Governor to Skip Convicted Cop-Killer's Speech at College Graduation

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNS) – After initially agreeing to serve as the keynote speaker at graduation ceremonies at Evergreen State College in Washington state this Saturday, Governor Gary Locke has withdrawn his acceptance after learning that convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal will give a taped address to the students.

"The governor, as a former prosecutor, clearly respects the conviction of Mr. Abu-Jamal, and did not think that the Evergreen commencement was an appropriate event to attend," Locke's spokesperson, David K. Chai, told CNS.

Sources familiar with the invitation indicated that the original invitation did not make it clear that Abu-Jamal would be on the speaker's list for the graduation.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of the murder of Philadelphia, Penn., police officer Daniel Faulkner and was sentenced to death in 1982. Since then, Abu-Jamal's case has become an international cause-celebre, as members of the press and the entertainment industry has accused the Philadelphia courts, police department, and the national justice system of discriminating against him on racial grounds.

Abu-Jamal has written two books and lectured extensively by phone hook-up in his time on death row. A federal appeals court has rejected his argument that the judge and jury in the case were biased.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) issued a release yesterday on the subject, commending Locke's decision and Evergreen students who have protested Abu-Jamal's inclusion in the ceremony.

DeLay added, "These young people should not have to choose between their principles and their graduation, yet their maturity and morality is clear in their decision."

Faulkner's widow Maureen plans to protest silently outside the ceremony after her plea to be given equal speaking time at the ceremony was refused.

Evergreen officials have defended the choice, pointing out that Abu-Jamal is not the keynote speaker, is one of only five speakers at graduation, was chosen by a committee of students, and is receiving no honorarium for the taped speech.

Dr. Art Constantino, vice president of university relations for Evergreen, told CNS that university representatives had been "in touch with [Gov. Locke's] staff that Abu-Jamal would be part of the ceremony throughout the whole process. . . . I do not believe the governor himself was always aware, but his staff was."

"This case is at the center of controversy. For some Abu-Jamal is a symbol of violence; for others he is a symbol for people who are opposed to the death penalty and who think the justice system is racially biased," Constantino said.

"Our students are indicating that they want to hear from the man at the center of this controversy."

Constantino rejects suggestions that Abu-Jamal's inclusion necessarily represents an endorsement of Abu-Jamal's views.