PLAINFIELD, Vt. (AP) — A one-time death row inmate now serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer spoke to students graduating from a Vermont college on Sunday, encouraging them to strive to transform the world.
Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke by video to 20 students receiving bachelor degrees from Goddard College in Plainfield. He earned a degree from the college in 1996.
“Think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better,” Abu-Jamal said in the video.
He said his studies at Goddard allowed him to learn about important figures in distant lands.
“Goddard reawakened in me my love of learning,” he said. “In my mind, I left death row.”
The former Black Panther did not address the crime for which he was convicted. He originally was sentenced to death for killing white police Officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981, but he was resentenced to life in 2012.
His claims that he’s been victimized by a racist justice system have attracted international support. A radio show, documentaries and books have helped publicize his case. Goddard College describes him as “an award winning journalist who chronicles the human condition.”
But the decision to allow Abu-Jamal to speak angered police and corrections officials in Vermont and Pennsylvania. The Vermont Troopers Association said it showed a disregard for the victim’s family at a time when the nation is seeking solutions to gun violence.
Goddard, a low-residency school where students, staff and faculty spend eight days on campus twice a year, holds 20 commencement ceremonies every year, so students in each degree program can individualize their graduations and choose their speaker.
The school, which has about 600 students, says the graduates chose Abu-Jamal as a way to “engage and think radically and critically.”
Goddard students design their own curriculums with faculty advisers and do not take tests or receive grades.