Ignoring the chants of protesters on the block where a police officer was killed and the cause célèbre of Mumia Abu-Jamal was born, Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Tuesday a measure he said would curb the "obscene celebrity" cultivated by convicts at the expense of victims.
The law allows prosecutors or crime victims to seek an injunction when an offender's conduct "perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime," including causing a temporary or permanent state of "mental anguish."
The measure won unanimous approval in the state legislature last week after Abu-Jamal, serving a life sentence for the 1981 shooting death of Officer Daniel Faulkner, delivered a pre-recorded commencement address earlier this month to 21 graduates of tiny Goddard College in Vermont.
"This unrepentant cop killer has tested the limits of decency," Corbett said from a portable stage, flanked by uniformed officers and photographs of Faulkner. "Gullible activists and celebrities have continued to feed this killer's ego."
Abu-Jamal, 60, drew international support in the decades since his conviction with claims — repeated in weekly radio commentaries and books including "Live From Death Row" and "All Things Censored" — that he is the victim of a racist justice system.
Faulkner's widow, Maureen, demanded Abu-Jamal "be silenced" after squelching her husband's voice with a "bullet between his eyes."
Officers on the stage and in the street applauded. The protesters — several dozen people clad in orange, prison-like jumpsuits — held up a banner denouncing the law as unconstitutional. Through a megaphone they chanted for Abu-Jamal's release and protested what they said was the erosion of civil rights and free speech.
The state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter called the law overbroad and "unclear on what behavior is prohibited."
"Essentially, any action by an inmate or former offender that could cause 'mental anguish' could be banned by a judge," Reggie Shuford, the chapter's executive director, said in a statement. "That can't pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment."
The state's victim advocate, Jennifer Storm, said she expected a fight and that the state would be prepared to defend the law.
Abu-Jamal attended Goddard in Plainfield, Vermont, briefly in the 1970s and studied remotely through the institution from prison. He told the 21 graduates to "think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better" but did not mention Faulkner or the shooting in his taped speech.
Before signing the bill, Corbett and Faulkner's widow, Maureen, visited a plaque on the Locust Street sidewalk where he was killed. Corbett, a Republican former attorney general facing a tough re-election fight, noted the serenity of the street near the heart of the city — far different, Maureen Faulkner told him, from the night her husband died.
She lingered for a moment after Corbett stepped away and placed two fingers on the corner of the memorial.
"We're not limiting one's free speech. That is not what this bill is about," Storm said. "We are seeking to give victims a voice, a tool and a right to fight sick, senseless acts of crime."