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A lesson plan asking students to draw parallels between late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal is an “absolute disgrace,” the widow of the fallen officer told FoxNews.com.
Maureen Faulkner, whose husband Daniel was gunned down in Philadelphia on Dec. 9, 1981, said the latest effort to glorify Abu-Jamal’s past using a lesson plan posted on the Oakland (Calif.) Unified School District’s website is akin to advocating violence to young students.
“It’s a travesty,” Faulkner told FoxNews.com by phone early Thursday. “You’re going to teach children about a man who murdered a police officer? That’s not a good lesson to be teaching children. He was a radical, a militant. My question is: Are our tax dollars paying for this?”
The lesson plan, which was authored by teacher Craig Gordon for 11th-graders within the 37,000-student district, suggests to “critically examine a possible parallel” between King and “someone else many believe is currently targeted by the U.S. government, Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
It also asks students to consider the following statement: “The media, prison system and law enforcement organizations have censored Mumia Abu-Jamal. On one hand, there have been occasional stories in print and broadcast media about Mumia Abu-Jamal. On the other, despite the widespread support for Abu-Jamal that has made his case the most renown and controversial of death penalty cases in the world today, these stories are extremely rare and always refer to him as a ‘convicted cop-killer.’”
Despite Abu-Jamal’s “prolific writings” in several books, none of his work can be found in mainstream media, according to the lesson plan.
“My first take on this was: There’s a lot more educational things you could be teaching children about than a cold-blooded murderer,” Faulkner told FoxNews.com. “It’s an absolute disgrace that they’re trying to make any comparison.”
Faulkner noted that Abu-Jamal — a former Black Panther who has garnered worldwide support by some who believe he was victimized by a biased judicial system — will turn 60 later this month while imprisoned in Pennsylvania. Faulkner's late husband, however, won’t be so fortunate.
“What about my husband’s 60th birthday? He’s been in the ground for the past 32 years,” Faulkner said. “My husband has missed 32 birthdays, 32 Christmases and 32 anniversaries. It’s an abomination.”
Troy Flint, director of public relations for the Oakland Unified School District, said the lesson plan is no longer part of the district's curriculum and was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
"The fact that a website documenting Urban Dreams remains accessible is an oversight related to technology management; it does not speak to current instructional practice in OUSD," Flint wrote FoxNews.com in an e-mail. "To avoid any confusion in the future, we will conduct an inventory of the numerous websites created to support learning districtwide to ensure they conform with our present academic philosophy and do not inadvertently misrepresent Oakland schools."
Some academics contacted by FoxNews.com, however, said King and Abu-Jamal are “fundamentally similar” since both have committed their lives to challenging systemic racism in the United States.
Mark Lewis Taylor, a professor of theology and culture at the Princeton Theological Seminary and a longtime Mumia supporter, identified two major differences between Abu-Jamal and King, saying the former radio journalist has worked more obviously than the assassinated civil rights leader within an “international framework of justice struggle.”
Abu-Jamal, according to Taylor, also worked more than King to “mobilize grassroots organizations” and movements. King had a tendency, Taylor said, to privilege black church organizations and, at times, espouse a certain sense of black middle-class advantage and leadership.
“But what King and Abu-Jamal shared should not be overlooked,” Taylor wrote FoxNews.com in an email. “One shouldn’t juxtapose a respectable ‘cuddly’ Martin Luther King over and against a more radical and supposedly ‘villainous’ Abu-Jamal — as the media hype often has it when they relentlessly misrepresent him as a ‘cop-killer.’ In fact, authorities have had the wrong man on death row and in prison these 32 years, not the man who actually shot Officer Faulkner.”
In 2011, Philadelphia’s district attorney announced that prosecutors would no longer pursue the death penalty against Abu-Jamal. Instead, he will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing Faulkner, a 25-year-old patrolman who scuffled with Abu-Jamal’s brother during an early morning traffic stop. Abu-Jamal, whose real name is Wesley Cook, was wounded by a round from Faulkner’s gun and a .38-caliber revolver registered to Abu-Jamal was found at the scene with five spent shell casings, according to trial testimony.
In 1995, Abu-Jamal authored “Live From Death Row” and has been the subject of numerous documentaries and books. The onetime journalist has also enjoyed support from, among others, actor Tim Robbins and from as far away as France, where a street bears his name in a Paris suburb.
Most recently, Abu-Jamal appeared in national headlines in February when his link to President Obama's nominee for a top Justice Department post, Debo Adegbile, was revealed. Adegbile faced criticism for his role in getting Abu-Jamal's death sentence overturned during his time as acting director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Adebile's confirmation was blocked in early March.
King’s niece, Alveda, said she wasn’t very familiar with Abu-Jamal’s case, but said any comparison to her uncle should begin with a thorough understanding of his nonviolent philosophy.
“Students should be required to know Martin Luther King, Jr., before comparing anyone to him,” she told FoxNews.com by phone. “I believe that law enforcement officials, those who find themselves at odds with the law, and anyone who has a conflict for any reason would be best served by embracing the nonviolent philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.”