PART 2 OF 3PEN AWARD ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
ON A MOVE. My most heartfelt thanks to the chair, judges, and membership of PEN Oakland for this remarkable award. I accept it in the spirit in which Live from Death Row was written, on behalf of the damned and the oppressed. Those, to borrow Professor Derrick Bell's apt phrase, who are but "voices from the bottom of the well."
Let us not accept the soft and easy logic that these people are voiceless. No, rather it is perhaps truer that their voices are ignored by most of the white supremacist media. They are not voiceless in the hell of Huntington prison's B block; there was not silence but the cacophony of chaos -- the rage of people entombed in a torture chamber, and the bellows of madness. Their voices ring to the very vaults of heaven for a distant taste of justice. Those are the voices that fill the pages of Live from Death Row, and it is in their name that I am honored to accept this award.
For Black Manny, who was almost killed by a prison doctor. For Solo, acquitted in a courtroom yet condemned by a kangaroo court of venal prison officials. Chuck Africa, the MOVE political prisoner, attacked, chained, and exported to out-of-state dungeons in the aftermath of the Camp Hill riots of 1989. The valiant sisters and brothers of the Black Panther Party of the past and the MOVE of the present; their voices filled my ear during my sojourn through hell and charged my pen with the ancient African spirit of resistance, that stuff seeded in us by our ancestors.
Several months after Live's publication, Pennsylvania officials charged me with violating rules against operating a business or profession -- the profession of journalism. When I tried to explain that this was a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and several provisions in the Pennsylvania constitution, well, the hearing examiner rejected the argument, saying that it had nothing to do with rights. She spelled it r-i-t-e- s. The prison official convicted and sentenced me to thirty days in the hole, despite the fact that as I was under a death warrant I had less than ninety days to live. It took one of their courts to explain their constitutions to them, several years later. To explain what the First Amendment means.
See, for them, and indeed for most folks in America, the First Amendment is a rite; it is something locked away under glass, a relic that one dusts off every once in a while, to which we give the empty ritual of lip service. Live from Death Row challenged that lie, and proved that a right ain't a right if one can be punished for exercising it.
So I thank you all at PEN Oakland for this award, coming as it does from a group such as yours, a group of distinguished and accomplished writers and journalists who know the crucial difference between a r-i-t-e and a r-i-g-h-t. To paraphrase that old and wonderful slogan that began over thirty years ago in your town of Oakland, I promise to -- This call is coming from a correctional facility -- ah, write on! On a MOVE, long live John Africa's revolution. Freedom is our right and destiny.
Still live from death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.ABSENCE OF POWER
A WOMAN WORKING to feed the homeless gets involved in a confrontation with transit cops down in a major metropolitan subway. She is accosted, manhandled, thrown to the ground, and held under restraint. Another woman has her window shattered by the highway patrol when she doesn't move her car fast enough nor open her window on command. She is seized, handcuffed, and arrested.
The first woman described here, in addition to being a political leader in her own right, is the wife of a U.S. congressman. The second, a prominent professional, is the wife of a Pennsylvania state representative. Both women are African-American.
Although charges were later dropped against these women, the very fact that they were treated so crudely, despite their prominence and influence, makes one wonder about how cruelly people without such influence are treated by agents of the state.
The two events just described actually occurred in Philadelphia in 1993. The first involved Philadelphia city councilwoman Mrs. Jannie Blackwell, the wife of freshman U.S. Democratic representative Lucien Blackwell. The second involved a leading Philadelphia black lawyer, Mrs. Renee Hughes, past president of the prestigious Barristers Association (local affiliate of the National Bar Association) and wife of State Representative Vincent Hughes of the 170th District. That both cases were administratively "resolved" is of less importance than that the incidents occurred at all. Indeed, such incidents are but daily occurrences in the lives of black men and women in America, regardless of their station in life.
That cops can treat people so shabbily, indeed the very people who literally pay their salaries and set their operating budgets, gives a grim glimmer of life at the social, economic, political bottom, where people have no influence, no clout, no voice.
These cases reveal the cold contempt in which black men and women are held by white cops, even when those black men and women are in positions of state power. In truth, any control is illusory, and as totally evanescent as power itself Police are out of control. Black politicians are out of power. When these events occur, we can only conclude that when this can happen to them, what of us?
If people can watch the massacre of MOVE people on May 13, 1985, as police firebombed MOVE headquarters, or the ATF/FBI ramming and destruction of the Koreshians of Waco, Texas, in April 1993, and still claim the police are under control, then nothing said here will convince them.
The police are agents of white, ruling-class, capitalist will -- period. Neither black managers nor black politicians can change that reality. The people themselves must organize for their own defense, or it won't get done.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.A CRISIS IN BLACK LEADERSHIP
THE EMERGENCE OF black political and institutional leaders in America presages a crisis of confidence. Black mayors, black city executives, black legislators, and black police officials are more numerous now than at any time since the Reconstruction era.
This should be an African-American renaissance. Why then is African- American community life at such a low ebb? Why are black U.S. communities gripped in such obvious decline? Why are our people sinking in whirlpools of utter despair?
African people, U.S.-born blacks, are in such a vile condition. For reasons of length, only one will be here addressed -- the critical crisis of confidence in black leadership.
Initially, it must be recognized that far too many of today's black leaders are but carbon copies of the greater American political structure -- in essence, politicians in blackface. They're trained by white peers to master the "art" of politics; black pols all too often mimic their trainers, rather than creatively acting to address the actual issues facing their black constituency.
In short, they do not dare do what the times demand -- they do not lead! A look at America's big cities often shows black police officials who sit at the helm of largely white departments, with racist, murderous attacks against Mricans, by those police, growing in intensity! The recent history of the NYPO, with the shotgunning of black grandmothers, the garroting of black youth, antiblack "intelligence" and infiltration squads, all under the "leadership" of the black police commissioner, speaks volumes on this point.
Black mayors sit in splendor over cities with inner cities in utter, naked squalor. The poor, who traditionally have spent their last hopes in voting for black mayors, are given mere promises; the wealthy, major manufacturers are given tax breaks. Something is critically, violently wrong.
What is wrong? Is it that blacks have fallen victim to the shell game of color, the three-card monte of complexion?
We must examine the actions of black leaders: whose interests do they serve? When a black pol sits in silence while repressive legislation is being enacted, whose interests does he serve? When a black police official allows racist death squads to eliminate black life with impunity, whose interests does he serve?
When a black mayor wins office on black votes and then ignores their economic and social needs while fawning over big-business needs, whose interests does he serve?
All of today's black "leaders" owe their positions to the expressions of black discontent, rage, riot, and rebellion made by the nameless black many who took to the streets in the 1960s. There would not be black mayors, black police chiefs, black salons, black journalists, unless the black angry masses had not pounded on the closed, shuttered door of opportunity. They cracked them, only so slightly, to appease the angry black throng, and quiet the ripples of discontent.
Today, those who benefited from this Age of Rage have turned their backs on those who made it possible, and embraced the class interests of their oppressors.
It's past time for blacks to expose and work to remove these traitors in blackface.
It's time for this modern-day minstrel's dance to end, and for the people to choose their true leadership.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.LIBERTY DENIED IN ITS CRADLE
All men have a natural and indivisible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences.... No human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.
-- FROM THE PENNSYLVANIA CONSTITUTION, ART. I, SECT. 3, CALLED THE "DECLARATION OF RIGHTS."
MORE THAN ANY OTHER American state, Pennsylvania was born of the ancient longing for religious liberty by Europe's oppressed. Pennsylvania's founding citizen, William Penn, a member of the then-persecuted sect the Quakers, made specific provisions in his frame of government, the Charter of Liberties, for freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion in Article 35.
This charter dates from 1682, almost a century before the founding of the United States of America, and well over a hundred years before the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was ratified, in 1791.
More than any other state then, Pennsylvania should be the haven of those seeking freedom of faith.
Three centuries later, nothing could be further from the truth.
The rock upon which this illusion was shattered was (and is) the MOVE organization, which embraces the teachings of John Africa, its founder. For them, every right -- the right to religious liberty, the right to self-representation, the right to freedom of association, and most important, the fundamental right to life itself -- is denied.
What is liberty of conscience? The lawyer's bible, Black's Law Dictionary, defines it thus: "Liberty for each individual to decide for himself what is to him religious." [v]
For MOVE folks, this meant that John Africa's teaching, Natural Law, was for them a religion, indeed the religion that provided solace, direction, and peace in a world tossed by turbulence.
Over fifty years ago, U.S. District Judge Albert Maris provided the definition for liberty of conscience noted above, in Gobitis v. Minersville School District (1937), adding, "no man, even though he be a school director or a judge, is empowered to censor another's religious convictions." Maris, in 1938, was elevated to the bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where he remained for many years, becoming its oldest and longest-sitting appointee, and eventually a senior circuit judge, but his definition would not survive him.
By 1981, in the case Africa v. Pennsylvania, [vi] Maris's benchmates ignored their elder jurist's teaching, and the Third Circuit ruled that the faith of MOVE members was not a religion, as MOVE's nature-based belief did not meet their tests of physical structures, religious hierarchy, and ritual. Thus in Pennsylvania, to which three centuries ago a persecuted sect fled, to establish a state based upon "liberty of conscience," the notion dies.
In the Gobitis case, then district judge Maris noted why such "liberty" was necessary to the nation: "To permit public officers to determine whether the views of individuals sincerely held and their acts sincerely undertaken on religious ground are in fact based on convictions religious in character would be to sound the death knell of religious liberty" (Gobitis, p. 584). [vii] To do so, Maris wrote, would be an "alien" and "pernicious" doctrine. In Africa, that "death knell of religious liberty" was sounded. Loudly. With its "religious tests," the court decided MOVE's religion was not a religion, but no judge admitted its opinion was "alien" or "pernicious." In fact, it was not, for there is nothing "alien" in America about the "law" being warped and twisted for political ends, and the Africa decision was nakedly political.
Black antisystematic radicals, from the ancient days of Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser, could find nothing in the law but its lash and the noose. For black rebels like Marcus Garvey and Paul Robeson, the "law" was suspended, and repressive "Black Codes" utilized to deny and restrict.
MOVE then moves in good historic company, and is still "On the Move!"
