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Excerpt: ‘Murdered By Mumia’

Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the police officer infamously murdered in Philadelphia in 1981 by then-journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, writes about her anguish, grief and her attempts to bring closure to her husband’s murder more than 25 years later. The book is called "Murdered By Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain and Injustice." Here's an excerpt:

Chapter 2: The Knock

The knock. That rap on the door that is the dread of all of the spouses of people who put their lives on the line—cops, firefighters, EMTs, the military, each profession with its own protocol. I got that knock in the early morning hours of a bitter-cold Wednesday, December 9, 1981, when my fitful slumber was interrupted by the thud of destiny. That night I had trouble sleeping, so I went down and fell asleep on the couch in front of the TV. I was awakened by the sound of a rap on the door. It was a gentle tapping but it sounded like a cannon shot to me. I quickly looked at the clock and saw that it was a little after 4:00 a.m. I got up and looked through the window to where a police officer was standing on the step. With his shiny adornments glistening against the dark night, I thought maybe I was dreaming. My heart pounded furiously against my ribcage and my knees felt weak as I opened the door.

There was not one police officer but three standing there, two men and a woman. I let them into the living room and one of the men solemnly spoke. “Your husband has been shot and they’ve taken him to Jefferson Hospital.”

I felt disconnected from my body as I darted up the steps to put on some clothes. As we headed out the door, somebody said, “Why don’t you call Danny’s mother.” I replied that she had a bad heart and I didn’t want to call his mom until I knew he was OK. At the time, Danny’s brother Joe was quite sick, so I wasn’t sure she could take any bad news on the phone. I called my own mother instead. The familiar sound of her voice pierced the surrealism of the night and sent me into a sharp panic. My throat went completely dry. In halting phrases, I finally got it out that Dan had been shot and I was going to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. My words came spastically as the telephone rocked in my trembling hands. I’m sure she thought of her premonition, but not a word was mentioned of it at the time.

Within minutes, the female cop and I were in a marked police car racing into Center City. No sirens, just the piercing lights. I heard the police radio blasting but it was quickly turned off. This was no dream and, in the silence of the ride, I was forced to confront the reality of the situation. My thoughts were racing all over the place yet fiercely focused on my husband, and I was thinking about our last few days together. Danny had gone to work on his normal midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift on Monday night. When he got home Tuesday morning, I was still home, which was not our usual routine. I had been sick for a few days and had finally stayed home from work, hoping to shake off whatever it was. He was so happy to see me there, I almost forgot about how bad I felt.

Normally, when Danny worked the night shift, we just missed each other. I’d be in my car on the long commute to the suburbs by the time he walked through the front door. This day, however, we got to have breakfast together for a change. Afterwards, he handed me $200, a significant portion of his $900 monthly salary, to do some Christmas shopping when I was feeling better. After breakfast, I decided to keep him company as he sat at the dining room table and paid the monthly bills.

It was unusual for him to stay up instead of going right to bed. I remember him going over the household expenses before organizing the dining room and living room drawers. When I questioned him regarding his puzzling burst of enterprise, he simply retorted that “it ought to be done.” Later on, he took a short nap. When he got up, he was thinking about taking the next shift off. A Chorus Line was playing in Philadelphia and we wanted to see it. He said, “You know what, Hon, since you’re feeling better, let me see if I can get off from work and we can go see the show.” He called the theater and found that the only seats available were up in the rafters. “Well, if we do go to the show, we should have good seats, so I’ll just go to work,” he reasoned. After going to the store to buy a couple of things, he cooked dinner for us, the last meal that we would have together.

After dinner, I sat on the couch with him. He decided he would go upstairs and sleep for a couple of hours before he had to go back to work. I remember him saying, “Come on up and lie down, too—you know I can’t sleep without you.” I remember that the two of us went up to bed and slept from probably 8:00 until the alarm went off around 10:00. We had a clock radio and I’ll never forget that, when the radio alarm came on, we were lying in each other’s arms and Barbra Streisand was singing “Coming In and Out of Your Life.” That song has never stopped haunting me.

Coming in and out of your life will never free me.

