Albert Nuh Washington died in prison last April. He was a dedicated freedom fighter, a devout Muslim, a former Black Panther Party member, and a teacher who has inspired and helped many people, in the prisons and outside, to change their lives. Political prisoner Marilyn Buck has written, “Nuh continues to live in the heartbeat of the struggle for human dignity, justice and liberation. ” We need to build a movement which will force the U.S. government to release the political prisoners it holds so that others do not die in prison as Nuh did.
Despite some notable exceptions, like President Clinton’s executive clemency offer in September 1999 to 11 Puerto Rican independentistas imprisoned for “seditious conspiracy”, the issue of political prisoners rarely comes up in the United States.
Partly this is because the U.S. denies that it holds political prisoners. According to the United States government, everyone in prison is a criminal. Yet, for example, people all over the world recognize that Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal were prosecuted because of their political beliefs. Amnesty International released a statement on April 6th, 1999 stating that, “Amnesty International considers Leonard Peltier to be a political prisoner… and believes that Leonard Peltier should be immediately and unconditionally released.” Similarly, in a February 2000 report on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Amnesty International criticized the “the politicization of the judicial process” which led to his conviction and death sentence.
Today I am going to ficus primarily on New Afrikan (and Black) political prisoners. Since they were first brought to North America as slaves African people have struggled for their freedom. However, this tradition of struggle has been mirrored by another tradition, a tradition of criminalizing that struggle, exemplified today by the New Afrikan (and Black) political prisoners held by the U.S. We are here today to honor the former, and to expose the latter.
The United States has always criminalized those Africans who have led struggles for freedom. The leaders of slave rebellions, for example, were tried as criminals and often given the death penalty. In 1800 Gabriel Prosser who planned a rebellion modeled on the Haitian revolution, and 26 of his comrades were executed. Denmark Vesey was executed for planning a slave revolt in 1822. Nat Turner who led the famous slave rebellion of 1831 was executed. Even so others have come forward to carry on their struggle.
Harriet Tubman and the conductors of the Underground Railroad were hunted as criminals. The Jamaican leader Marcus Garvey was falsely convicted in 1923 for fraud and deported. During the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights activists were often portrayed as criminals. The F.B.I. even tried to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King by portraying him as a criminal.
The real crime is that the U.S. continues to hold political prisoners some for almost three decades. Jalil A. Muntaqim is one example. He has been held for 28 years. Jalil began working in the Civil Rights Movement and continued to be active in what was known as the Black Liberation Movement and is currently working in the New Afrikan Independence Movement.
As a young person he participated in NAACP youth organizing. In high school, he became a leading member of the Black Student Union. By the time he was 18 years old he had joined the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Jalil was arrested on August 28, 1971 along with Albert ‘Nuh’ Washington following a shootout with San Francisco police. The two were extradited to New York and tried and convicted in 1975, along with Herman Bell, of the murder of two New York City police officers. Today we know that their arrests were part of an undercover operation authorized by the Nixon white house code named NEWKILL. But Jalil has not allowed his imprisonment to prevent him from continuing to struggle for justice. While imprisoned in San Quentin in 1975-77, Jalil was able to organize the first national prison petition campaign to the United Nations. He organized the first Black August demonstration in front of San Quentin. From his prison cell, Jalil with the support of Sundiata Acoli, organized the first march to the United Nations calling for recognition of U.S. political prisoners. He has received awards of appreciation from the Jaycees and the NAACP for his leadership. He is a founding member of the New African Liberation Front. In 1994, Jalil graduated from SUNY-New Paltz with a BS in Psychology and a BA in Sociology. He initiated the “Jericho ’98” march on the White House and U.S. embassies to demand amnesty for U.S. political prisoners. Jalil is the kind of leader the U.S. government has tried to neutralize and the kind of leader we should honor
I would also like to address what motivates me, as a North American, to support these political prisoners. To me they are people who recognized the deep injustices of our society and fought against those injustices. I also believe that by supporting these prisoners, and joining the struggle against injustice, we can gain a deeper sense of our own humanity, something which, in our society, we are too often taught to deny.
There is actually a long tradition of European Americans struggling in solidarity with African people. Many people know John Brown, a white man who helped to lead an armed rebellion against slavery in 1859. For that crime he was executed, but he was unrepentant, even from the gallows. Fewer people know Angelina and Sarah Grimke, Southern women whose families owned plantations who were forced to leave the South because of their efforts against slavery. They defended womens’ right to organize within the abolitionist movement and connected it with white women’s struggles for the right to vote and to participate equally in society. North American anti-imperialist political prisoners David Gilbert and Marilyn Buck are contemporary examples of this tradition.
Prairie Fire Organizing Committee (PFOC) is committed to the release of all political prisoners. One of the first PFOC events I went to was a program at DePaul University 5 years ago honoring Black and New Afrikan Political Prisoners. At that time the most prominent campaign was to free geronimo ji Jaga, a former Black Panther imprisoned in California. Since then, thanks to years of dedicated work by activists around the world, the government was forced to acknowledge his innocence, and he is now organizing on the outside. He returned to Louisiana where he discovered his alma mater, the Morgan City Colored High School, was being turned into a jail. He was able to acquire his old school as the headquarters for the Kuji foundation, a nonprofit education center which he has founded. He has also traveled around the country speaking in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
But we have many more prisoners to free, and to do so we will need to build a movement, which like the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, is capable of forcing the United States to release its political prisoners. As Albert ‘Nuh’ Washington has written, “if I could do it alone, it would have been done. But this requires a collective effort and we must work together.”
New Afrikan Political Prisonerz in U.S. I Haki kweli Shakur VIDEO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TYD4TZqV2U