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.SLAVERY DAZE II
A SPECTER HAUNTS AMERICA'S black communities. Vampirish, it sucks the souls out of black lives, leaving skeletal husks behind, mobile, animated, but emotionally and spiritually dead. This is not the result of a dark Count Drac attack, nor a spell woven by a sinister shaman. It is the direct result of global greed, governmental deception, and the eternal longing of the poor to escape, however briefly, from the crippling shackles of utter poverty.
Their quest for relief is spelled C-R-A-C-K. Crack. Rock. Call it what you will, it is in truth another word for "death" in African-American communities. Harvested in Latin America's Peruvian highlands, treated in jungle labs, "cured" in a chemical bath of ether and kerosene, carried into the U.S.A. by government-hired pilots as a way to pay the fledgling Contras' bills, cocaine comes into Chocolate City, U.S.A., and, transformed into crystalline crack, wreaks havoc on black poor life. Forgotten by the federal government, stigmatized by the state government, shunted aside, ignored, or exploited by city governments, the poor are perceived as problems or ostracized as alien others, beyond the social pale, anything but people who are not provided the basic tools of survival. It is these poor folks, locked in American Bantustans, who have fallen the hardest for crack.
Just as the "Just Say No" generation got down from the political stage, tons of a new potent poison were being peddled in poor sections of town, brought to these shores courtesy of the Iran-Contra funds diversion scheme, as masterminded by that great American hero Honest Ollie North (known as Operation Black Eagle-CIA). Why would the government (the same government that "Just Says No") dare bring cocaine into the States, if not to sell it, to turn it over into lucre, into cold cash? If their intent was to destroy it, this could have easily been done outside the U.S.A. It was not destroyed. I suspect an ulterior motive.
Recent history, back in the radical 1960s, saw a flood of pills, pot, and high-grade heroin into black neighborhoods. Radicals suspected then the malevolent hand of Big Brother opening the floodgates of drugs to drown out the black revolutionary fires of urban resistance. With a hostile U.S. Supreme Court, growing unemployment, a federal government that "kindly" and "gently" turned its back on the homeless, police forces marauding like Green Berets over inner cities, African-American resistance seems a likely response.
Open the floodgates, again -- this time with a potent, mind-sucking, soul-ripping poison that takes utter priority over all else. The natural instinct of motherhood melts into mud next to the pangs of the crack attack.
Babies are being sold, and mothers sell themselves, in homage to the plastic vial.
Homes disintegrate into New Age caves under the spell of the 'caine. Families fall apart, as fathers are herded into newly built prisons and mothers haunt ho-strolls, all in an infernal lust for that sweet, deadly poison.
There is a precedent for such a diabolical scheme in U.S. history. How many Native "American" communities and tribes were devastated by the European introduction of "firewater" -- that is, alcohol, rum etc. -- into the tribal diet, and indeed wiped out?
This is a dire hour for Africans in the United States.
Will we survive this plague?
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.MEMORIES OF HUEY
THERE WAS A TIME when the name of Huey P. Newton was known from coast ro coast. It is a measure of changing times that for many of the young, teens and pre-teens alike, a question about him will elicit yet another question: "Huey who?"
The answer is a complex matter, for there was more than one Huey. He was a remarkable man, both at his apex, as Founder and Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, and at his nadir, as an alienated drug addict, caught in the crippling clutches of crack.
At his best, he was a youth of rare brilliance, who molded mass militance into a national black political movement that lit an age into radical incandescence.
At his worst, Huey's later life was a tale of a dream deferred; a bright, shining moment in African-American life, transformed with time into the bitter ashes of defeat. It came about, in large part, through a campaign of U.S. government terror that included bloody police raids on Black Panther Party offices across the country, and urban spycraft; COINTELPRO, the infamous FBI Counter Intelligence Program, wreaked sinister havoc on the lives of countless militants in America's black, brown, red, yellow, and working- class communities. To COINTELPRO, not even Huey was immune.
An early outbreak of violence between L.A.'s U.S. Organization [viii] and the L.A. Panther chapter was spawned, COINTELPRO files now reveal, by a government campaign of "dirty mail," forged letters from one group to the other threatening mutual violence.
The violence East Coast/West Coast party split, files now show, was whipped up by FBI-employed agents-provocateurs, whose sole function was to sow dissent in Panther ranks, leading again to internecine warfare -- Panther against Panther.
On the positive side, Huey's contributions to the Black Liberation Movement were immense.
The BPp' in large part due to Huey's global influence, established in the early 1970s an Intercommunal Section Headquarters for the Party, which was, in essence, Black Americas first, and only, independent embassy, on foreign (in this case, North African) soil. The BPP newspaper, which Huey called "the lifeblood of the Party," was a truly independent voice of working-class Black America, which spoke its own rich, distinctive, street language. Huey called a pig a "pig," and the paper depicted them, snout and all.
Above all, Huey, with his natural good looks, his winning heart, and that aggravatingly high, nasal, twangy Southern voice of his, was a man beloved by millions of blacks, Panther or no.
A one-time field marshal, D.C., once said of him, "Huey is the only man who could walk across America, and black folks would follow him, from coast to coast."
Once, his observation was quite true.
But in later years that would no longer be the case. The Party, beset by destructive forces, within and without, paranoid and real, lost its moorings, as the man who formed the organization lost his. In one dizzying year of indecision, he went from Defense Minister, to Supreme Commander, to Supreme Servant, to Servant, a reflection of the influences of his travel abroad, especially to North Korea.