Listening to the song in a disoriented state of half-wakefulness and half-sleep, I was suddenly jolted by what I thought was a gunshot. I jumped up in bed in panic. When I told Danny that I thought I’d heard a gunshot, he calmly smiled back with gentle amusement, saying, “What are you talking about?” I now wonder if this was the same kind of premonition my mother felt, like something bad was going to happen. In retrospect, there were many curious events that foretold the harm that was to come his way. This was just another of them.Danny was running late and decided that he’d better get dressed at home. Normally, he’d keep his uniform at work and dress at the district, but this night he dressed before he left. Unfortunately, his bulletproof vest was not at home, and he dressed for work without it. I sat at the edge of the bed and gave him a hug and kiss; he looked so great in his uniform. His quick kiss good-bye was the last moment I shared with my living husband—my kind, loving, irreplaceable husband who had little more than four hours to live. I missed him, as always, the minute he walked out the door.

Danny was a patrolman who worked the city’s Sixth District, comprised of what the locals call “Center City” Philadelphia, where he policed the city’s governmental, financial, and entertainment hub. After hours, certain streets turned a little ominous, and some slices of the city’s less desirous underbelly were his responsibility. Together with his partner, Garry Bell, Danny “worked the wagon”—a two-man job unlike driving a patrol car, which was duty for one. Police wagons were used for transporting suspects and involved the type of risk that required two men. On this particular night, the wagon was “down on a mechanical.” Garry later told me that he and Danny had flipped a coin to see which one would get to cruise the city streets in a warm patrol car and who would work on foot. Danny won the toss. He picked the patrol car.Somehow, a news truck beat the squad car carrying me to Jefferson Hospital and the emergency room area was bustling with media. When we arrived, the female cop and I walked briskly through the automatic doors so we didn’t have to talk to anyone. I was escorted to the policeman in charge and the woman who had driven me disappeared without a word. Come to think of it, I don’t think we talked to each other at all. Unbeknownst to me, the female officer was just twenty-three years old at the time. She had been called by her lieutenant, Larry McShane, who was responsible for notifying me of the situation. They were both cops in the Twelfth District where Danny and I lived. Lieutenant McShane thought it appropriate to have a woman be part of the detail that came to tell me, and Cathy Kelley (née Clarkson) was the officer he asked. She was fresh out of the Police Academy, having graduated only three months earlier. She was from Narberth, out on Philadelphia’s privileged Main Line, and despite becoming a police officer and being married to a cop, she was still unaccustomed to the perils of the job. Very quickly, she has since said, she learned how to “be stone-faced and cry in private.” For her, having to notify me was a “9/11-like experience.”

