Free Mumia! After a three-year hiatus for the most part, the Mumia Machine is back! Starting the night of Saturday, Jan. 31., the theater arts department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., will stage A Liberating Prayer: A Love Song for Mumia. The Howard theater people bill the play, written by Sybil J. Roberts, as “an unlikely love story that tells of the fateful meeting of a freedom fighter and a merchant who undertake a spiritual journey to find the wisdom and courage to fight to win the freedom of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

You may ask: Who the hell is Mumia? Mumia Abu-Jamal (formerly Wesley Cook) is the onetime Black Panther who was convicted of first-degree murder for killing, at close range with a bullet fired into the face, a 25-year-old Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner, early in the morning on Dec. 9, 1981. Just before the slaying, which was observed by numerous eyewitnesses who happened to be on the street that night, Faulkner had been punched in the nose by Abu-Jamal’s brother, William Cook, after Faulkner stopped Cook for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Abu-Jamal, according to evidence presented at trial, fired his .38 at least five times at Faulkner. The first shot had gone into the young officer’s back, and Faulkner had returned fire with a single gunshot before Abu-Jamal finished him off as he lay on the sidewalk, according to the evidence. Faulkner, who had been a Philadelphia cop for five years, left behind a young widow, Maureen Faulkner, and the pair’s now-mangled plans to start a family. For a detailed account of the circumstances of the murder, visit this website–and if you don’t believe what you read, visit this one.

After a jury rendered its unanimous verdict finding Abu-Jamal guilty of first-degree murder in 1982, a judge sentenced him to death, noting that since Abu-Jamal had killed a police officer acting in the line of duy, there was a legally aggravating circumstance that warranted the capital sentence. During the trial, Abu-Jamal had styled himself a revolutionary and tried to get rid of his court-appointed lawyer and otherwise disrupt the proceedings. In 1998, after a Abu-Jamal and his attorneys, including the famous defense lawyer Leonard Weinglass, had spent 16 years trying every which legal way to overturn the conviction and sentence, including reviews by 11 different judges, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld both the jury verdict and the order for Abu-Jamal to walk the Long Green Mile. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. In 2001, however, a federal judge threw out the death sentence, arguing that there had been a mitigating circumstance in the crime: Abu-Jamal had had no criminal record before murdering Faulkner. He had been a journalist for a Philadelphia radio station until he was fired in early 1981 for repeatedly failing to show up for work (he was apparently distracted by his growing involvement in MOVE, a Philadelphia anti-police radical group). Now, Abu-Jamal, having fired Weinglass, still sits in prison as he and his supporters pursue various strategies for his release.

Meanwhile, Abu-Jamal over the past 23 years since the crime, has become a sympathy magnet for every black-activist, anti-capital punishment, politically leftist, and all-around gooey-hearted individual or organization you can think of. His list of supporters reads like a who’s who of the celebrity left: Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Sheen, Alice Walker, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Danielle Mitterand (widow of the former French President Francois Mitterand), Noam Chomsky, Joyce Carol Oates, E.I. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, Salman Rushdie. Name a Hollywood, academic, or literary bigshot, and he or she is likely to be a Mumia man or woman.

Armed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions and fired up by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators waving “Fee Mumia” signs, his legal team has floated every sort of imaginable argument over the decades, zany and otherwise, in the hopes of springing their man from the Man. Here are a few, all examined and thrown out by courts: Faulkner was beating up Abu-Jamal’s brother when he was shot (he wasn’t); the bullets lodged inside the officer’s body were of a different caliber from that of the empty gun found at Abu-Jamal’s side (they weren’t); the witnesses lied; the cops framed Abu-Jamal as revenge for his reporting on Philadelphia police brutality (in truth, Abu-Jamal never did a jot of real reporting during his radio stint); his court-appointed lawyer had never tried a capital case before (the lawyer had in fact tried 20 such cases); the prosecution improperly eliminated  large numbers of blacks from the jury. The latest is that Faulkner was shot by the mob, not Mumia. The routine vilification of Faulkner’s widow has been part of the game. At one point, an anguished Maureen Faulkner wrote President Clinton to ask why Whoopi Goldberg, supporter of a convicted cop-killer, was allowed to host a White House event (a Clinton aide wrote back to assure her that the president did not support Abu-Jamal). All this and more is in Buzz Bissinger’s evenhanded 1999 report on the Mumia case for Vanity Fair.

So, now that Mumia no longer has a date with the executioner, you’d think his supporters would be giving it a rest. Abu-Jamal, after all, at last report was ensconced  in his cell writing a regular Internet column, answering letters from his numerous fans around the world (including a teacher’s union in Rio de Janeiro that went on strike in a show of solidarity), and earning an advanced degree of some sort from a branch of the California State University system. He’s been one busy political prisoner. Indeed, for a while it did look as though Mumia Mania had died down, what with 9/11 and all. But now, Abu-Jamal has come out against the war in Iraq (read his latest screed here on the Free Mumia website), and the Mumianiacs are back in full force. Perhaps they’re hoping that people will assume that the “Mumia” on their posters must be a Guantanamo prisoner or maybe Saddam Hussein’s barber.

And here’s the plot (according to Howard University) of Robertson’s brand-new Mumia play:

“On the morning Sage decides to attend a rally to ‘Free Mumia,’ she is joined by a chorus of  ‘ancestors’ who whisper, sing and praise-speak her history while accompanying and encouraging her to fight. They know she will meet her ‘soul-mate’ who will build a ‘revolutionary’ life with her. Odysseus, an avowed political young man, catches sight of her and for reasons unbeknownst to him, is drawn to her presence. Together they will heal each other of past wounds and commit themselves to the present struggle to save the life of activist and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

Mummers for Mumia! Yes! Freedom now!