HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Republican Gov. Tom Corbett said Monday he supports a bill designed to prevent offenders from causing their victims “mental anguish,” a proposal launched after a Vermont college chose as its commencement speaker a man convicted of killing a police officer.
Corbett spoke at a Capitol event a day after Mumia Abu-Jamal gave a recorded address to about 20 graduates at Goddard College in Plainfield.
“Nobody has the right to continually taunt the victims of their violent crimes in the public square,” Corbett said.
He called the college’s choice of Abu-Jamal “unconscionable.”
The bill that advanced out of a House committee on Monday would allow a victim to go to court for an injunction against “conduct which perpetuates the continuing effects of the crime on the victim.”
Abu-Jamal, a former radio reporter and Black Panther, is serving life in prison for the 1981 shooting death of white Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner, who had pulled over his brother in an overnight traffic stop. He spent nearly 30 years on death row while pursuing numerous legal appeals.
In the recorded remarks, he encouraged the students to “think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better,” but he did not address the crime for which he was convicted.
The Pennsylvania legislative proposal defines the conduct at issue as that which “causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” It would allow victims or prosecutors to ask for injunctions “or other appropriate relief.”
The legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania, Andy Hoover, said the measure was vague and too broad.
“The Legislature doesn’t have the power to punish speech it doesn’t like,” Hoover said.
He said former offenders could end up being penalized decades after being released from prison for speaking about their experiences or on public interest matters.
“If enacted, this bill will likely have First Amendment troubles,” Hoover said.
Abu-Jamal’s claims of being the victim of a racist justice system have brought him support across the world, and his story has been told in documentaries and books. Goddard College calls him “an award winning journalist who chronicles the human condition.”