At Jefferson Hospital, I was escorted by a policeman into a room where Garry Bell and another friend, Eddie McGrory, sat waiting for news. Garry had not only seen the badly wounded body of his partner, he’d also seen the man who shot him, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and, as he would later attest, he’d heard Abu-Jamal admit that he shot Danny and add that he “hope[d] the motherfucker dies.” When he heard that, Garry told Abu-Jamal that if Danny died, he would die. He was so rattled about what he had seen, and by this exchange, and no doubt concerned about me, that it would take him a while to remember those words, and of course, Garry told me none of this at the time. Thankfully, he was not the only one to hear Abu-Jamal’s confession; a Thomas Jefferson employee heard it as well. That would all be discussed for years to come, but at that particular moment in the ER, it was hard to talk at all and we sat silently together, waiting for news of Danny’s condition.Although frightened at the prospect, I wanted desperately to see Danny. Somebody told me he was “being worked on” in the next room and I couldn’t see him yet. Resigned to perhaps a long wait, I decided to go for a bathroom break. Walking down a hospital corridor, I heard a loud voice echoing from an adjacent area. I remember hearing the voice, not because of any words being said, but because of the man’s shouts of defiance as opposed to cries of pain.There was a lot of commotion besides the guy screaming. Somebody said, “That’s the shooter.” I couldn’t make out what he was saying; I could just hear him yelling in anger. I never saw him that night. I would later learn that Abu-Jamal had refused treatment after being taken to the hospital. Finally, after talking to his own family and to surgeons, he allowed doctors to remove the bullet from his stomach. An attorney representing Abu-Jamal would later say that he’d been beaten, that there were bruises on his face, but a police spokesman, Detective Jerrold Kane, immediately rejected this claim, as did the physician who treated him that night at Jefferson.  Two Philadelphia police officers, John McGurk and Daniel Soboloski, later testified that they accidentally carried Abu-Jamal into a pole on Locust Street as they took him to a police van after the shooting.  Some would try to claim that was police brutality. But, Dr. Anthony Colletta, a surgical resident at Jefferson, would later testify that Abu-Jamal had lacerations on his forehead and lip and swelling on his neck and under his left eye, which were consistent with the officers’ descriptions of what they say occurred when they took Abu-Jamal into custody.  Prosecutor Joe McGill went so far during a pre-trial hearing as to borrow a billy club from an officer in the courtroom and ask Dr. Colletta if the injuries were consistent with what a billy club might do, and the doctor said, “I would think that instrument would do more injury.”  Moreover, a subsequent police brutality inquiry found no evidence of any such conduct.Soon, Police Commissioner Mort Solomon arrived, and later, so did Mayor William (Bill) Green. Green had replaced Frank L. Rizzo after he served two terms as mayor. Rizzo was, of course, the man who rose from patrolman to police commissioner. After he ran the city for eight years, he was prevented by the City Charter from seeking a third consecutive term. Mayor Green was appropriately solemn and compassionate. My interaction with Police Commissioner Solomon was not as staid as my discussion with Mayor Green. With regard to Commissioner Solomon, I became livid at the sight of the man who, to my mind then, was partly responsible for Danny’s injury. See, Danny had recently complained to me about Commissioner Solomon’s change in rules that governed the use of deadly force, restricting a police officer’s ability to use a weapon. In “policespeak” they called it Police Directive 10, and it had gone into effect in 1980. At that minute, I did not yet know the circumstances surrounding Danny’s shooting but found myself standing up to Solomon, holding his face, crying and saying to him, “You, with your deadly force restriction!” Too late, I realized I had unintentionally scratched his face. I was sorry immediately for my unrestrained emotion, which only added to the agony of us all that miserable night. I knew it was not so much the policy, but the confusion it caused when it went into effect, that caught the ire of cops like Danny. This was the first time deadly force was formalized into a directive. Initially there were a lot of questions and confusion on why it was being done. Police Directive 10 was viewed by the cops as limiting their ability to defend themselves. Danny had the perception that “our hands are being tied.” In spelling out when they could or could not shoot, the general feeling was that there was no room for mistakes, and whoever made one would be in trouble. This was also the same time frame in which a less powerful bullet was adopted for use by the police department, which also had the guys riled up. That too was on my mind, given that Danny got off one shot on Abu-Jamal. Nevertheless, I was sorry, and remain sorry, for accidentally scratching the commissioner’s face.After this unexpected encounter that surprised even me, I was afraid I was losing control and returned to the private area where I could wait for news with Garry and Eddie. Danny’s mom was then living with Danny’s brother Ken; when the telephone rang to alert the Faulkners, Kenny had answered. They told him something had happened, that Danny had been shot. They did not want to tell him his condition but, when Kenny asked where he’d been shot, they told him “in the face.” Kenny hadn’t known it, but his mother had picked up an extension and when she heard the conversation, screamed in pain. Within minutes, other family member’s phones  were ringing with the news of Danny’s predicament. Another brother, Pat,  got his call from Kenny: “Danny’s been shot, we don’t know how bad, and we’re all headed to Jefferson.” Hoping for the best, Pat Faulkner jumped in his car for the twenty-minute ride to the hospital and tuned in to KYW Newsradio. He heard a report that the officer who had been shot was dead. Danny Faulkner was not named, but that’s the way Pat learned of his baby brother’s death. Imagine what it must have been like for him, driving alone in the middle of the night, racing to the hospital to see a dead brother.At the hospital, a doctor soon walked in, wearing a white coat splattered with ominous patches of blood. I was seated with Garry Bell and Eddie McGrory. Nobody moved. He came directly over to me. I looked up as he quietly said, “I’m sorry, he’s gone.” That was it. He delivered the earth-shattering blow of my life, then turned away and left the room. It was about 5:00 a.m.