And when the Party fell apart, burst asunder by the political and personal strains that beseiged it, he was an integral part of that process, as drugs continued to sap his brilliance and destroy his vision. It is one of the supreme ironies of life that the hand that would strike him down would be a black one, in a midnight quarrel over drug money and debts owed. His lifelong fascination with the seamier side of the streets of his youth became, in the end, a fatal attraction.
The irony is exacerbated when we learn that the man who slew Huey was a member of the Black Guerilla Family, a prison-based offshoot of the BPP; that as a youth, he ate his breakfast at one of the Bay Area Black Panther Party Community Free Breakfast Programs; and now, as a man serving a life term at the Pelican Bay SHU, has had the opportunity to read the writings of Newton, and has become inspired by the words of the man he murdered. [ix] Perhaps it is testament to the clarity and power of Huey's revolutionary example and ideas, that such a one who took his life, has become, in his own way, a devotee.
Huey stood up, virtually alone, in that dark hour, against the armed might of the Beast and survived. In doing so he set an extraordinary example. How he died was direst tragedy; how he lived was utterly remarkable.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.TO WAR! FOR EMPIRE!
"HISTORY," black militant activist Malcolm X once noted, "is best suited to reward our research."
The fiery leader's axiom leapt to mind recently when I read of the growing antiwar positions taken by Vietnam veterans.
It is a fixture in the public mind that vets from the Vietnam War were somehow "different" from veterans in other wars. For quite a few years the term "Vietnam vet" became a curse, a coded suggestion that the subject was somehow "off." According to the myth, vets of other, earlier wars were warmly embraced by society upon return.
Such a notion has fueled many a Ramboid fantasy. Like most fantasies, it is false.
Back during the Great Depression, around 1932, veterans of World War I converged on Washington, as part of a massive march and demonstration against the U.S. government policy of issuing "bonus certificates" due for cash payments, years in the future. Those at the Bonus Army March on Washington demanded Congress pay the vets off now, when money for survival was desperately needed.
They came, by the thousands, to personally petition their government, on whose behalf they had so recently fought the "Great War," for payment due them, to fight hard times.
Over twenty thousand people, men, wives and children, encamped in the area around the White House, and other federal buildings to push the demonstration for "payment now, not later." The House of Representatives passed the bill, but it was defeated in the Senate, and some vets, discouraged, left. Most, however, lived in tents, lean-tos, and cardboard boxes, and they stayed.
President Hoover issued eviction orders to the army, and as historian and present-day antiwar activist Howard Zinn details in his remarkable People's History of the United States:
Four troops of cavalry, four companies of infantry, a machine gun squadron, and six tanks assembled near the White House. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the operation, Major Dwight Eisenhower his aide. George s. Patton was one of the officers. MacArthur led his troops down Pennsylvania Avenue, used tear gas to clear veterans out of the old buildings, and set the buildings on fire. Then the Army moved across the bridge to Anacosta. Thousands of veterans, wives, children began to run as the tear gas spread. The soldiers set fire to some of the huts, and soon the whole encampment was ablaze. When it was allover, two veterans had been shot to death, an eleven-week-old baby had died, an eight-year-old boy was partially blinded by gas, two police had fractured skulls, and a thousand veterans were injured by gas. (382)
The government's martial response to veterans who dared demand prompt payment puts the very real grievances of Vietnam's vets into a certain perspective. Rarely has history provided a better illustration of how soldiers serve government, but commanders of soldiers serve the ruling elite.
After the smoke has settled from the megabombing of Baghdad, and soldiers, their tour of duty ended, return to U.S. cities, they will find urban nightmares even worse than they left, full to the bitter brim with blight, homelessness, joblessness, and aching hopelessness.
Who will reconstruct the bombed-out neighborhoods of the South Bronx, of Brownsville, of North Philly, of Harlem?
Once more, a generation returns from war. Once more, a generation returns, after a war for empire, to emptiness.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.CAPTURE HIM, BEAT HIM, AND TREAT HIM LIKE DIRT
IN THE SPRAWLING OUTSIZED metropolis that is Los Angeles, a jackbooted army of alleged "civil servants" treat the civilians they are charged with serving with ill-disguised contempt.
In the privacy of their patrol cars, city police tap out brief messages on laptop computers, unit-to-unit communications of seething hatred for many of the people they are sworn to protect.
The revelations of the Christopher Commission [x] reveal the mentality behind the badge in L.A.:
"If you encounter these Negroes, shoot first and ask questions later."
Or, "I would love to drive down Slauson [a minority street] with a flamethrower -- we could have barbecue."
Or, "Capture him, beat him, and treat him like dirt. After I beat him, what do I book him for?"
Or, "Hi. Just got some Mexercise for the night."
Or, "Sounds like monkey-slapping time."
Or "Did you arrest the eighty-five-year-old lady, or just beat her up?"
"We just slapped her around a bit. She's getting MT [medical treatment] right now."
Cop-generated slurs of this ilk continue for pages. To many African Americans and Chicanos in southern California, the tone and tenor of these once-secret communications evoke a sense more of confirmation than of surprise.
The liberal clamor for Police Chief Darryl Gates's resignation is a reflection of the limits of liberalism and its dependence on symbol over substance, for the departure of Gates changes not one iota the palpable aura of hatred that radiates from the rank and file of the LAPD.
