Political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal needs no introduction. I was honored to be able to interview Mumia and soak up some of his knowledge. In this interview we will discuss issues involving the foster care system, gang injunctions and the incarceration of young people.
Apollonia: Hi, Mumia. My name is Apollonia and I am a staff writer for the Bay View newspaper.
Apollonia: Thank you for this opportunity. I am honored to do this interview with you today.
Mumia: Thank you.
Apollonia: As you may know, I write a lot of articles that focus on the issue that I went through growing up. My experiences with living in poverty, growing up in the hood, to later being separated from my mother and sisters in the foster care system. Now I am actually going through a similar situation now with my son. How do you feel the foster care system and the criminal system is related and how would you encourage young Black mothers like myself who are going through this same situation to stay strong?
Mumia: Well, there is a relationship and of course both of them are united by the fact of poverty. I had that experience for several months of my youth, where I lived in a foster home. It was a loveless place. I wanted to see my mother every day, but she was ill so she couldn’t take care of us.
Both of them stem from poverty and so both of them stem from how people are able to subsist in this culture. There have been Supreme Court justices who have said as much.
If you are poor in this country, then of course not only are you exposed to the indignity of a foster home and being separated from your family, but if you are poor in this country, you will not be able to afford decent legal talent. Everybody knows that. It’s a matter of what you have and what you can afford even when it comes to defending your life and liberty.
Apollonia: Do you believe the struggle that youth of today are going through, dealing with death, poverty, police brutality, the criminal system and so forth, is harder now versus when you hooked up with the Black Panthers at the age of 15?
Mumia: In some ways I think it is harder and I know that may surprise many people, but I think it is harder in this respect: Things were clearer back in the ‘60s and even in the ‘70s. In a sense you knew who your enemy was and that’s because the United States and many states within the United States were more overtly racist. That has changed in some respects, so it’s more difficult for a young person to really navigate.
In many of the cities where there are large Black populations, you may have Black mayors, Black police chiefs and a healthy number of Black police officers, but in the real world, if you’re poor, you’re still dissed and you’re still at the bottom of the barrel. While that’s true for white poor people, Brown poor people and Black poor people, it’s accentuated in the urban centers of America because there are very few ways out.
People look at the drug industry as a way out and in many ways the only way out. I read an article that you did recently when a young brother was caught up in that act and then he started doing his rap thing. That’s almost like doing the NBA.
What were looking at is de-industrialization that happened in the last 30-something years – the export of jobs through globalization off-shore – so that there are fewer jobs, when you really have more people because the population has grown since 1970.
Apollonia: I don’t know if you’ve heard a lot about this, but there have been a lot of gang injunctions going on in Oakland, San Francisco and Black communities around the world. I remember being in high school and Prop. 21 passed, which stated that if there are three or more people standing on a street with the same color or similar attire, they could be classified as a gang.
Now, they have been doing these gang injunctions, where they are removing a lot of young Black brothers and sister out of their communities, removing them so that they can’t go back into the community, be around their families or even raise their children. What are your beliefs on these gang injunctions and how they are using this to separate the Black community?
Mumia: Again, this is a symptom of what can only be called white and state paranoia. Many people form gangs because that becomes their only family because they are missing family at home. Many times what police call a gang really isn’t a gang. When Black or Spanish guys are standing on the corner, it’s a gang. When white guys do it they’re just hanging out in their neighborhood.
That is not just a California situation. There was a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court from Chicago, where something very similar was used against the people of Chicago. That was declared illegal, but they’re doing it anyway.
The states don’t really abide by its laws. They have secret prisons and all kinds of stuff. They just look at that and laugh and continue doing what they want to anyway. It’s just another branch of the long continuing war against Black poor people.
Apollonia: A lot of my friends have been caught up in the prison system. One in particular was my best friend, Jasmine, who did three years in prison, was released on parole and got into more trouble. Now she is doing time in a federal prison.
Many young people are going through this because they do not understand their rights or the criminal system itself. What advice do you have for the young generations out there who have gotten caught up in this prison system? How would you encourage them to cope with the fact that they have to deal with this life because it is a different life from being out in the streets to being behind enemy lines?
Mumia: Well, I think it’s better to do all we can to prevent it rather than deal with it afterwards, and of course you do have to deal with it afterwards. There are examples through our history and one of the most prescient and revealing examples is that of Malcolm X. Before he became Malcolm X, they used to call him Satan in prison. He was a hateful dude, but he became a part of an organization that inspired him and really opened up the light in his mind and he began seeing things from a different perspective.
I did his background to illustrate that there are literally millions of young men who are potential Malcolms in every state and federal prison in Amerikkka. Everyone has the capacity to learn with very few exceptions – that is one of our human inheritances – but you have to be ready and receptive to learn.
Malcolm was blessed to have his mind open when he was ready. There are many young brothers and sisters who have that opportunity now. They just need to seize it and take it.
Also, another example is Nelson Mandela. He was in one of the roughest prisons in South Africa. The brothers who were members of the ANC [African National Congress] back then turned that prison into a university. So guys would be in there who were robbers, rapists, thugs and all that; when they came out they had such a good education in the prison that they came out as people who became members of liberation movements and turned their lives around. We need to remember those lessons in history.
Apollonia: Mumia, I want to thank you so much for your knowledge and I want you to know that my prayers are with you.
Mumia: Thank you, sister Apollonia. Keep up the good work. You’re doing hell of a job.
Apollonia: Thank you. It was an honor.
Mumia: The honor is mine, sister. On the move! Give my love to everyone.
Email Bay View staff writer Apollonia Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org.