PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE: Group vows to fight Revictimization Relief Act

tribune logoWednesday, October 29, 2014 5:00 am
By Samaria Bailey 

A group of social activists said they will fight the Revictimization Relief Act recently signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, because it violates the First Amendment.

The unified announcement during a press conference on Wednesday was organized by The Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, a coalition of human rights and prisoners’ rights organizations and individuals, and included speeches by Suzanne Ross — Free Mumia Coalition (NYC); Patrice Armstead of Building People’s Power; Betsey Piette of Worker’s World newspaper; Layne Mullett of Decarcerate; Pastor Renee McKenzie; Church of the Advocate; Shandre Delaney from Justice for the Dallas 6; Derrick Stanley, a freed member of the Dallas 6; and Ramona Africa, a survivor of the 1985 MOVE bombing." 

“We want to combat this from a legal perspective and a political one,” said Gabriel Bryant, a campaign organizer. “Legal is in the courts and political is in the streets. We want to build a grassroots campaign. I’m leading part of the political strategy, which is [building] awareness — making phone calls to our elected officials. I know it’s going to be a long range move [but] we don’t want this to be a precedent where other prisoners will be affected across the country.”

The “Revictimization Relief” law will allow “a victim of a personal injury crime” to bring a civil action against an offender, if that offender engages in an act that “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.”

The bill was introduced by State Rep. Mike Vereb, a republican representing Montgomery County. In a “co-sponsor request” to other reps, he cited Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commencement speech for Vermont’s Goddard College as “reprehensible” and that it was an act of revictimization” against the widow of the police officer, for whom Mumia was convicted of killing.

The bill passed the house and the senate, and days later, on Oct. 21, was signed by Corbett.

Since then, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania, has called it unconstitutional and in a statement on their website, said they “look forward to discussing the First Amendment with the commonwealth in a court of law.”

ACLU PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford said it “can’t pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment.”

The grassroots supporters agreed.

“This is a bad bill,” said Renee McKenzie, pastor of North Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate. “It is an infringement on people’s right to speak. This is about every political prisoner – people who have their rights curtailed by the justice system. [But] this curtails their voice and their thoughts. There should never be an attempt to suppress our voice.”

All of the speakers stated this main idea of the bill violating prisoners’ constitutional rights. Now, they agreed, they need to focus on their responding actions.

“This act is more than a piece of paper. It’s an attack on the people,” said MOVE bombing survivor Ramona Africa. “They think they can bully people into being passive. As long as they pick up passiveness in us, they will come after you until you fight back. We have to learn to disarm these people. We have to be ready and prepared to always defend ourselves.”

At a town hall meeting held the evening after the press conference, Bryant said, “it was decided to build momentum through social media and community campaigns to support the legal strategy to remove the bill, continue to contact elected officials to inform them that this bill is unconstitutional; and work with the community in two ways — to raise awareness via town halls and civic associations about how this bill impacts families and how it ultimately affects all prisoners.”