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Abu-Jamal's Commencement Speech Prompts Victims' Rights Bill

Abu-Jamal's Commencement Speech Prompts Victims' Rights Bill

The Pennsylvania legislative proposal advanced out of a House committee on Monday, the day after Mumia Abu-Jamal delivered a recorded speech to graduates at Goddard College.

Published October 7, 2014

A small college’s controversial commencement speaker selection has led to the proposal of a bill intended to prevent criminal offenders from causing their victims “mental anguish,” AP reports.

Republican Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced his support of the bill on Monday, the day after former radio reporter and Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal delivered a recorded speech to graduates at Goddard College in Plianfield, Pa.

"Nobody has the right to continually taunt the victims of their violent crimes in the public square," Corbett said at a Capitol event. He reportedly called Goddard’s choice of Abu-Jamal “unconscionable.”

Abu-Jamal, who earned a degree from the college in 1996, was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He spent almost 30 years on death row before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without parole in December 2011.

According to AP, the Pennsylvania legislative proposal "defines the conduct at issue as that which 'causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.’” The bill, which advanced out of a House committee on Monday, would allow victims or prosecutors to ask for injunctions "or other appropriate relief” against “conduct which perpetuates the continuing effects of the crime on the victim."

Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania, said the bill would likely have First Amendment troubles if enacted.

"The Legislature doesn't have the power to punish speech it doesn't like," Hoover told AP, adding that former offenders could end up being punished for speaking about their experiences or on public interest matters decades after being released from prison.

While in prison, Abu-Jamal has authored several written works and become an international symbol through his claims of being a victim of a racist justice system. Goddard College described him as “an award-winning journalist who chronicles the human condition.”

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(Photo: Lisa Terry/Getty Images)

Written by Patrice Peck

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