That’s how I learned my relationship with Danny of 913 days, 396 of which we were married, was over. The horrors of the night had started with a knock and ended with a scream. I remember shrieking and crying and thinking I was in a nightmare, hoping I could be dreaming and it wasn’t true. Then, my parents walked through the door and brought reality with them. It was the first time in my life I ever saw my dad, a hardened WWII vet, cry. In twenty-five years, I had never seen him break down, but I remember that he sat there with his head in his hands, his tears hitting the floor. We all—the Foley and Faulkner families—just sat in that anteroom and held hands and cried as my new world turned in slow motion.They then asked me if I wanted to see Danny. I went to the door of the room where they had cleaned him up—and I remember seeing what seemed like a vision of him lying on the table. I wanted desperately to help him but I couldn’t go near him. I was too scared. Still disbelieving, I guess. I thought that if I went near him, I would snap and lose all control. I was in a state of shock. Everybody was crying and I remember saying that I didn’t want to go back home. By now it was daylight, so I went with Mom and Dad and spent the day with them at their place. It was the first time my mother ever gave me a glass of wine. My parents were in their bedroom, and I remember I was so devastated over losing my husband that I crawled in between my mom and dad and went to sleep. I was twenty-five years old, an adult, out in the world. I was married and I had started a new life with a husband I deeply loved. But when you have something so devastating happen to you, you just need to be with your parents.The next day, I returned to the house Danny and I had shared in southwest Philadelphia. A steady procession of family and friends began to gather to grieve and comfort me, and each other. Suddenly, my ten-year-old nephew, Jimmy, shouted, “Look, Aunt Maureen, Uncle Danny’s not dead, he’s right here.” For an instant, my heart raced. When I looked up, I saw Danny’s good friend Thom Hoban in his Philadelphia police uniform, there to pay his respects. For just a split second, I actually entertained the thought that Danny had walked in. That’s how crazy and upset I was then: I was willing to believe he was still alive a day after seeing his body in the hospital. I remember how difficult it was for me to see any man in a uniform after that.When it happened, the story of Danny’s murder in what was then the nation’s fourth-largest city dominated the local news for days. He was killed in the early hours of the morning of December 9, and somehow they were able to get it on the cover of that day’s Philadelphia Daily News. I was numb to the coverage at the time and the newspapers were kept from me by friends. In fact, I remember when I first looked at the press coverage—it was New Year’s Eve going into 1982. I was alone in my parents’ home—they were going out with close friends Frank and Peg Salerno. I was getting panicked as the clock moved closer to midnight. I did not want to be alone. I remember running to get the telephone to call my parents at the Salernos, and in reaching into a drawer for their phone number, I suddenly came upon a picture of Danny in the casket. They had taken it at the viewing and hidden it from me until more time passed. I was shocked, and started to scream. Thank goodness, my brother Michael arrived at that moment and took me into his arms. After I calmed down, I went back, that night, and read all of the stories about the murder. For me, New Year’s Eve has always been the most difficult. Not Christmas. For me it remains New Year’s Eve.Over the years I have often gone back and re-read the clips saved for me by friends. One edition ran with the full-front-page headline: “Cop Shot to Death; Newsman Arrested; Mumia Abu-Jamal Held in Killing.”  Next to the headline was a large picture of Danny, identifying him as a five-year veteran. It was his official police photo and, although no one could have known it at the time, that picture would become the symbol of decades of battle in his honor.Inside the front cover, the Daily News reported that Danny had been shot at Thirteenth and Locust Streets and that he died at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital from two gunshot wounds. The suspect was identified as “Wesley Cook, 27—who used the name of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”  I had never heard of him before, but the news stories gave details about the crime and his checkered past.

