Blog #46: What is a Political Prisoner?

We begin with an understanding that the U.S. Corporate Government does not recognize the existence of political prisoners. That is because all dissenters of racism and capitalist-imperialism are prosecuted in criminal courts. As a result, subject to the criminal code of persecution, anyone convicted in those courts are considered criminals subject to the laws of the jurisdiction of prosecution. And here lies the problem; despite our understanding that dissenters are primarily engaged in struggle for socio-economic and political change, in as much as ideological opposition to the status quo, we’ve yet to persuade a significant number of people to not only recognize the existence of but to support our political prisoners. In as much the question is what are political prisoners, it is important to first consider why political prisoners would exist. To answer this question, I could go as far back as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which states:

“ . . . We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness...”.

I proclaim these words of July 4, 1776, immortalized as the determinative foundation for the existence of today’s political prisoners. If anyone doubts the significance of these words, and the intent of the so-called “Founding Fathers” of this now Corporate Government (despite many of them being slave holders), then, in my opinion, you have been severely duped. So, here we are in a continuing (r)evolutionary process to realize the true meaning of these words as a living mantra of a revolutionary experiment identified as the U.S. of A.

Therefore, it can be argued that American dissenters seek to manifest and realize the American mantra. Although they may voice their dissent in different languages, the heart of their dissent is codified in the Declaration of Independence.

This country’s history from its inception has been one of continuous turmoil, wars, insurrections and revolutionary initiatives to manifest people’s pursuit of happiness. Obviously, the system of capitalism creates class divisions and racism exacerbates these divisions ensuring conflict—in the dialectical unity and struggle of opposites. These conflicts are inherent in the nature of this system of government. By virtue of the nature of this system, logically and rationally, the system creates dissenters. For those who are anti-racist, anti-capitalist imperialism, and the varied minutiae of the many manifestations of such socio-economic and political conditions, they are subject to be persecuted by the U.S. Corporate Government.

Before anti-Vietnam war activists broke into a FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania and subsequently discovered the COINTELPRO documents, there was a period in this country where anyone professing to be a Communist were blacklisted and some put in jail for failing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. These ideological struggles of competing socio-economic interests served to enhance class conflicts as to who is and is not a true American patriot. This period, known as McCarthyism, was ruthless and created animosity among friends and families; such actions by HUAC were VIRULENTLY supported by J. Edgar Hoover, who declared Communists “The Red Menace.”

Today, the identity of America continues to be debated as right-wing conservatives seek to “purify” the moral and racial identity of America. They proclaim the “Founding Fathers” never imagined a multi-racial and multi-religious America. Of course, those who dissent and oppose what is now identified as Alt-Right politics are generally fighting against age-old ideals of white supremacy that forced the U.S. into a civil war. The slavocracy of the Confederacy believed themselves to beholden to no one other than a single white nationalist determination. Naturally, those who oppose white supremacy in all of its variant forms have commonly been accosted as dissenters. The U.S. Corporate Government has never supported dissenters of white supremacy until they are forced to do so by a mass movement. And, when forced to do, the Government reluctantly seeks to appease dissent, not deal with institutional or structural systems of racial and/or economic societal oppressions and divisions. The struggle against Jim Crow segregation is a case in point of the Government being forced to institute reforms and appease a “mass” civil rights movement. In fact, Black freedom has never been a given; it has always and continues to be fought for and must be maintained in a struggle.

For example, on March 9, 1968, J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI, issued a COINTELPRO memorandum that stated:

“Any negro youth or moderate who succumbs to revolutionary teachings, will be dead revolutionaries.”

It must be understood that FBI COINTELPRO did not begin with the Government’s efforts to destroy the Black Panther Party. However, COINTELPRO actions were directed more at the BPP than any other target of the FBI. Of the 394 “black bag operations” and other illegal activities by the FBI COINTELPRO from 1967 to 1970, over 300 were directed specifically at the BPP, leading to approximately 33 Panthers being killed. In essence, the FBI COINTELPRO applied every method and tactic this U.S. Corporate Government uses to destabilize a country to destroy the BPP.

Given this deliberately brief synopsis of the history of dissent in this country, we must come to terms with identifying those who are captured and imprisoned for their dissent. In 1977, while in San Quentin prison, I initiated a national prisoners campaign to petition the U.N. on the existence of U.S. political prisoners and prison conditions, One of the successful occurrences during that overall campaign is that a journalist asked then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Andrew Young were there political prisoners in the U.S. Ambassador Young responded “perhaps thousands” and for that admission, then President Jimmy Carter fired Andrew Young from his post. This is shared because, in 2017, former President Jimmy Carter wrote a letter to then President Obama, urging Obama to grant clemency to FALN political prisoner of war Oscar López Rivera. The irony of this event should not be lost on anyone, particularly those of us who continue to languish in prison 30-50 years.

