February 815, 2001
hit and run
In a successful effort to keep a top advisor to Mumia Abu-Jamal in jail for
a probation violation, the local U.S. Attorney's office has invoked a
decades-old Supreme Court precedent that once allowed Alabama
segregationists to imprison Martin Luther King.
In arguing that Abu-Jamal confidant C. Clark Kissinger should remain jailed
for defying parole conditions laid down by federal magistrate judge Arnold
C. Rapoport, U.S. Attorney Michael Stiles extensively cites the Supreme
Court's Walker vs. City of Birmingham decision. In that landmark case,
dozens of civil rights activists including Martin Luther King Jr. had been
fined and imprisoned in 1963 for ignoring a court prohibition against a
freedom march through Birmingham. Before the march, a lower federal court
had upheld the decision by notorious police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor to
deny the protesters a parade permit. The Supremes, by a narrow 5-4 margin,
then ruled in 1967 that judicial orders must be obeyed, even when they
support clearly unconstitutional government actions.
"It's a quite impressive little argument," says Kissinger attorney Ronald
Kuby of the U.S. Attorney's 22-page opposition to Kissinger's
stay-of-sentence petition. "It sort of unwittingly casts Clark in the role
of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Judge Rapoport in the role of Bull
"It's an utterly appropriate comparison," he adds. "But it's an argument I
didn't dare make. I'm glad they did."
Kuby, however, has nonetheless failed in this latest effort to spring
Kissinger from jail. A federal appeals court judge has since denied
Kissinger's petition for a stay of sentence.
The 60-year-old Kissinger, a Brooklyn resident, has been incarcerated since
December for violating his parole by making a speech here last summer during
the Republican National Convention. Rapoport, who was supervising Kissinger'
s one-year parole sentence for his arrest during a 1999 Mumia Abu-Jamal
protest at the Liberty Bell, had denied Kissinger's request to address a
legally permitted anti-death-penalty rally. Kissinger came and spoke anyway,
without formally appealing Rapoport's decision.
Stiles could not be reached for comment, but his position on behalf of the
government is fairly clear. "If Kissinger believed that the [Judge Rapoport'
s] order was unlawful, he had an obligation to challenge that order through
the courts," the U.S. Attorney's response reads in part. "In the court's
attempt to protect the community by requiring obedience to its orders,
Kissinger gave the court no choice but to incarcerate him."
But Kuby, in a follow-up filing, accuses Rapoport of taking so much time to
rule on Kissinger's speech request that an effective appeal was impossible.
Then, in a final stab at securing the moral high ground in the case, Kuby
concludes that Stiles' citation of the Walker decision "mak[es] such an
odious historical comparison ^. [that it] invites the same judgment that
history has already passed upon those men and the era that they
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