All of the Christopher Commission reforms, if implemented this very instant, would do naught to purge the pervasive taint of militaristic mania that dominates the LAPD and many similar bodies nationwide.
The big-city elites will scrub a few faces, sacrifice a few scapegoats, publish reports, memorandums, etc., ad infinitum, but in the end they will change nothing. For the function of the police is not to protect the people, but to protect the system and its elite. If this need be done by alienating the black, the brown, the poor, the homeless, well, them's the breaks. For none of these groups wield state power.
I suggest you carefully listen again to the cryptic remarks noted above:
"Capture him, beat him, and treat him like dirt. After I beat him, what do I book him for?"
If you listen closely enough, you may hear yourself.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.THE LOST GENERATION?
RECENT PUBLISHED REPORTS have lamented the fact that Mro-American youth are remarkably resistant and virtually unresponsive to traditional, big-name public relations and big-time sports figures when the major media attempts to communicate with younger blacks. The study found deep and profound alienation among youth, and a fundamental streak of fatalism about the promise of tomorrow -- a sense that "tomorrow may not come, so let's live today."
The youth, while they view large blocks of TV, perceive it from the position of outsiders, knowing that the dramas, comedies, and news programs are not designed for their consumption. Only the urbo-tech musical form known as rap touches them, for it is born of urban youth consciousness and speaks to them, in their idiom, about lives lived on the marginalia. It is this profound disassociation that forced members of the nouveau middle-class blacks to lament the youth as "the lost generation."
But are they really "lost," and, if so, to whom?
The Martinican black revolutionary Frantz Fanon [xi] once opined that every generation must find its destiny, fulfill it, or betray it.
In my father's generation, southern-born of the late 1890s, their destiny was to move their families north, to lands with a promise of a better life away from our hateful homelands in Dixie. The dreams of that generation, sparked by visions of new homes, better education, new cars, and prosperity, were in relative terms realized by some, but northbound Africans were never able to outrun the stigma of racism.
By the time the 1950s and '60s generation came of age, during the Nixon-Reagan-Bush eras, race once again defined the limits of black aspirations, and with the shifting of manufacturing jobs back down south and abroad, so went dreams of relative prosperity. The children of this generation -- born into sobering poverty amid shimmering opulence, their minds weaned on Falcon Crestian TV excess while locked in want, watching while sinister politicians spit on their very existence -- these youth are the hiphop/ rap generation.
Locked out of the legal means of material survival, looked down upon by predatory politicians and police, left with the least relevant educational opportunities, talked at with contempt and not talked to with love -- is there any question why such youth are alienated? Why the surprise?
They look at the lives they live and see not "civil rights progress," but a drumbeat of civil repression by a state at war with their dreams.
Why the surprise?
This is not the lost generation. They are the children of the L.A. rebellion, the children of the MOVE bombing, the children of the Black Panthers, and the grandchildren of Malcolm; far from lost, they are probably the most aware generation since Nat Turner's; they are not so much lost as they are mislaid, discarded by this increasingly racist system that undermines their inherent worth.
They are all potential revolutionaries, with the historic power to transform our dull realities. If they are lost, then find them.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.MAY 13 REMEMBERED
THE MUTED PUBLIC RESPONSE to the mass murder of MOVE members some eight years ago has set the stage for acceptable state violence against radicals, against blacks, and against all deemed socially unacceptable. In the 1960s and '70s the Black Panther Party defined a relationship between the police and the black community as one between an occupying army and a colony. The confrontations between MOVE and this system's armed domestic forces has given that claim credence. An article in the Village Voice in 1991 quoted an anonymous white cop giving his prescription for bringing law and order to Los Angeles. Consider this:
COP ONE: "You wanna fix this city? I say, start out with carpet-bombing. Level some buildings, plow all these shit [beeped] under and start allover again."
COP TWO: "Christ, you'd drop a bomb on a community?"
COP THREE: "Yeah. There'd be some innocent people, but not that many. There's just some areas of L.A. that can't be saved."
The twisted mentalities at work here are akin to those of Nazi Germany, or perhaps more appropriately, of My Lai, of Vietnam, of Baghdad, the spirit behind the mindlessly murderous mantra that echoed out of Da Nang: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."
As abroad, so here at home. For as the flames smothered life on Osage Avenue, police and politicians spoke of "destroying the neighborhood surrounding the MOVE house, in order to save it." Now cops patrol neighborhoods across America, armed like storm troopers, with a barely disguised urge to destroy the very area they are sworn to "serve and protect." Or perhaps we should say, "sever and dissect." As they sit and sup and smoke, what animates their minds? Are they an aid to the people, or a foreign army of occupation? May 13, 1985, should have answered that question decisively. MOVE founder John Africa wrote over a decade ago,
It is past time for all poor people to release themselves from the deceptive strangulation of society. Realize that society has failed you. For to attempt to ignore this system of deception now, is to deny you the need to protest this failure later.
This system has failed you yesterday, failed you today, and has created conditions for failure tomorrow, for society is wrong, the system is reeling, the courts of this complex are filled with imbalance. Cops are insane, the judges enslaving, the lawyers are just as the judges they confront. They are Harvard and Princeton and Cornell and Yale, and trained, as the judge, to deceive the impoverished; trained, as the judge, to protect the established; trained by the system to be as the system, to do for the system, exploit with the system, and MOVE ain't gonna close our eyes to this monster." (John Africa, The judges Letter.)