Many of us were contemporaries of Nelson Mandela in his fight opposing Apartheid, while we fought against the institution of Jim Crow segregation. While Nelson Mandela was recognized around the world for his political internment, there is a collective failure to recognize and give honor to our courageous revolutionaries and freedom fighters. In my book, “We Are Our Own Liberators” in the chapter “A Case Against United States Domestic (neo)Colonialism”, a detailed and legally established definition of political prisoners and political prisoners of war is presented. Suffice it to say that all those who have dissented and opposed white supremacy in all of its manifestations, socio-economic oppression, and racist police repressions at that point of dissent, and are imprisoned, are identified as political prisoners.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” he was announcing himself, and all those who were engaged in that struggle, as a political prisoner, which is a point in reference to Andrew Young’s affirming perhaps there are thousands of political prisoners.

However, it is extremely important to delineate between those incarcerated for crimes of self-aggrandizement and economic survival and those who consciously fight the system of racist oppression. While we can agree that the system is exploitative, racist and divisive, our conscious response to such socio-economic and political realities must be analyzed and understood.

For example, a drug dealer or sex trafficker by no sense of the imagination would be considered a revolutionary, progressive or, when imprisoned, a political prisoner. His/her relationship to the system of racist capitalist oppression is reactionary and detrimental to the general welfare of the social order. Similarly, those engaged in other criminal economic pursuits, in spite of having no direct control of the socio-economic or political environment in which they must eke out an existence, are still manifesting behavior destructive to the overall revolutionary determination. These lumpen-proletarians are for the most part reactionary and a detriment to the struggle. It is only when they are educated and conscious of how their negative actions serve to preserve the system of repression that the potential exists for them to evolve toward a revolutionary posture and practice. This is especially important as it pertains to those engaged in street organizations, which generally prey upon the inhabitants of the oppressed community. Hence, when any of them in prison become politicized, their relationship toward the system of repression becomes a political one. These politicized prisoners forge a conscious political determination of opposition, joining the ranks of political prisoners.

It is extremely important to make this distinction between so-called social prisoners and the politicized prisoners. One is ultimately reactionary and potentially an enemy of the struggle, while the other has become a conscious participant in a revolutionary determination. As for those who are captured and confined for their political dissent, they qualify as political prisoners, and those who committed deliberate acts of rebellion, fighting against the system of racist repression, can be identified as political prisoners of war. Also, if aligned to a politico-military apparatus, they must be given recognition, rights and protections of POW’s under the covenant of Protocols I & II of the Geneva Convention. (see, We Are Our Own Liberators).

Here, I attempted to present a historical reality that Black people, in particular, have been engaged in a struggle for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” since the inception of this country. There is a continuum from Crispus Attucks, to Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser, Nat Turner and John Brown, and Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Queen Mother(s) Moore & Iyaluua Ferguson to Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Asa Phillip Randolph, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Robert Williams and James Farmer to Imari Obadele, Huey Newton, Jonathan and George Jackson, Safiya Asya Bukhari, Assata Shakur, Angela Y. Davis and Yuri Kochiyama. This tradition of resistance is embodied and lives in Romaine Chip Fitzgerald, the longest imprisoned BPP member for nearly 50 years, in Ruchell Cinque Magee, who epitomizes the transition of a social prisoner into a staunch revolutionary political prisoner, being the first to proclaim himself a slave of the state by virtue of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Kevin Rashid Johnson, Sundiata Acoli, Herman Bell, Robert Seth Hayes, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Mumia Abu Jamal, David Gilbert, Tom Manning, Bill Dunne, also Leonard Peltier, Oso Blanco, Xinachtli (Alvaro) Luna Hernandez, Jaan Laaman, and Imam Jamil Al-Amin, to name a few identified as political prisoners of war. This rich history of dissent and resistance imposes on all Americans the need to reflect on the so-called “Founding Fathers” ideal for this country (see above quote).

Hence, in our opposition to racist capitalist-imperialism, we need to realize our collective obligation to preserve this awesome tradition of dissent established in the Declaration of Independence. Our history of resistance opposing this corrupt U.S. Corporate Government demands this of us, and it is our duty to support our political prisoners.

Revolutionary Love & Unity
Jalil A. Muntaqim

Remember: We Are Our Own Liberators!

July 25, 2017
Shawangunk Correctional Facility