The widow of a slain Philadelphia Police officer shared her thoughts on a Vermont college’s decision to select the man convicted of killing her husband as their commencement speaker.
“The only thing I would want to hear from Mumia Abu-Jamal is him admitting and confessing to my husband’s murder,” said Maureen Faulkner. “Shame on them. They could have another commencement speaker that would give these students wisdom before they start out in life.”
Students in the fall 2014 graduating class of Goddard College selected Mumia Abu-Jamal, 60, as their commencement speaker. Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pa. for the 1981 murder of 25-year-old Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
“Thirty-two years later the Faulkner family, my family and I, have to endure the pain of him being able to speak in public and having rights,” Faulkner’s widow Maureen told NBC10. “Having a murderer, a radical, and someone who hates America to speak with them I think is so wrong.”
Goddard school officials said Abu-Jamal’s remarks were prerecorded and the short video will roll during a ceremony Sunday. Abu-Jamal is a 1996 graduate of Goddard and also hosts a radio show that airs on WGDR-WGDH Goddard Community radio every Sunday.
"Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows 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," Goddard College Interim President Robert Kenny said in a news release Monday.
Since his conviction, Abu-Jamal has gained supporters from around the world, including several celebrities, who claim he was innocent of the crime and the victim of a racist legal system.
“This man has been in prison for 33 years,” said Mark Taylor, a professor and founder of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal. “The case against him has not been established and this is a man whose voice has much to give. In many ways he is our Nelson Mandela. Mumia, to be shut down by the police now, is facing a situation of great injustice and the students at Goddard College have displayed great wisdom in inviting him to give their commencement address this Sunday.”
Taylor also told NBC10 Abu-Jamal has released other pre-recorded speeches and books which have been used in college classrooms.
Faulkner’s family, Philadelphia Police and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams have maintained Abu-Jamal was Faulkner’s killer. The college’s decision to choose Abu-Jamal as their commencement speaker sparked outrage not only from the Faulkner family but also U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, who called on the college to rescind its offer.
"I cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer," The Pennsylvania Republican wrote in a letter to Kenny. "What possible enlightenment can your students obtain from this man?"
Maureen Faulkner told NBC10 the timing of the speech is especially outrageous considering the ongoing manhunt for Eric Frein, who is accused of killing a Pennsylvania State Trooper in an ambush attack.
“Right now in the Pocono Mountains there is a man who murdered a trooper in cold blood, with premeditation,” she said. “He’s a survivalist and he’s still loose. When they capture him and put him in prison, are they going to allow him to have his freedom of speech and his civil rights after what he did?”
During the commencement Sunday, Philadelphia Police will hold a silent protest at the Daniel Faulkner memorial plaque.
Supporters who have Abu-Jamal’s speech say it’s about social justice. Samantha Kolber, the communications director for Goddard, defended the school’s decision and reacted to the controversy on her Twitter account.
The commencement ceremony — one of 20 Goddard holds each year — will begin at 4 p.m. Oct. 5 at the school's Haybarn Theatre at 123 Pitkin Road in Plainfield, Vermont.
Goddard College is a liberal arts college with three locations -- Plainfield, Vermont; and Seattle and Port Townsend, Washington.