Goddard College has invited a convicted killer to speak at their commencement. Mumia Abu-Jamal was charged and convicted in the 1981 death of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Although he remains incarcerated, Abu-Jamal claims he is innocent.
On December 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner was performing a routine traffic stop on Abu-Jamal’s brother William Cook. Abu-Jamal was also at the scene. However, he was driving a different vehicle.
At some point during the stop, Officer Daniel Faulkner was shot dead. Abu-Jamal was also injured in the exchange. It was later determined that Abu-Jamal was hit by a bullet from Faulkner’s gun.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was eventually arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Authorities said the suspect left his vehicle, approached Officer Faulkner, and fired at least five rounds.
During the trial prosecutors underlined the fact that Abu-Jamal was a former member of the Black Panthers and a strong supporter of the MOVE organization.
Abu-Jamal and his supporters argue that Kenneth Freeman, who was a passenger in Cook’s vehicle, is the “most likely shooter.” However, Freeman was never considered a suspect. The convicted killer believes he is the victim of racial bias.
In 1982, Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of first-degree murder. Although he was initially sentenced to death, the sentenced was later reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Although Abu-Jamal’s arrest and conviction remain a topic of heated controversy, the convicted felon was invited to speak at Goddard College’s commencement.
Huffington Post reports that Abu-Jamal is unable to appear live, as he remains incarcerated. However, students will listen to a recorded speech and view a biographical film.
As reported by Daily Times, college officials have strongly defended the decision. Goddard’s interim president, Bob Kenny, said Abu-Jamal’s story will encourage the graduates “to engage and think radically and critically.”
College spokesman Dustin Byerly explains that the graduating class of 23 chose their own commencement speaker. However, the school has approved and will continue to support the students’ choice.
The Vermont Troopers’ Association has openly criticized the school for honoring Mumia Abu-Jamal as a guest speaker. In an official statement, the association said they are “outraged that Goddard College is hosting a man who shot and killed a police officer.”
Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel has also criticized the college’s decision. However, he said all “inmates do have a constitutional right to access the telephone” and the jail “cannot prohibit it from happening.”
Goddard College’s will likely receive continued criticism. However, college administrators said the students were given the freedom to choose and their decision will stand.
[Images via Free Mumia]