Search Box

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cause celebres

(on left, Karla Faye Tucker; above, Mumia Abu-Jamal)

The previous post about Tiger Woods and Snoop Dogg got me thinking about how much a person's appearance can influence public opinion about them. Two good examples would be Karla Faye Tucker and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Both became cause celebres while on Death Row.

Why? Because they were good-looking.

Tucker looked like a wholesome schoolteacher. Those cherubic cheeks would have looked right at home in a classroom, patiently teaching the little 'uns their A-B-C's.

But Tucker was anything but wholesome. A prostitute from the age of fourteen, she was eventually convicted for killing Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton, sinking a pickaxe into their bodies. Tucker enjoyed the sensation so much that she told friends it generated a triple orgasm for her (though she later claimed that she had said this merely to impress her friends). She was executed in 1998.

Tucker, who found religion while on Death Row, was for a while a focal point for opponents of the death penalty. Would this have happened if she hadn't been photogenic?

Mumia Abu-Jamal is perhaps the most famous Death Row resident. In the picture above, with his even features and soft cheeks, he looks like a friendly Rastafarian, the type who would be as happy to give you some ganja as sell it to you.

Abu-Jamal (slave name Wesley Cook) is a former Black Panther Party member and lifelong radical black activist who was convicted in 1982 of the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, who had stopped Abu-Jamal's brother for a traffic violation. Several witnesses identified Abu-Jamal as the man who ran across the street to shoot Faulkner. A .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver belonging to Abu-Jamal, along with five spent cartridges, was retrieved from the scene. Abu-Jamal himself was wounded by Faulkner during the shootout. Two witnesses from the hospital where Abu-Jamal was taken after the murder testified that during his treatment he said, "I shot the motherfucker. I hope the motherfucker dies."

The defense consisted mostly of character witnesses who stated that Abu-Jamal was viewed by the black community as a gentle, articulate, genial man, and that the prosecution witnesses were unreliable. Abu-Jamal did not testify in his own defense, nor did his brother, who stated, "I ain't got nothing to do with this."

Since then, Abu-Jamal has been made an honorary citizen of 25 cities around the world, and remains a pet cause of organizations ranging from the NAACP to Amnesty International. Would this have happened if he weren't photogenic?

Had Karla Faye had looked like Rosie O'Donnell, and had Mumia looked like Sonny Liston, neither would have become nearly as famous.

We're all influenced by appearance. But we should at least be aware of its prejudicial influence.

No comments: