Sunday, April 30, 2000

Antioch College protest competes with speech

Widow, police rally against inmate's visit

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Maureen Faulkner, whose husband was killed by Mumia Abu-Jamal, protests his recorded speech at Antioch's graduation Saturday.
(AP photos)
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        YELLOW SPRINGS — The last lesson for members of Antioch College's graduating class of 2000 came Saturday, not so much from convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal's commencement address, but from the controversy surrounding his taped speech.

        “This should be a model for all commencements for all campuses everywhere,” said Seth Gordon of Providence, R.I., who joined 109 other seniors in receiving their degrees. “It created debate and the debate got messy, but we didn't gloss anything over.”

        Saturday's events included a pre-commencement rally by several hundred members of the Fraternal Order of Police and Maureen Faulkner, the wife of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, who was shot to death during a 1981 traffic stop.

[photo] Abu-Jamal supporters at the rally opposing his speech.
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        Mr. Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panthers and an outspoken critic of the Philadelphia police before his arrest, was convicted on murder charges and sentenced to death for the killing.

        He remains on death row in Pennsylvania, where he taped his speech, played Saturday over loudspeakers early into the three-hour outdoor ceremony. His case is being appealed in federal court.

        Antioch, 65 miles northeast east Cincinnati in Greene County, prides itself on its liberal approach.

        The protests were peaceful, although several masked anti-police demonstrators were escorted away from the assembly of officers, which included several busloads each from Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

        Keith Fangman, Cincinnati FOP President, “We thought we should be there to offset all the whining and crying that's been going on for Abu-Jamal, which is a disgrace.”

        “We have a cop killer as a commencement speaker. Can you imagine the outrage of having a Klansman who murdered an African American or a neo-Nazi who murdered a Jew? Yet this misguided college administration thinks its okay to have cop killer speak.”

        The police assembly was cordoned off about 100 yards away from the where the event was held.

        Officers stood during the opening portion. But when Mr. Abu-Jamal's speech was played, the group left en masse. Several rode by on motorcycles on their way out of town.

        Meantime, several members of the audience stood up and turned their backs during the speech.

        “Daniel Faulkner lost his right to speak,” Mrs. Faulkner said during the rally. “Therefore, Mumia Abu-Jamal should forfeit his right to speak ... he should not be heard.”

        In his speech, Mr. Abu-Jamal did not refer to his incarceration. Instead, he focused on key civil rights figures he thought were heroes, including Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and author W.E.B. DuBois.

        “Think of the lives of those people you admire,” Mr. Abu-Jamal said. “Show your admiration for them by becoming them. For so doing, you give birth to movements.”

        While students, police and supporters of Mr. Abu-Jamal avoided any physical confrontation, the war of words over the fairness of the event escalated throughout the afternoon.

        College officials said that Mrs. Faulkner as well as police and legal officials from Philadelphia were invited to participate in the morning rally.

        However, FOP representatives said they had already scheduled their event for the same time. And Mrs. Faulkner said she held a press conference in nearby Xenia on Friday. Antioch students, as well as Mr. Abu-Jamal's supporters, were invited but neither group attended.

        “It's a shame that it came to this,” said senior Kevin Franck of Annapolis, Md., who addressed the commencement and asked for a moment of silence on behalf of Mr. Faulkner. “No matter whether he (Mr. Abu-Jamal) did it or not, someone is dead. And to have the person that his wife and family thinks is the killer address us is a slap in the face.”

        On Friday, pamphlets stating that Mr. Abu-Jamal should be executed were distributed around campus. And Scott Warren, Antioch dean of students, said that the school had received several threats since it was announced four weeks ago that Mr. Abu-Jamal's tape would be played.

        A parent of one of the graduates said she didn't expect any violence, and that the debate was good for the campus.

        “To be honest, it was about as two-sided as I could have expected,” said Mary Kennedy of Chicago, whose daughter Meaghan Nealis was among those receiving their degrees. “It definitely got caught up in politics, and maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere, too.”


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