cover image On a Move: The Story of Mumia Abu Jamal

On a Move: The Story of Mumia Abu Jamal

Terry Bisson. Plough Publishing House, $12 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-87486-901-9

Calling attention to the plight of death row activist, journalist and NPR contributor Abu-Jamal, award-winning science fiction author Bisson attempts a full-scale portrait of the controversial figure implicated in a police slaying in Philadelphia nearly two decades ago. What he delivers is a well-intended rehash of mainstream media accounts. The book's real value is in its chronicle of Abu-Jamal's bold, inquisitive youth on Philadelphia's mean streets, inspired by his exceptional mother to become a compulsive reader with a deeply curious mind. In school, Abu-Jamal discovered the causes of black liberation and black power, and became a natural student leader. In his early teens, he faced his first police run-in at one of George Wallace's presidential campaign rallies and was ""beaten so badly that his own mother didn't recognize him."" His tenure with the Black Panthers during their glory days awakened his talent for writing and activism, and so impressed his comrades in Philadelphia that they made him lieutenant of information at age 15. Abu-Jamal's tireless efforts on behalf of the Panthers brought him to the attention of Hoover's FBI, placing him on the infamous Cointelpro target list. A series of painful episodes of police harassment and intimidation against Abu-Jamal followed, ultimately leading to that fateful night in 1981 when Abu-Jamal was shot and seriously wounded while defending his brother during a conflict that ended in the shooting death of an officer. Labeled a ""cop-killer,"" Abu-Jamal faced a highly charged trial that ended in a death sentence that has stirred international interest. Written in short, energetic vignettes, Bisson's tribute occasionally fails to fill in the gaps in Abu-Jamal's travails, choosing heated rhetoric over researched substance at a time when more information and less fist pumping would suit the imprisoned writer's cause well. (Feb.)