Rants & Essays

How to Kill Cops and Influence People

By Mike Royko

Here is some career advice for anyone who plans on becoming a murderer: develop your writing skills. This is especially true if you land on Death Row.

We’re seeing a classic example in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 41, who was convicted of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia cop. Abu-Jamal wears dreadlocks and is a former Black Panther who had become a writer and radio reporter. He is also described as an “activist,” whatever that means these days.

According to evidence presented at Abu-Jamal’s trial, at about four o’clock one morning, his brother was being questioned about a traffic violation by police officer Daniel Faulkner, 26. An argument broke out. The trial record then indicates that Abu-Jamal, happening on the scene, came up behind the officer and shot him in the back. Faulkner managed to shoot Abu-Jamal in the chest, and a moment later Abu-Jamal, standing over Faulkner as he lay on the ground, put a bullet between his eyes.

Abu-Jamal was found wounded. A .38-caliber pistol—registered in his name—was lying at his side. During the trial, the prosecution presented ballistics evidence showing that this was the pistol used to kill Faulkner. Witnesses said they saw Abu-Jamal shoot the cop. The defense said somebody else did it and ran away. But Abu-Jamal and his brother didn’t testify, so the jury never got their firsthand account of how he happened to get shot by the cop, or how the cop was killed with the gun registered to Abu-Jamal.

Since the trial, Abu-Jamal has written essays from his cell about his life and the injustice he has suffered. Lately his fame—as a victim of injustice, a political prisoner and a heroic underdog in an oppressive society—has exploded, even across borders and oceans.

In Rome, supporters claimed that some 100,000 people signed free-Mumia petitions. Over 2000 protesters marched in Berlin and chanted “Free Mumia!” At a big literary gathering in Paris, a famous Chinese poet read a poem about the case. And in New York, big-name authors got together with members of the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal and held a press conference.

William Styron, who wrote Sophie’s Choice, said Abu-Jamal’s death sentence is considered “an evil and barbaric act not only by millions of people in the United States but also by vast numbers in virtually every democratic country in the world.” Styron didn’t say how these vast numbers of people throughout the world feel about the children and widows of dead cops.

All of this just shows how important it is to pay attention to your English teachers and learn how to write a good essay. Throughout America’s prisons, there are tens of thousands of convicted killers, many of whom could tell true-life stories as interesting as Abu-Jamal’s.

Why don’t we hear about them? Because most of them can’t even write a post card. You can’t expect people like Whoopi Goldberg, E.L. Doctorow, Ed Asner, Jesse Jackson and all those other famous deep thinkers to be inspired by the third-grade scratchings of some ordinary cutthroat. They expect literary style.

This might explain why almost nothing has been said or written about Daniel Faulkner, the cop whom Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering. Whether the cop could write anything more than traffic tickets isn’t known. And it’s too late to ask.