It was true then, it's even truer now. This system has failed all of us. Indeed it is the problem. Organize this very day to resist it, to oppose it, to go beyond it. Demand that all imprisoned MOVE members be released and all political prisoners be freed. That is a beginning. That is a first step we can all take today. On a MOVE, long live John Africa!
It has been eight years now since the massacre. Eight years since the carnage on Osage Avenue. Eight years since an urban holocaust that stole eleven human lives. Eight years since the unjust encagement of Ramona Africa for daring to survive. Eight years since the government committed premeditated mass murder of members of the Africa family -- men, women, and children. And still justice is a ghostly illusion.
To date, no judge, no jury, no judicial nor law enforcement officer, has condemned the May 13 bombing of MOVE. In fact several, including former U.S. attorney general Edward Meese and former Los Angeles police chief Darryl Gates, have applauded it.
For over seventeen years now I've written of the ongoing battles between MOVE and this system. I have seen every substantive so-called constitutional right twisted, shredded, and torn when it comes to MOVE. Since the early 1970s I've seen male and female MOVE members beaten till bloody and bones broken, locked beneath the jails, caged while pregnant, beaten into miscarriage, starved by municipal decree, sentenced to a century in prisons, homes demolished by bomb, by crane, by cannon, by fire. But I've never seen them broken.
Throughout this vicious state campaign the government, the prosecutors, the police, the courts, have had one central aim: renounce MOVE, renounce your allegiance to John Africa, and we'll leave you alone. This has been proven. In 1978 a phalanx of 500 heavily armed cops laid siege to MOVE headquarters in Powleton Village, in an alleged attempt to enforce a civil eviction order. During the shooting, a cop was killed and all adult MOVE members inside were charged with murder. Before trial, two women told investigators they would resign from the organization even though they too were arrested inside the house. All charges against the two, including murder, were dropped. At trial, nine MOVE men and women were convicted of third-degree murder, and all were sentenced to 30 to 100 years In prison.
The May 13, 1985, action was an attempt to draw attention to the earlier injustice suffered by MOVE members and demand their release.
As to their innocence, one need go no further than Judge Edwin Malmed, the trial judge of the August 8, 1978, case, who told listeners of the popular Frank Ford talk show in Philadelphia just days after their conviction that he hadn't "the faintest idea" who killed the cop, adding "they were tried as a family, so I convicted them as a family." MOVE members then were convicted of being MOVE members.
Had Ramona Africa emerged from the sea of flames wrapped in fear, had she not instead escaped with her aura of resistance intact, she would have been free long before the seven years she spent in a hellhole. Her prosecutor, describing MOVE as a cult of resistance, demanded the jury convict her of a range of charges that, if they did so, would have exposed her to over fifty years in prison. Only her naturalist faith, the teachings of John Africa, allowed her to competently defend herself, where she beat the majority of the charges. Ramona is "free" today.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.AND THEY CALL MOVE "TERRORISTS"!
FIRE-TWISTED METAL, charred brick, and dark, dry pools of soot sit behind the barbed-wire double fences of the central Pennsylvania prison known as Camp Hill.
The fires that stretched seductively and danced provocatively in the late October night have spent themselves, their hot red tongues sated from a delicious diet of destruction that left "The Hill" in ruin. Two nights of inmate outrage and prisoner rebellion earned the wages of repression, as over a reported seven hundred armed and armored guards retook the prison, in a vicious head-splitting frenzy. The riots, the raging blazes, made prime-time news; the aftermath did not, for prisoners are faceless, nameless, and voiceless.
One of the unknown many bludgeoned, beaten bloody, and attacked by guards was a man whose name is well known: MOVE political prisoner Chuck Africa, just transferred to "The Hill" several months ago, became the prey of a phalanx of guards imported from Dallas, Pennsylvania, prison, where Chuck had just spent a harrowing five years in the infamous Dallas dungeon.
Assaulted by guards at Camp Hill, Chuck was chained and hurriedly transferred to a round of federal prisons while family, supporters, and even lawyers were give the dreaded runaround.
From Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, to the federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia, to the federal facility at Lompoc, California, Chuck Africa was dragged ragged across the United States, in a matter of days.
Throughout this marathon march across the country, prison officials have been mum on Chuck's medical condition.
This longtime follower of the revolutionary teachings of John Africa is no stranger to the system's adversity -- as evidenced by the August 8, 1978, police assault on MOVE's headquarters in Powleton Village, West Philadelphia, where Chuck was nearly killed.
At the revealing trial of nine MOVE members, charged in the classic frame-up killing of a cop, one policeman testified how he stood looking into the basement window of the now-demolished headquarters, peering at Chuck trying to stand up amid swirling, rushing waters pumped into the house by water cannons, and opened fire, point-blank, emptying his pistol.
Chuck, and MOVE member Delbert Africa (later beaten to a pulp on national TV by cops who were afterward acquitted) were shot.
