It’s been a banner winter for cop killers Thomas Trantino and Mumia Abu-Jamal. This, in itself, is slightly distressing. You don’t like to think about vermin having banner seasons. Bad seasons, yes. Indifferent seasons, mostly. But banner seasons? Vermin have banner seasons if the local Raid factory shuts down. Which is more or less what happened for Abu-Jamal in December when his death sentence for killing a police officer two decades ago was voided due to a legal technicality; either he will be re-sentenced to life in prison, or a new sentencing hearing will be held.
Abu-Jamal will not be retried however. His guilt isn’t in question — or, rather, his conviction remains intact. On December 9, 1981, a 26-year-old Philadelphia cop named Danny Faulkner pulled over a car driven by William Cook — Abu-Jamal’s brother — for a traffic violation. When Faulkner tried to handcuff him, Cook resisted, and as the two of them struggled, Abu-Jamal, driving a taxi in the neighborhood, spotted them, jumped from his cab and shot Faulkner in the back. Cook fled the scene as Faulkner collapsed to the ground — but not before Faulkner wheeled around and shot Abu-Jamal in the chest. Abu-Jamal recoiled, then crawled back over to Faulkner and pumped four more shots into him, including one between his eyes, killing him.
Abu-Jamal is a cop killer. Full stop. The police found him holding the murder weapon, registered in his name, slumped beside the body of Danny Faulkner. They found shell casings scattered at his feet. Ballistics tests proved that the 38 caliber bullets which killed Faulkner had been fired from Abu-Jamal’s gun.
Next to Abu-Jamal, O.J. Simpson looks like Alfred Dreyfus.
Nevertheless, absurd conspiracy theories have circulated for years about Abu-Jamal’s innocence. His supporters, including such luminaries as actors Susan Sarandon, Ed Asner and Mike Farrell, authors Alice Walker, Cornel West and Jonathan Kozol, activists Angela Davis, Ramsey Clark and Noam Chomsky, rappers Chuck D. and Mos Def, and rockers Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys, seduced by Abu-Jamal’s Rasta-next-door good looks and Cliff’s Notes grasp of Marxism, insist that the police framed him. Why? Because, when he wasn’t out driving cabs or killing cops, Abu-Jamal was a part-time journalist and member of the Black Panthers…and thus, their theories go, he had to be silenced.
Abu-Jamal himself insists he’s a political prisoner — though, ironically, he’s never actually denied killing Officer Faulkner. He’s apparently talked himself into the idea that he wasn’t really a high school dropout who’d been fired from his part time radio job and forced to drive a cab at night but rather a revolutionary, jailed not for a brutal murder but for speaking the truth to power: “Capital’s voice (the media) and their agents (the politicians) unite in a chorus of support for their legalized killers, who bomb babies with impunity…who shoot unarmed kids in their cars, and unarmed African emigrants, whose only capital crime is being Black in modern-day America.”
In other words, Abu-Jamal is one of hundreds of pathetic little night-crawlers who fancy themselves locked in a life or death battle against the government of the United States and who interpret their incarcerations as evidence of their own significance.
It’s a trait Abu-Jamal shares with Thomas Trantino. As reported by National Review‘s John Derbyshire, on August 26, 1963, Trantino and a friend, Frank Falco, murdered two cops in cold blood. The cops were responding to a disturbance at the Angel Lounge in Lodi, New Jersey. Trantino and Falco managed to disarm Sergeant Peter Voto who had entered the bar alone to investigate, and thereafter they lured inside Patrolman Tedesco, an unarmed probation officer, and overpowered him; the cops were then pistol-whipped, forced to strip to their underwear, and finally executed with single shots in the back of their heads. After Falco was killed two days later in a shootout with the police, Trantino surrendered; he was tried two years later, in 1965, at which time he was convicted and condemned to death…except, before his appeals were exhausted, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled the death penalty itself unconstitutional, and in 1972 Trantino’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. In 1974, Trantino published Lock the Lock, a puerile pseudo-poetic memoir, the gist of which can be gleaned from the following excerpt:
“i was in prison long ago and it was the first grade and i have to take a s— and…the law says you must first raise your hand and ask the teacher for permission so i obeyer of the lore of the lamb am therefore busy raising my hand to the fuhrer who says yes thomas what is it? and i thomas say I have to take a i mean may i go to the bathroom please? didn’t you go to the bathroom yesterday thomas she says and i say yes ma’am mrs parsley sir but i have to go again today but she says NO . . . And I say eh . . . I GOTTA TAKE A S— DAMMIT and again she says NO but I go anyway except that it was not out but in my pants that is to say right in my corduroy knickers g–damm…”
Young Trantino’s lesson: “If one obeys and follows orders and adheres to all the rules and regulations of the lore of the lamb one is going to s— in one’s pants and one’s mother is going to have to clean up afterwards ya see? It is fear that chains us to blind obedience of the law and authority. When we conquer that fear, anything is possible.”
Such sentiments, naturally, have made Trantino, like Abu-Jamal, a darling of the Cartoon Left — his work is currently featured on several anti-capitalist websites which refer to him as a “poet,” an “artist” and, of course, a “political prisoner.”
The Cartoon Left: it’s a phrase that should appear in print at least as often as “Radical Right” since the two groups are mirror images of one another. Both worship ill-defined notions of individual freedom, both foam with self-righteous indignation towards the government — which both view as conspiracy-ridden and hell bent on keeping them from political power — and each group feels oppressed, in some vague though palpable way, by the other.
Mumia Abu-Jamal and Tommy Trantino are, in essence, Tim McVeigh writ very, very small.
Trantino, however, has at least one leg up on Abu-Jamal: He’s a free man. When Trantino’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison, he automatically became eligible to apply for parole, starting in 1979. After his requests were repeatedly denied, Trantino acquired the services of a radical lawyer named Roger Lowenstein who eventually wangled an appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court — which ordered Trantino released, at age 62, to a half-way house in January 2001, and freed altogether after one year. Lowenstein makes no bones about his stake in the case: “The criminal justice system cannot buckle under political pressure as the U.S. Supreme Court recently did in Bush v. Gore.” As of this month, thanks to the efforts of Lowenstein, Tommy Trantino is out, on the streets, required only to report to a parole officer.
Abu-Jamal, though still under lockdown, can nevertheless point to at least one achievement that has thus far eluded Trantino. Three weeks before Abu-Jamal’s death sentence was voided last December, he was named an honorary citizen of Paris by the Paris City Council — the first person awarded the title since Pablo Picasso thirty years ago. Why killing a Philadelphia cop should qualify Abu-Jamal as an honorary Parisian is unclear. I mean, if he’d thrown down his weapon and surrendered without a fight it might make a bit more sense — since that is the French way. Whatever the case, France’s Communist Party was apparently behind the push to bestow the honor in absentia. Even by French standards, it’s an especially stinky piece of cheese.
Then again, it’s just what a cockroach like Abu-Jamal feasts on.