Police piecing together the details of the shooting said that, at 3:45 a.m., Faulkner apparently stopped for investigation a car driven by Wesley Cook’s brother, William Cook, and ordered William Cook out of the car. Moments later, Wesley Cook apparently approached on foot and saw the confrontation between the two, police said. The shooting followed.One witness told police he saw Wesley Cook fire one shot as he ran across the street toward his brother and Faulkner. The witness reportedly said Faulkner, apparently hit by the shot, crumpled to the sidewalk and that Wesley Cook then stood over him and fired another shot at him point-blank. The witness was not able to say when Faulkner fired his gun.Police said five shots had been fired from the gun they believe to be Wesley Cook’s. Faulkner had fired his gun once.Wesley Cook of 17th Street near 66th Avenue was widely known for his support of black activist causes. He was a leader of the local Black Panther Party while still a teenager. . . . .Up until November, Abu-Jamal had served as president of the association [Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists] for a year and during his tenure, said Daily News City Hall reporter Linn Washington, Abu-Jamal urged the organization to become “more active and out front.”Abu-Jamal most recently had been a radio stringer for radio station WDAS. Before that, he worked with WUHY radio as a reporter and commentator. He left the station in March after a disagreement with news director Nick Peters.Peters said Abu-Jamal agreed to leave his position after disagreements between the two men over Abu-Jamal’s trouble showing objectivity and fairness on several stories over a period of months.Abu-Jamal often reported on housing, prisons, and other stories involving poor people and minorities. “Anyone who knows him knows he has a lot of talent; he had an incredible voice, he was a very good writer and could do wonders with a microphone,” Peters said. . . .One of the subjects about which Abu-Jamal had difficulty maintaining objectivity was his coverage of the radical, back-to-nature group MOVE. MOVE had a violent stand-off with police at its Powelton Village compound in 1978 which resulted in the death of a police officer named James Ramp. It was reported that, as Abu-Jamal covered MOVE, he also grew close to the group, and when several MOVE members went on trial for manufacturing bombs the previous summer, Abu-Jamal was seen in the City Hall press room selling copies of the group’s newspaper called “First Day.” [no para]Abu-Jamal’s fondness for black radical politics was also noted in the coverage following the murder:

In 1970, while attending Benjamin Franklin High School, Cook, then a member of the Black Panther Party, was dismissed and transferred for circulating pamphlets calling for “black revolutionary student power.”“He was a very bright student,” said Dr. Leon Bass, principal of Franklin. “He was very articulate and could write well. But he was very radical. His radical views were disruptive.”

Abu-Jamal and three other students who were dismissed filed suit on the ground that their right to free speech had been denied. A Common Pleas Court judge upheld the dismissal.

In a 1970 interview, Jamal said: “Black people are facing the reality that the Black Panther Party has been facing: political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” The clips from those first few days remain a good insight into Abu-Jamal. According to the articles, Abu-Jamal had become enamored with the Jamaican-based Rastafari religious movement, which worshipped the late Ethiopian King Haile Selassie as a deity and advocated the frequent use of marijuana. It was reported that Abu-Jamal was a member of the board of directors of the Marijuana Users Association of America, a group based in Philadelphia with the goal of legalizing marijuana use. The group had apparently broken up earlier in the year because of a lack of funds. Most menacing was his association with the MOVE group, a radical back-to-nature outfit that was responsible for the 1978 murder of Philadelphia police officer James Ramp.Elsewhere, Danny was remembered as a man who had “won citations.” One day after his murder, on page one, the Philadelphia Inquirer told about his recent hunting trip with Hugh Gallagher. They wrote that he would have turned twenty-six on December 21, twelve days after he was murdered, and that we had recently signed up for a ski trip that winter and a Bermuda cruise in the spring. That’s true, and we had been excited about both. On what would have been his birthday, I went to St. Barnabas Church with my friend Carol McCann and lit a candle for Danny—she shared his birthdayThe coverage of Danny also noted that he was raised in southwest Philadelphia in a house with five brothers by a father who worked for the old Philadelphia Transportation Company (SEPTA’s forerunner), and that his adolescence was spent at West Catholic Boys and Bartram High Schools and was followed by brief service in the army. Family members and police officials told the newspaper that Danny received numerous citations for his police work and finished second in his class at the Police Academy in 1976. Our neighbors along Harley Avenue said he used to play baseball with the local youngsters during the summer.      “He was a good guy, one of the best guys in the squad. He was a normal guy, just one of the guys. As far as police work, he was tops. He loved police work and he was one of the best I’ve seen at it,” Sgt. William Ryan was quoted as saying in the Daily News. Sgt. Ryan remembered that Faulkner had ambitions of “moving ahead in the department.”  An elderly man who lived down the street from Maureen and Danny said that the police officer was a “nice guy” who “used to come out on the stoop to talk in the summertime.”