This latest assault shows this system's continuing intent to destroy, disrupt, and decimate the MOVE organization, for after a decade of unprecedented harassments and provocations, over sixty-five months straight in Dallas's dreaded dungeon, Chuck and other MOVE members, giving thanks for the teachings of John Africa, remain strong, steadfast, staunch, and committed revolutionaries, still opposed to this hypocritical infanticidal system, still embracing a doctrine in touch with nature's pulse, still in love with life! Long live John Africa's Revolution!
Like the brutal and retaliatory beatings of inmate rioters at Camp Hill (appropriately nicknamed "Camp Hell" by relatives), regional media, in league with government intent, provided no names of the beaten, blackjacked prisoners, as if they were invisible, and were it not for Class-Struggle Defense Notes, published by the Partisan Defense Committee of New York, few would know of the secretive state attack and subsequent nationwide smuggling of Chuck Africa.
The "major" media, long a mere lackey of the U.S. ruling class, is busy pumping its propaganda claims that MOVE is, in its words, a "terrorist" organization, all the while turning a blind eye to the continuing and irrefutable campaign of state terrorism that keeps innocent MOVE members caged in U.S. dungeons for over a decade, and that allows the state to drag a beaten, shackled Chuck Africa around the entire country in a blackout of media silence.
This station, this day, with this report, breaks this silence, and lifts the blackout first lifted by Class-Struggle Defense Notes.
With this light must come heat, and rage, enough to spark the demand: Free Chuck Africa! Free all MOVE members! Free all political prisoners!
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.JUSTICE DENIED
SEVEN YEARS HAVE PASSED since the urban holocaust on Osage Avenue; since the Mother's Day massacre of May 13, 1985; a day that left at least eleven people dead, and Ramona Africa scarred and shackled. [xii]
Seven years since the MOVE bombing, and on May 13, 1992, a scarred but unbowed Ramona will walk away from seven years in a cage, at Muncy Prison, Pennsylvania.
In 1986, at the conclusion of her controversial showtrial, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge Michael Stiles delivered his charge to the jury, telling jurors not to consider any wrongdoing done by officials because officials would be dealt with and held accountable in "other" proceedings.
In what they later told reporters was a "compromise verdict," the jury, deliberately given the false impression that city officials would be in some way penalized, and therefore Ramona should be penalized, convicted Ramona of riot and conspiracy charges.
On April 14, 1986, Ramona was sentenced to sixteen months to seven years in prison and escorted under armed guard to the Women's State Prison at Muncy, Pennsylvania. To date, she, and only she, has spent even a day in prison for the city's bombing, mass murder, and incineration of innocent MOVE people, and to add insult to injury, she, and other MOVE members, have been consistently denied parole at the expiration of minimum sentences, solely for refusing to renounce their religion-John Africa's teaching.
Alberta Africa walked out of prison after seven years in 1988; Mo Africa also did the maximum -- five years after his conviction was reversed in 1990; after seven long years, Ramona Africa will "max out" in May 1992; Sue Africa will "max out" in 1992 after twelve years; Consuewella and Carlos Africa are still being denied parole, after being eligible for nearly five years.
The Pennsylvania Parole Board told MOVE members that parole was possible only if they completely disassociated themselves from the MOVE family -- meaning mates, children, even parents. In essence, the price of "freedom" was renunciation of their religion, a point addressed years ago in the provocative writings of MOVE founder, John Africa:
There ain't a example in history where a religious people didn't defend themselves when their religion was threatened, and defend themselves with arms, any kind of arms they could get their hands on, arms that were sometimes as lethal as the persecutors themselves were armed with, and today the defensive conduct of these religions are accepted, supported, respected, recognized by other religions, the government, society; the same damn religions, the government, society that wanna say we ain't a religion, ain't to be accepted as a valid religion, ain't to be supported as a so-called legal belief, ain't to be respected for defending our faith; if the religion of the Jew is acceptable what makes the religion of the MOVE Organization unacceptable, if the belief of the Catholic is respectable, what makes the religion of the MOVE Organization disrespectable, if the faith of the Protestant is valid what makes the faith of the MOVE Organization invalid, if the conduct of this government is right what makes the conduct of the governing power of MOVE wrong ....
On May 13, 1992, Ramona Africa walks away from a cage that held her captive for seven long, bitter years. She has not seen justice for one hour since the day she walked in.
Throughout the press in Pennsylvania, and perhaps throughout the U.S. press as well, the story of the Ramona Africa suit, or the "MOVE suit" as they often term it, has garnered banner headlines.
This civil suit, initiated by Ramona pro se, that is, without a lawyer, is a civil claim of a violation of her civil constitutional rights, stemming from the police bombing of MOVE headquarters in West Philly, leaving at least eleven MOVE men, women, and babies dead on May 13, 1985. The suit claims the state knowingly and intentionally used excessive and unlawful force against the occupants of 6621 Osage Avenue, and created a holocaust that night.
Among prisoners, the articles have stimulated comment, among them the ever-present comment, "She's gonna get paid." This comment never ceases to irk me. For, over and above the fact that Ramona, as with all the MOVE people, could care less about money, the fact remains that this is a civil suit, seeking civil damages, for an act that Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder both could clearly see was criminal.
Contrary to published opinion, as Ramona neatly points out, the May 13 bombing of MOVE by police was not even an accident, not a technical blooper, nor, as former Mayor Goode said, "a bad day." No! May 13, 1985, was the most premeditated police raid and destroy mission in U.S. history; a day planned and prepared for months, even years, in advance by local, state, and federal officials sworn to one unholy aim -- the destruction of the MOVE organization. Their "bad day" began when one determined, scarred, smoldering black woman dodged a hellfire of police bullets to escape the plans of government to incinerate her and her family alive, and survived.
