Pa. gov. signs bill in wake of cop killer’s commencement speech
Gov. Corbett on Tuesday signed into law a bill that would aim to stop former offenders from causing victims mental anguish
By Joe Dolinsky
The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — Just a few feet from the site where Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was gunned down by Mumia Abu-Jamal in 1981, Gov. Corbett on Tuesday signed into law a bill that would aim to stop former offenders from causing victims mental anguish.
With Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, at his side Corbett said the law was not just about one particular killer.
Instead, he gave his rationale for signing what is called the Revictimization Relief Act.
“Over the years we’ve heard much about the constitutional rights of prison inmates, when the focus should be on victims,” Corbett said.
Corbett said a victim’s right to seek redress in court had been overlooked for too long. “This bill was meant to strengthen, to clarify, and to empower the victims,” Corbett said.
As he spoke, about 40 protesters in orange jumpsuits chanted slogans such as “One-term Tom” and “Free Mumia.”
Maureen Faulkner said Abu-Jamal’s continued media presence makes it hard for her to move on from her husband’s murder.
“To be in your car, driving along in California, only to hear him doing a commencement speech on the radio,” Maureen Faulkner told reporters, “it rips open a scab.”
The act “helps not just the Faulkner family, but all victims who have endured the same thing I have for so long,” she added.
The law allows victims of a crime to seek an injunction against “conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” A judge would determine if the offender’s conduct had caused suffering. If so, victims could recover attorney fees.
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union Center, said the bill was vague and unlawful.
“Essentially, any action by an inmate or former offender that could cause ‘mental anguish’ could be banned by a judge,” Shuford said in a statement. “That can’t pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment.”
The bill was fast-tracked through the Senate and passed on Oct. 16, 11 days after Abu-Jamal gave a recorded commencement speech at Goddard College in Vermont, his alma mater.
Abu-Jamal was convicted of first-degree murder in 1982 and sentenced to death. After multiple appeals, the sentence was reduced to life in prison. While on death row, Abu-Jamal released multiple books and commentaries claiming his innocence.
Arguing that the bill violates prisoners’ free speech rights, protester Johanna Fernandez called the law a “Hail Mary pass” by the Corbett administration.
“The establishment of Philadelphia is using Mumia’s case to silence all prisoners in the state,” Fernandez said. “What they’re doing is, they’re essentially inflecting collective punishment on all prisoners in order to silence Mumia.”
“It’s a horrific employment of power in part of the establishment,” she added.
Abu-Jamal said in a recorded response that the bill was a “naked violation” of First Amendment rights by lawmakers.
“These are people who are supposed to uphold the Constitution in office, blatantly violating it,” Abu-Jamal said.
Likening Abu-Jamal’s celebrity to “Paris Hilton in a prison jumpsuit,” State Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery) said Tuesday was about the victims, not the villains.
“The people here with us choose to stand up for victims, and our governor stands up to the victims,” Vereb said.
Copyright 2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer