Blog #47: The Making of a Movement

I was captured on August 28, 1971, in San Francisco after a car chase and gun battle with San Francisco police. It was alleged that myself and co-defendant Albert Nuh Washington were attempting to avenge the assassination of George L. Jackson, in San Quentin on August 21, 1971. I was convicted for the S.F. shootout, a federal bank robbery, and in 1975 convicted of killing two police officers in New York that occurred on May 21, 1971. This conviction was code named NEWKILL by the FBI in a May 26, 1971, meeting at the White House between J. Edgar Hoover, then-President Richard Nixon, and members of the Watergate plumbers. Having been a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, it was decided in the White House to ensure BPP members are convicted for NEWKILL. Although I was captured for alleged revolutionary-military actions, charged and persecuted in criminal proceedings, the U.S. Corporate Government criminalizes political rebellion.

After my conviction in NYC, I was returned to California to complete the S.F. conviction and sentence. I was placed in San Quentin Adjustment Center, locked on the first floor in a cell between Ruchell Cinque Magee and Charles Manson. The San Quentin Six were locked a few cells away on the same tier. In 1975, I received a newsletter from Yuri Kochiyama, representing the New York City chapter of the National Committee in Defense of Political Prisoners. The newsletter highlighted a call for the United Nations to consider the existence of the US. political prisoners. After reading the newsletter, I drafted a proposal for progressives and activists to assist political prisoners to petition the United Nations on our behalf to call for a formal investigation into our existence and the conditions we suffered in prisons across the country. I showed the draft to Ruchell, who thought it was very good, but suggested I let Geronimo ji gaga Pratt review it. I had the proposal smuggled to the second floor of the Adjustment Center where Geronimo was being held, along with Russell Little and Bill Harris, members of the S.L.A., for his critique. Geronimo tweaked the proposal and sent it back for me to rewrite and send to Yuri and NCDPP to implement.

Unfortunately, after several weeks there was no response from Yuri or NCDPP, so the proposal was abandoned until early 1977. At that time, I met a white guy in San Quentin nicknamed Commie Mike, and I shared the proposal with him. He put me in contact with the United Prisons Union, a prison reform advocacy group in San Francisco. After a meeting with Pat Singer, a leader of UPU, it was agreed UPU would take on the proposal and develop what evolved into the National Prisoners Petition Campaign to the United Nations. Soon thereafter, the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee joined in support of UPU in building the petition campaign to the U.N. We were able to obtain former Amnesty International attorney Kathyrn Burke to assist with the development of the petition to be presented to the United Nations.

By 1978, the campaign had prisoners in 25 States, including Hawaii, supporting the petition. The petition was submitted to the U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and recorded as U.N. document E/CN.4/Sub.2/NG0/75. This was the first time a document concerning the existence of U.S. political prisoners and racist prison conditions had been filed, recorded and heard at the U.N. In 1979, evolving from this initiative, an effort was made to have the International Jurists tour the U.S. and interview political prisoners. After a number of interviews, the International Jurists filed a report to the United Nations affirming political prisoners exist in the United States. Also in 1979, our campaign knew a journalist in Paris would be attending a news conference by U.S. United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young. I was asked were there any specific questions I wanted asked by the journalist, and I said only one, “Do political prisoners exist in the U.S.?”. Ambassador Young answered truthfully, stating “... perhaps thousands,” and for his admission, then-President Jimmy Carter fired Andrew Young from his post. It should be noted, also as part of the overall campaign, Cuba’s President Fidel Castro offered to trade U.S. political prisoners with prisoners in Cuba the U.S. wanted. Unfortunately, because we did not have contacts with the State Department or knew anyone who was willing and capable of intervening in our behalf, that trade did not happen.

Many years later, the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika organized annual marches around the White House, demonstrating and calling for the release of U.S. political prisoners. In 1995, the PG-RNA, for lack of funding and participation, stopped the Jericho marches, which I thought should continue. So, in 1996, I distributed a call for action to reestablish the Jericho marches. Comrades Safiya Asya Bukhari and Herman Ferguson came to visit, decrying they were unable to organize a national Jericho march in a year’s time. In our meeting in the visiting room at Eastern Correctional Facility in NYS, we agreed that a concerted effort would be made to organize the Jericho March for 1998.

Sista Safiya and Baba Herman’s organizing ability was incomparable, initiating the campaign by establishing an organizing committee, a P.O. Box address for communications, and a non-profit tax status to raise funds. They then issued a call for progressives in the left, especially those supporting political prisoners across the country, to join in the organizing initiative. Both Safiya and Herman criss-crossed the country, meeting with activists, explaining the importance of the march and demonstration, letting activists know we have a collective responsibility to support our captured and confined warriors and demand their release/amnesty. Within 2 years, their indomitable spirit and revolutionary determination successfully brought 6,000 activists from across the country to Washington, D.C. for the Jericho March and rally.

After the march and rally, it was decided the momentum from the effort should continue, and the Jericho Amnesty Movement was born. The Jericho Amnesty Movement is charged with the responsibility of supporting and representing the interest of U.S. political prisoners; calling for their release, especially those known to have COINTELPRO convictions. There have been continued initiatives to raise the profile of U.S. political prisoners at the United Nations. In 2016, Jihad Abdulmumit, the current Chairperson of Jericho, made a presentation in Geneva, Switzerland on behalf of U.S. political prisoners. Jihad was a member of the Black Panther Party and BLA and a former political prisoner; he understands this struggle to forge a determination to free U.S. political prisoners.