For this she was dumped into Pennsylvania's hellish prisons, sentenced to seven years in a prison madhouse of loss, pain, and alienation at Muncy's Women's Prison -- for daring not to die!
Well, Mona's back, y' all.
Fueled by the generating influence of John Africa's teaching, this MOVE soldier is marching back into battle, to point out how corrupt, how thoroughly decayed, this system is, using their own so-called law. Long live John Africa!
Her dark, muscled arms are mottled, seared, and scarred in some places, silent testament to the flames of Osage, but her eyes are clear and calm, her fine mind sharper than the hot shards of glass that littered the backyard of Osage, sharper than the pain that stabbed at her heart when she looked back and, through the black clouds of smoke, saw her people, her brothers and sisters, the children, shot back by a rain of death, back into the inferno of Osage, forced back by a steady deadly rain of automatic police-weapons fire, forced back into eternity.
And they talkin' bouta civil suit for damages!
To date no official, not former D.A. Edward Rendell (who was himself recently declared immune from suit), not former D.A. Ronald Castille, not former U.S. attorney Edwin Dennis, nor present D.A. Lynne Abraham, has ever called any action by police or any other official "criminal" - -not one charge. Not once. Nobody.
Just maybe, a civil violation, here and there, and if "proven," will only mean you, the taxpaying public, will foot the bill, and pay hard-earned bucks for political incompetence.
As I look around this dungeon on Pennsylvania's death row, I see not one soul who dared premeditate mass murder like police and political officials did on May 13, 1985, and until I do, don't tell me about a criminal justice system, 'cause there ain't no "justice" in it -- it's just a criminal system.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.JUSTICE FOR GERONIMO STOLEN BY STAR CHAMBER
That justice is a Blind Goddess;
Is a thing to which we Blacks are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.
-- FROM "JUSTICE," BY LANGSTON HUGHES
ELMER GERONIMO JI JAGA PRATT sits sweltering in a southern California prison, no doubt angry over his latest judicial mugging by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which refused to reconsider Pratt's appeal, solely because it was filed a day too late. Pratt, a former high-ranking Black Panther leader, has endured almost twenty long years in prison, for a crime that even an ex-FBI agent insists he did not, and indeed, could not have done.
Why is Geronimo still caged?
Because, in his youth, nearly two decades ago, he dared stand up against the white racist power structure, and attempted to lend a hand to militant efforts to defend black communities from racist cop terror. As party deputy-minister of defense, Geronimo did his job only too well, as evidenced by the fiery, genocidal police raid on the Los Angeles chapter headquarters of the Black Panther Party in 1970, an onslaught that left much of Central Avenue in smoldering ruin, but from which every L.A. Panther emerged -- alive.
Geronimo's true "crime" then, was-and is-resistance, a "crime" for which Africans have historically paid the supreme penalty, and for which Pratt has paid with almost twenty years in California dungeons. In a word, the reason why Geronimo is still caged can be summed up with a sinister acronym -- COINTELPRO, FBI-speak for the shadowy, malicious counterintelligence program that shadowed, harassed, silenced, and set up black activists from the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to Geronimo.
COINTELPRO files show Geronimo could not have committed the December 18,1968, murder of Mrs. Kenneth Olsin, in L.A., for the simple reason that he was under FBI surveillance some four hundred miles away, in northern California, at the time of the crime.
California congressman Ron Dellums has introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives calling for Geronimo's immediate release and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his arrest and conviction. The resolution notes in part, "Federal Bureau of Investigation wrongdoing in the case of Elmer 'Geronimo' Pratt has been established through exhaustive examinations of thousands of pages of official FBI documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and subsequently corroborated by the sworn testimony of a retired FBI Special Agent who has personal knowledge of the wrongdoing."
The three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit (composed, incidentally, of Nixon and Reagan appointees) closed the courthouse door on Pratt's appeal, citing the attorney's failure to file Pratt's papers promptly.
In a move that the late black Supreme Court jurist the late Thurgood Marshall might call "exalting form over substance," the Ninth Circuit panel has apparently decided that innocence is irrelevant.
Just as surely as the U.S. Supreme Court careens rightward, so too do other federal courts, like the Ninth Circuit, move in lockstep.
That the life of a kind, decent, committed man -- raised in the bayou country of Morgan County, Louisiana, and tempered in the steaming jungles of Vietnam, in youthful service to this government -- sifts away like sand through an hourglass is of no judicial concern. One wonders at the irony of his protecting the polluted status quo that now denies him his rightful day in court.
It was a youthful, idealistic Pratt who emerged from the hells of 'Nam, only to behold the hells of Compton, California. That he chose to serve his people, as a member of the Black Panther Party, is a fact of which he can justly be proud. That he is denied the most fundamental rights, to be free of government prosecution without deception and to be heard by an impartial judge, based solely upon his BPP membership, is a fact of which Americans should be ashamed. Even 3,000 miles away, I hear his soft, yet strong, country voice saying, "Come together, fight together and rally together to see justice done!" Free Geronimo now! [xiii]
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.