April 28, 2015; The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA)
In recent years, college commencement season has become quite divisive, and last year at Goddard College was no different. The small liberal arts college invited alum Mumia Abu Jamal, who was convicted of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, to speak at its ceremony as a way of showing “how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that,” according to interim president Bob Kenny.
Abu Jamal, a polarizing figure, rose to international notoriety and became a symbol of Black Nationalism in much the same atmosphere as the recent protests in Baltimore and Ferguson. More than 30 years later, the former journalist Abu still attracts both strong support and controversy. Just this month, New Jersey parents were outraged when a New Jersey teacher had her third grade students write “get-well” cards to Abu Jamal after his recent trips to the hospital.
The decision to invite Abu Jamal incited so much backlash that Pennsylvania constructed and passed the Revictimization Relief Act last November, restricting what certain criminals—and in some cases those only accused of crimes—could say about the crimes and other related actions. The intent of the law was to avoid the “continuing effect of the crime on the victim [defined to include conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish],” in the way Jamal may have “re-victimized” the slain police officers’ family in speaking at Goddard’s commencement. Under the law, victims would have been able to file an injunction to “stop any conduct by an offender or former inmate that perpetuates a crime’s effects on the victim.”
As NPQ mentioned last year when we first reported on the passage of the law (also known as the Silencing Act), there were numerous concerns about potential First Amendment violations and implications of the statute. Sim