Planet Waves | Mumia update: Clark Kissinger in hot water



Was it something he said?

A speech made during the Republican convention may
land a top Mumia advocate in jail.

by Noel Weyrich
Philadelphia City Paper, November 16­23, 2000

Background Article by Eric

Can someone be imprisoned in Philadelphia for making a speech? Lawyers for
one of Mumia Abu-Jamal's key supporters say a federal judge might do just
that to their client next month.

On Dec. 6, Brooklyn-based journalist and author C. Clark Kissinger will be
hauled up in front of Philadelphia Federal District Court Judge Arnold C.
Rapoport for violating the conditions of his federal probation. An Abu-Jamal
confidant and frequent spokesperson for the convicted cop-killer's legal
team, Kissinger admits that although his probation officer denied him
permission to visit Philadelphia during the Republican National Convention
this summer, he came here anyway and spoke at an anti-death penalty rally.

Kissinger had been placed on federal probation earlier this year following a
civil disobedience conviction. Under the law, probation violations allow a
judge to revoke probation and sentence a defendant to the maximum allowable
under his original conviction - in Kissinger's case, up to six months in a
federal lockup. Richard Goldberg, the assistant U.S. Attorney who originally
prosecuted Kissinger, confirms he will represent the government at the
upcoming hearing but won't disclose what penalty his office will seek. "I
can't comment on anything that hasn't been in court yet," he says.

"Nobody else can think of a case recently where they're threatening to put
somebody in jail for giving a speech," says Kissinger, 60, a soft-spoken man
with the demeanor of a grandfatherly academician. "Of course, they will
claim, No, no we're not arresting you for speaking, we're arresting you for
violating the terms of your probation."

One of Kissinger's attorneys, veteran New York civil rights attorney Ronald
Kuby, says, "I've never seen anything like this before. There is no basis in
any body of law since the revolution that justifies incarcerating someone
for giving a lawful speech. It is singularly and uniquely outrageous."

Kissinger's legal problems began on July 3, 1999, when he and about 90 other
people were arrested during a pro-Mumia protest held at the Liberty Bell.
Earlier this year, Kissinger and six other defendants pled not guilty in
federal court to charges of "failing to obey a lawful order to disperse."
Judge Rapoport found all seven guilty and gave them one-year probationary

The specific terms of the probation, which defense lawyers have since
denounced as needlessly onerous, include restrictions on Kissinger's travel
and a requirement to disclose his sources of income. Both provisions are
violations of his First Amendment freedom of speech, Kissinger contends.

"I've complied with a lot of it," he says of the probation terms. "I paid my
fine, I reported in. I gave them my passport. But I drew the line at the
First Amendment."

Travel restrictions on probationers are fairly common, but usually
exceptions are granted in order to allow people to make a living. However,
Kuby points out that Kissinger's probation officer has turned this concept
completely on its head.

"Clark has repeatedly asked to travel for purposes of political association,
and it's always been denied," says Kuby. "The probation department has
repeatedly said you can travel for personal reasons, but not for political
ones, which is, of course, exactly the opposite of the free speech
protections in the Bill of Rights."

According to the parole violation notice, Kissinger submitted a request on
July 26 to visit Philadelphia from July 31 to Aug. 1 in order to "speak at a
rally opposing the death penalty [and] the pending execution of Mumia
Abu-Jamal and to work as a journalist reporting events at the Republican
National Convention."

The request was denied by the Philadelphia federal court on July 31. No
reason was given.

On Aug. 1, Kissinger was one of the speakers at an anti-death penalty rally
on the plaza near the Municipal Services Building. Among the rally's stated
objectives was to "unmask the executioners" and "highlight the murderous
record[s]" of Gov. George W. Bush and Gov. Tom Ridge. On Aug. 2, Kissinger's
probation officer found an account of Kissinger's speech on a protest
website, and submitted it as evidence that Kissinger had violated his

"Why is the government is acting so harshly against Clark? I don't know,"
says Kissinger's Philadelphia attorney Andrew Erba. "Clark is not a
lawbreaker. There's nothing about Clark that suggests he is some nefarious
criminal that one has to keep under a tight leash. What do you gain from
making Clark the focal point of this action? I don't understand it."

Ironically, the criminal justice advocates who arranged the rally had
scrupulously planned the event so that probationers and parolees wouldn't
get in trouble just for being there. "Many of the people most directly
affected by [these issues] would be at much greater risk if they were
arrested," explains Amy Dalton of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against
the Death Penalty. The group went to great lengths to secure a demonstration
permit for the site, she says. "We decided that it was important to have a
way for people to participate in that protest without putting themselves in
direct threat of arrest."

But for Kissinger, the mere fact he had not received permission of the court
to travel has landed him in legal hot water. His adamant refusal to disclose
his income sources to the court, as required by the probation terms, is now
only exacerbating his perilous situation.

"His position is that as a journalist who's working on behalf of Mumia
Abu-Jamal, he receives contributions from people who wish to support Mumia
Abu-Jamal," says Kuby of Kissinger. "To disclose those contributions would
have a chilling effect on those contributors." Kuby concedes that financial
disclosures may make sense involving someone convicted of financial fraud,
but not for someone who was arrested for one simple act of civil

In other words, financial disclosure would put Kissinger in the McCarthyite
position of naming names - unmasking financial patrons who expected to
remain anonymous.

"There's no purpose for obtaining this information," Kuby insists, "except
either an improper one, to conduct the very political harassment that Clark
is alleging, or a bureaucratic one. You know, We have twelve boxes on the
page and all twelve must have information."

Kuby and Erba have filed motions asking the court to drop the travel
restrictions and income disclosure requirements in Kissinger's probation
terms. But those motions are likely to be still pending when Kissinger
appears before Judge Rapoport.

"I've grown utterly cynical about this work," says Kuby. "After doing this
shit for 17 years, if I meet one more guy who was caught in the process of a
rape, and [claims he] is a political prisoner because he didn't get his
Miranda rights, I'm going to jump off a fucking bridge.

"But this," he adds, "is like, 'Wow, this is really happening? Judge
Rapoport might be the first judge in the modern era to incarcerate a
defendant for making a legal speech - in the Cradle of Liberty, of all

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