Property taxes. The budget. Environmental protection. Job growth. Stopping "brain-drain." Raising the minimum wage. Rehabbing the legislature's image after the pay raise debacle. An observer of Pennsylvania politics might assume that these would be the priorities of the state's General Assembly in these early days of summer.
So, what did the General Disassembly bring us on Wednesday? Mumia Abu-Jamal. The ASSembly passed a resolution condemning the French city of St.-Denis for naming a street for Mumia. The vote in the Senate was 44-4 with all of the black members of the chamber voting against it, all of whom are from Philadelphia.
The same resolution passed the House unanimously on Monday without debate. Rep. Harold James (D-Phila) voted for it but:
Rep. Harold James (D., Phila.), a retired police officer, voted for the resolution, but agrees with Hughes that Abu-Jamal did not get a fair trial.
James said he didn't raise any opposition because he believed the resolution was meaningless.
"I just didn't think that Pennsylvania trying to tell France what to do was going to go anywhere," he said.
This post isn't about Mumia. Maybe some day I'll post an entry on my muddled feelings about his case and the movement around him. (For now, the Wikipedia entry on him presents a well-balanced presentation of the facts.)
No, this post is about the priorities of our General Assembly. Chew on this:
The resolution's sponsor, President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer (R., Blair), called the street-naming "the most offensive thing he had ever seen," and said it was an "affront to the system of justice."
No, Senator, allow me to enlighten you as to what, exactly, is an "affront to the system of justice." The fact that Walter Ogrod is still on Pennsylvania's death row is an affront to the justice system.
The fact that Harold Wilson, Nick Yarris, Thomas Kimbell, Jr., the family of William Nieves, and other exonerees aren't compensated for the years of their lives lost in jail for crimes someone else committed is an affront to our justice system.
The fact that Fred Thomas of Philadelphia, a victim of the corruption of a Philadelphia police officer, died while awaiting a new trial after his wrongful conviction is an affront to our system of justice.
The fact that our General Disassembly has failed to act on the death penalty chapter of the PA Supreme Court committee's 2003 report is an affront to our system of justice.
It's real easy to go after Mumia because his case is polarizing and well-known. But the Commonwealth would be well-served if our legislative leaders pulled their heads out of the sand (or elsewhere) and truly examined what's happening with criminal justice system in this state rather than worrying about the name of a street in some French town that no one has ever heard of.