the 35 police officers involved in collecting evidence in Mumia’s case went to jail for evidence tampering.

At around the same time of Mumia’s railroading in the courts, in 1979, the Department of Justice intervened on the problem of police corruption and violence in Philadelphia. It filed an unprecedented lawsuit against the mayor and 21 city and police officials concluding that the widespread abuse (shooting nonviolent suspects, abusing handcuffed prisoners, and tampering with evidence), “shocks the conscience.”

Today, the racist Fraternal Order of the Police, the largest national police advocacy group based in Philadelphia, cannot be allowed to continue to silence the medical community.

Mumia’s health is in jeopardy and the clock is ticking. In early March he was hospitalized and diagnosed with COVID and Congestive heart failure, a serious condition with a five-year mortality of 50% in the best of conditions. Mumia already suffers from liver cirrhosis as a result of delayed treatment for his Hepatitis C. In 2015 he was rushed to an ICU in diabetic ketoacidosis, a life threatening condition,  after prison medical staff neglected a severely high glucose that developed over weeks of repeated steroid injections and oral steroids for his severe skin condition. And now Mumia hesitates to consider hospitalization for his skin condition because he fears the tortuous conditions of the standard hospital protocol for prisoners- four point shackles by the wrists and feet.

The only treatment for Mumia is freedom, for all political prisoners, and for all our elders in prisons!

We join the American Public Health Association, cities and counties across the country, and medical institutions, including the prestigious University of Pennsylvania in naming Racism as a public health crisis. 

We clearly understand that prisons in the United States are the physical manifestation of racism. We join the chorus of scholars, economists, and policy makers across the political spectrum, who enumerate the toll of our prison industrial complex not just in the suffering of prisoners but also in the dismal physical and mental health of the guards and in the staggering 182 billion dollars a year that sustains it.

No longer will we accept the false “tough on crime” narrative that has been used to incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any other country in the world and in recent history. As we watch Black bodies shot and choked by racist police violence, we seek to use our professional influence and our own privilege to be “tough on racism.”

Amid a pandemic, we seek to find compassionate solutions rooted in a public health and moral imperative to free our elders in prisons. The data is clear that our elders do not pose a substantial public safety risk to our communities.

We seek to connect with our colleagues in mental health who reveal the effects of trauma on the body, mind, and spirit. We seek to connect with our healthcare unions that support the workers that make our work possible. We seek to connect with all our students and faculty leaders of diverse medical fields including our herbalists and pharmacists and nurses who are instituting diversity and equity, racial justice, and anti-oppression committees and curriculums across the country.  And we seek to connect with religious leaders, healers, poets, and activists from all traditions who stand in solidarity to save Mumia’s life and end the incarceration of our elders in prisons.

No longer will our incarcerated be made invisible to the medical community. No longer will our elders be left to die in prisons and no longer will our brilliant public intellectuals like Mumia Abu Jamal be allowed to be assassinated by the racist Fraternal Order of the Police, a racist court system, or gross medical neglect in prison.

Prisons are the ultimate social determinant of health and Mumia’s body has suffered the ravages of racism.  The path to his freedom is directed primarily at three levels.

● Larry Krasner is the “progressive” district attorney of Philadelphia who has already exonerated 18 innocent persons. He can exonerate Mumia too, but he has failed to do so in Mumia’s case because he is facing enormous pressure from the Fraternal Order of the Police. He needs to know that he has to do the right thing. Support the ongoing petition here.

● PA Governor Tom Wolfe has the power to pardon Mumia. We will be sending this petition to his office to support Mumia’s freedom and to alert him of our concerns of the trauma caused by a racist FOP and for the release of our elder prisoners.

● We remain vigilant and seek constructive ways of engaging the Fraternal Order of Police, which exhibits behavior that is openly racist and whose historical roots are in Philadelphia. Its influence on the judicial and political process and the history of their criminal activity at the time of Mumia’s arrest has been insufficiently confronted.

Mumia will never tell you what to do, but he will tell you to find in your heart to do what you think you can.

Medical Professionals for Mumia is seeking to connect with other medical professionals in a supportive environment that allows us to more effectively use our professional training to identify racism as a public health crisis and advocate in defense of Mumia and other prisoners suffering from police brutality. We seek to creatively and effectively engage medical, legal, legislative, academic, media, political, and religious communities in defense of the humanity of Mumia and all our elders in COVID prisons. As medical professionals in service of vulnerable communities and in age of BLM and George Flyod we honor the importance of accountability directly to our communities and we seek to work with our colleagues in other professions to examine how we can make their actions more transparent and accountable to our communities.



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