Sanyika Shakur, Lecture at University of Massachusets
(N. Kurshan): Sanyika Shakur was formerly known as Monster. His autobiography, Monster, detailing gang life in LA, was on many best seller lists for several months. He was also featured in the best-selling book, Do or Die. While in prison he converted to New Afrikan politics and has since written extensively on the relationship of prisons and white supremacy to the struggle for New Afrikan Independence. He was to speak at our program on this struggle as well as the horror of being caged in one of the worst prisons in the US, the Pelican Bay Special Housing Unit (SHU). Sanyika, who was released from Pelican Bay two weeks before the program, was assured by the California Parole Board that he could travel to Chicago. At the last minute, the Parole Board reversed its decision, no doubt understanding the large number of people in Chicago who wanted to meet and hear him. When we found out that Sanyika would not be able to attend the program we asked if he could make a video tape for us. He was able to do this, and the video was shown that night. What follows is the transcript of Sanyika’s taped message.
My name is Sanyika Shakur. i am a former New Afrikan political prisoner. i am a citizen of the Republic of New Afrika. i am a member of Spear and Shield Collective, Crossroads Support Network. i’d like to answer a few questions that should be answered about certain aspects of my life, in particular of the last four or five years of my life, and so We’ll go through that and explain as much as We can about the situation.
Question: Why are officials in the Department of Corrections not allowing you to travel?
The restrictions placed upon me by the Department of Corrections have been instituted at the highest levels of the Department of Corrections to primarily, i believe, stifle the message of the New Afrikan Independence Movement and the Spear and Shield Collective particularly. Of course it is being euphemized as a need to protect me, to protect them, namely the Department of Corrections and those officials who have deemed my existence outside of prison as a threat. So no doubt about it, the whole issue of curtailing my travel is to not allow me to mingle or associate with massive amounts of people, and primarily New Afrikan people, people who feel the need to want to change.
Question: Is it that the message you have is so explosive that they fear it?
That could be the case. i think that We have a people who exemplify some type of narcoleptic relationship to politics. By politics i mean all relations centered on the seizure and retention of state power. i’m talking about New Afrikan people having a sleeping disease when it comes to overstanding our need to be politically aware. When anyone comes along and tries to sound the alarm that We need to wake up and shake ourselves of this particular disease, then that individual is deemed a threat and therefore they are shut down. i don’t represent anything abnormal about being shut down. A lot of political prisoners and pows are feared by the state of ever getting out for being able to articulate the position to the people of our status and where We need to go, as a people, as a nation, as a movement, as an organization, as a party. They fear what it is i may say, because they say it so much to me over the phone and in person, they fear i may rile up the youth with some kind of subversive rhetoric. So that no doubt is one of their fears.
Question: i understand that you spent four years in a control unit at Pelican Bay State Prison. Can you tell us what that’s like?
i spent four years in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay. i was there not as a result of a rules violation, i was there not as a result of anything i had done physically prior to being put there. i was put there primarily because of the politics i stress, i live by. i was deemed a threat to institutional security, i was kept in a control unit, in a cell for 24 hours a day, that includes environmental, social and sensory deprivation. The control unit was pretty much a unit that houses people who exemplify the radical or nontraditional, in the American sense, politics. While there were some criminals there, the majority of people who were there were there as a result of politics, me being one of them. Anyone who asserted themselves politically, consciously, about the exploitation of prisoners or the oppression and genocidal cracking down of nationals, oppressed people, then they tend to be candidates for control units. Pelican Bay is no different than Westville, the control complex at Westville, Indiana, or the MCU at Trenton State or Florence, or previously Marion.
The control unit is to control revolutionary attitudes like the warden once said at Marion. So Pelican Bay as a control unit has worked in one sense and, of course, it has failed in another. It has worked in the sense that it socially isolates politically conscious cats and prevents us from being out among the general population where We can agitate, educate and organize. But in another sense it has concentrated those politically active people in one particular place where We still have communication and We still can let the drums beat, and communicate and vibe and create dialogue and hopefully avenues to rebuild the New Afrikan Independence Movement in correlation with other movements and other organizations with whom We share an identity.
Question: Can you explain the reason behind the proliferation of the control units?
The proliferation of the control units is all in response to the rising consciousness amongst prisoners, or should i say a rerising consciousness, because the prisoners, as comrade George once said, prisoners have ample amounts of time to sit and read, to write, to articulate, to vibe on certain issues that people in society don’t have because of full schedules. This is not to say that prisoners don’t have full schedules, but there’s just more time, and so when you have conscious revolutionaries out amongst people in general population, you have a problem, because there is so much exploitation, workwise, racist abuse by pigs and there is the parasitical prison element which conscious revolutionaries must deal with. You have prisoner organizations that wish to dominate things.
So the control unit and the proliferation of such, is to get those individuals off the general population, out of the mainline, those with identified leadership qualities, politically conscious cats, those who have exhibited jailhouse lawyer potential to help with litigation and to stop repressive tactics like racist repression and genocidal violence. So the proliferation of control units is in response to our potential and things that We have done and they feel that We can do if We ever get ourselves together. And that’s why control units, with Pelican Bay being the flagship of a lot of control units, are proliferating from one end of the empire to the next. Control units are definitely intended to isolate those they deem a threat, to make people believe they are incorrigible, because there are no educational, vocational or religious programs in the hole. One is just locked in 23, 22 1/2 hours a day and left alone. Windowless cells, low ceilings, walk-alone yards, it’s just a technique to try and break the prisoner down and make him or her believe that nothing is possible.