In 2018, the Jericho Amnesty Movement will reach a milestone of 20 years of actively fighting on behalf of U.S. political prisoners. In these nearly twenty years, Jericho has established a medical committee to assist political prisoners in their health needs; a legal defense committee to assist political prisoners in their legal defenses and challenges; assist families of political prisoners to visit, and continue to fight for their release.

When we consider many of those who were COINTELPRO targets are still in prison, we can agree that Jericho is an important formation bridging the generations from the struggle of the 60’s and 70’s to the millennials. Obviously, for any movement to be sustained, grow and evolve, activists must support their political prisoners. The Black Panther Party was instrumental in developing community organizing and political objectives to be achieved. The Party made people understand the process of fighting the status quo to empower the community. For example, in 1967 the Party started armed patrols of the police, carrying weapons and law books, demanding cops follow the constitution and laws on stop and frisk procedures. This type of public display of challenging police procedures encouraged folks on the streets to recognize the police weren’t all powerful or omnipotent. This was the primary reason the FBI COINTELPRO launched over 300 attacks against the BPP. In fact, the FBI employed every tactic used to destabilize a country in order to destroy the Black Panther Party. This includes illegal surveillance, infiltration, provocateurs, burglarizing offices and homes, stops and frisks, illegal arrests, poison pen letters, misinformation in the media, snitch jacketing, and assassinations. Indeed, on March 9, 1968, J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the F.B.I., issued a COINTELPRO memorandum that stated in part:

“The Negro youth and moderate must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries.”

It must be understood that the FBI COINTELPRO did not begin with the U.S. Corporate Government’s efforts to destroy the Black Panther Party, and “...to prevent the rise of a Black Messiah”. However, the FBI COINTELPRO illegal, unconstitutional activities from 1967 to 1970 resulted in the death of approximately 33 Panthers.

Despite the attacks on the BPP, the youth flocked to the Party, especially after 1967 when Bobby Seale and twenty-six armed Panthers entered the California legislature protesting hearings on gun control. This action captured the imagination of young Black youths across the country that the fight for revolution was here. The subsequent passing of the Milford Act made it illegal for Panthers to publicly carry weapons while patrolling the police. Also in 1968, membership increased when the Party established its “Serve the People” programs, initiating the free breakfast program for children. In 1969, the first BPP Free Breakfast for Children Program was started at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland; and the Party was distributing and selling 100,000 copies of its newspaper, “The Black Panther” weekly. By 1968, the BPP had established thirty-eight branches and chapters with five thousand members. It was the indomitable spirit of these thousands of young people dedicating themselves to the Party and continuing the struggle for freedom and equality that began from the time when New Afrikans were brought to this country as slaves. Hence, when Willie Ricks and Stokely Carmichael proclaimed our struggle was for “Black Power,” it ignited a political cataclysmic storm of youthful energy for freedom. However, the Black Panther Party Ten Point Platform and Program manifested that declaration in the pragmatic development of programs on behalf of our people. It is this legacy of resistance and fight-back that Jericho incorporates, as lessons learned from the BPP.

I was one of those thousands of young people who, at 16 years of age, first signed up to become a Panther; at 18 years old I was recruited into the Black underground. A little more than a month before my 20th birthday I was captured, and am now one of the longest held political prisoners in the world. With 46 years in prison, I continue to seek ways to contribute to the overall struggle. The writing of my books, “We Are Our Own Liberators” and “Escaping the Prism—Fade to Black” is part of giving back to this generation of activists. It is necessary to ensure the continuum from one generation to the next, and it is incumbent on each generation to support political prisoners who paved the way, passing the torch of revolution.

In this regard, recently the Jericho Amnesty Movement embarked on a new national and international campaign to persuade the U.N. International Jurists to initiate a formal investigation on human rights abuses of U.S. political prisoners. To further demand the U.S. Corporate Government implement the U.N. Minimum Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners, and for the immediate release of our political prisoners. This especially calls for the release of those with COINTELPRO convictions who have languished in prison for 30 to 50 years. These political prisoners were contemporaries of Nelson Mandela; when he was fighting against Apartheid in South Afrika, they were fighting against Jim Crow segregation and second-class citizenship in the U.S. This Jericho campaign motto is “In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela” and activists across the country are urged to join and support in whatever way they are able in political solidarity toward the building of the National Coalition for the Human Rights of Political Prisoners. For more information on this campaign or on the existence of U. S. political prisoners, contact: www.thejerichomovement.com or email jihadabdulmumit@gmail.com

About the writer: Jalil Abdul Muntaqim (ANTHONY BOTTOM) is one of the longest held political prisoners in the world. He is the author of “We Are Our Own Liberators,” a compilation of prison writings. Many of his essays have been published in scholastic anthologies such as “Schooling a Generation,” ed. Chiasole (2002); “The New Abolitionist: (Neo) Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prisoners Writings,” ed. Joy James (2005); “This Country Must Change,” ed. Craig Rosenbraugh (2009); Jalil’s articles have appeared in NYC Amsterdam News, the San Francisco BayView newspapers, and many progressive publications. His most recent book, “Escaping the Prison—Fade to Black,” a compilation of poems and essays with an extensive Afterword by Prof. Ward Churchill, published by Kersplebedeb Pub. & Dist., in Canada, can be purchased on Amazon.com and from AK Press. Jalil is the co-founder of the Jericho Amnesty Movement. For more information on Jalil’s NEWKILL conviction and fight for parole, check: http://www.freejalil.com.