It is interesting now to go back and look at the details of the murder that were reported in those first few days. In 1981, Philadelphia was a four-newspaper town: the Inquirer, Daily News, the Philadelphia Journal, and the legendary Evening Bulletin. The latter reported the most detailed account of the murder from an eyewitness who had not yet been identified. From his sworn statement and trial testimony, the man is now easily recognized as Robert Chobert. “Slain Policeman Had No Chance, Eye-Witness Says,” read the banner headline. Chobert was able to provide the grisly details. It was painful for me to read this then, and it is painful for me to read now. While cruising the area in his cab, Chobert witnessed Danny being knocked to the ground and the “gunman” standing over him firing three more shots. Little is left to the imagination. Danny’s last moment was looking through the barrel of a gun. Holding that weapon was the man who infamously had said that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

“That cop ain’t had a chance against that man,” said the witness, who told a reporter he was driving by in a cab when the shooting occurred. The policeman, Daniel Faulkner, was shot in the head at close range after being knocked to the ground by a bullet in the back, officials said . . .“The guy was holding the cop on the arm,” he said. “The guy walked over and went Pow! Pow! Pow! . . . I saw the flame come out of the gun.”As the assailant stumbled away, he looked “like he was drunk or something,” the witness said.The cab driver said he didn’t see the policeman fire, “All I seen was that guy shooting,” he said.

The cab driver said the officer and his assailant appeared to be “about face-to-face” when he first saw them.

A third man [William Cook] was standing on the sidewalk near the wall “like he was froze,” the cab driver said. The news coverage in the immediate aftermath of the murder has withstood the test of time. It’s the same picture that would later emerge at the trial. This is the heartbreaking tale of a young cop, deeply committed to his role as community protector, who was robbed of his promising future and his life with me, his young bride. The suspect was cast as a bright and formerly respected newsman whose attitudes transformed with his deepening fascination and involvement with radical politics. The facts sounded pretty straightforward. Multiple eyewitnesses, close to the murder itself, had seen Abu-Jamal shoot Danny at close range after Danny stopped Abu-Jamal’s brother while presumably driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Most significantly, with a bullet to Abu-Jamal’s stomach, Danny told us all the identity of his killer before he left this earth. I have since said that Danny left his burr in his killer. Between those lines, and under the microscope of a quarter century of reflection, it is clear to me now that the seeds were already being sewn on the local level for what this case was to become internationally.I did not know, or pay attention to it at the time, but immediately after the murder, the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Black Journalists issued a statement saying that it “supports our president, Mumia Abu-Jamal. He is our leader, our colleague and our brother. We’re concerned about stories that have been printed and broadcasts that portray him in an inaccurate and unfair light. We offer our condolences to both families involved in this tragedy. We will continue to monitor news reports of this incident.” I also later learned that City Councilman Lucien Blackwell went on television and expressed his concern about the defendant getting a fair trial. Mjenzi Kazana, a community activist who worked out of State Representative David Richardson’s office, set up the Abu-Jamal Defense Committee and held meetings in the community. He also asked then Philadelphia District Attorney Ed Rendell to drop the charges until a “more thorough review” could be accomplished.  Rendell, the future mayor and future governor of Pennsylvania, declined. Present at a news conference for the group was Jerome Mondesire, future leader of the Philadelphia NAACP, who then represented Congressman Bill Gray, himself the future head of the United Negro College Fund. Claude Lewis, a columnist for the Evening Bulletin, suggested that a special prosecutor be appointed “as one way of convincing the community that justice in this case will be done.” To the extent that in these initial developments there was a sign of what this case was to become, I surely did not see it at the time. What should have been a simple story of senseless murder and young life lost would eventually assume a much larger cultural significance. Still, in the early days after the murder, nobody who read about the events in Philadelphia could have predicted that Abu-Jamal would become the poster boy for an international anti–death penalty campaign. Why should he? He murdered my husband.

Excerpted from “Murdered By Mumia” by Maureen Faulkner and Michael A. Smerconish. Copyright © 2007 Maureen Faulkner and Michael A. Smerconish. Excerpted by permission of The Lyons Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.