However, the revolutionary spirit continually rises above that, and if one is firm and can remain firm, then one can live through that. However, there are instances where individuals’ minds have been broken as a consequence of the social, environmental and sensory deprivation of places like Pelican Bay. The proliferation of control units in a nutshell is primarily to isolate individuals physically, monitor individuals through surveillance of mail and visits, to cosmetically remove what they deem a problem, and have this out of sight, out of mind thing. Because the revolutionary spirit cannot be isolated, cannot be destroyed, cannot be killed by control units, but they figure if they can lock us away, away from general population and those We need to mingle with, the cadres will have a harder time getting to the population, so that’s actually what that’s about, and that’s why there’s been a proliferation.
Question: How did you become a New Afrikan Nationalist?
i was initially of course a criminal. i belonged to a street organization. i grew up in South Central and i was captured in 1984 for a crime committed against other New Afrikan people in which a gun battle was the result and some people were wounded. i was put in the hole at San Quentin for 28 months and it was there that i was turned onto the new New Afrikan Independence Movement in general, and the Spear and Shield Collective in particular. i pledged my allegiance then to the independence of the nation, to the New Afrikan ideology, the theory and philosophy of Spear and Shield Collective, and i continued to transform through study and struggle my mentality from criminality to revolutionary nationalism. And i struggled in concert with the brothers who were there, who were conscious, who felt a need to, and the obligation to, raise up cats like myself. So i became a conscious New African citizen in ’86, 21 years after the death of Malcolm X, through an invitation by revolutionary brothers who felt that i had the potential to represent the nation, the organization and brothers and sisters at large. So i became a New African nationalist from the heart, because that’s where a revolution begins, from the mind, from the people, and i have been struggling ever since, consciously.
Question: What is needed to make the New Afrikan Independence Movement more popular today?
Well, the popularity of any movement depends primarily upon the practice of cadre in conjunction with people. And so in order to root ourselves, to make the movement more viable or more inclusive for massive amounts of New Afrikan people, we are going to need to first and foremost get our theory, our philosophy and our ideology in tact. Once cadre have that, overstanding the necessity of these three indispensable components of any revolutionary movement, then they will, or We will, be able to go out among the people and disseminate our particular philosophy through our theory and ideology.
We must have a class-based criteria not just for recruitment but association, overstanding however that the New Afrikan proletariat is a vast amount of people and if We recruit and mingle and deal on a level that is conducive to our struggle, meaning the working class, We will have better results. However, this does not negate the fact that We need to be popular among all classes of New Afrikans, and not just the working class, but primarily the working class, but We also need to have groups in every particular strata of the New Afrikan population. We popularize the movement through practice because this is what people overstand, immediate needs, immediate things that they can see results on hand. People want to feel safe. People don’t want to be held hostages in their homes, either by criminals or pigs, by unjust laws or genocidal tactics whether they’re perpetrated by whomever.
So to popularize the New African Independence Movement, We’re going to have to do leg work. We’re going to have to go to people wherever they are and deal with the people. It’s the old adage, from the masses to the masses. That’s a true axiom. Nothing could ever be closer to the truth and that’s the reality of our situation, that’s what we must do, and the people as cadres, revolutionaries, it’s our obligation. No movement has ever won its struggle unless it was truly popular. And this is what We have to do. Popularize the New Afrikan Independence Movement in every particular age group, every particular strata, every situation our people find themselves in, whether it’s in prison or in college, whether Morehouse or Pelican Bay, Florence or Alcorn State, whether it’s at DePaul or Juvenile Hall or in the Board Room, We must reach New African people, primarily the working class.
The whole issue of political prisoners and prisoners of war strikes terror in the beast, in the state, in the empire and the imperialists. Comrade George Jackson was a common criminal, a thief on the street, and was captured at the age of 18 and transformed his criminal mentality over an 11 year period to be a revolutionary, to be a representative of working class people. He eventually became a Black Panther and a prisoner of war as a consequence of the struggle that was going on in the prisons at that particular time and at large. Comrade brother Fred Hampton, another brother who was a Panther, who was also murdered, assassinated much like Comrade George Jackson, as a response to the seriousness of what they represented. Fred himself was put in prison because they said he stole ice cream and distributed it among children, $70 worth of ice cream. He was sentenced to three years in prison and in fact he was murdered while he was out on bail. But this is the same thing We’re talking about.
Brother Malcolm X went to prison a common criminal and transformed his mentality while he was in prison and came out a new man of whom we know today as El Hajj Malik el Shabazz or Malcolm X. Prisoners have the capacity, the ability, like anyone else, to transform themselves to become productive, conscious revolutionaries who, by any means necessary, will struggle to the death like any other person. And this is what the state fears.
So to sum it up and to end it all, for this particular segment, We must support our prisoners of war, our political prisoners and all conscious people who are involved in our movement, in our organization, in our nation. Otherwise the beast will step in with surrogate programs and turn people against us. With that i just want to say Rebuild! Free the Land! Free all New Afrikan Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War! August Third Collective NAPLA/NAIM