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Free political prisoner James Bess!

December 26, 2011

by Patrick Haggerty

Your support letter or other assistance could free political prisoner Brother James Bess.
My good friend, Brother James Bess, is a political prisoner. Brother James was the minister of the Seattle Chapter of the Nation of Islam for at least 10 years during the 1980s and early 1990s, and was well known and highly respected in Seattle’s Black community. Brother James distinguished himself nationally from other ministers in the Nation by his strident support for feminism and lesbian-gay rights and his call for inter-racial harmony and cooperation for a broad based movement for freedom and equality for all peoples. Brother James was also a strident anti-imperialist and internationalist in his call for a total transformation of global economic and political life.

During his tenure as minister, I worked quite closely with Brother James on numerous projects and activities in Seattle’s Black and lesbian-gay community, including the Coalition Against the Police Precinct, the Coalition Against the Choke Hold, the Occupation of Coleman School and its initial transformation into the African-American Heritage Museum, Act-Up, the lesbian-gay movement against AIDS, and support for AIDS housing in the Seattle area, especially the formation of the Bailey Bouche Housing Project. Brother James was noted in the lesbian-gay community for his memorial service invocations for AIDS activists, especially for the memorial for noted Black gay activist Brian Day, who passed in 1990.

Additionally, I worked very closely with Brother James on two election campaigns during this period, one when I ran for City Council in 1990 with the New Alliance Party and again in 1991 when I ran for state Senate, along with three members of the Nation of Islam, who ran for offices with me on a Black-Gay unity slate. In both campaigns, we garnered from 15 to 18 per cent of the vote, a very significant showing for radical independent candidates.

Even a cursory investigation of Brother James’ history in Seattle’s Black and lesbian-gay community will reveal that he was an activist of stature and determination, and his gifts to the movement in general were substantial and noteworthy.

In the early 1990s, a faction developed within the Nation of Islam with a considerably more nationalist, anti-feminist, anti-gay and conservative viewpoint and began struggling for power against Minister Farrakhan, resulting in an attempted takeover, I believe in 1994, at a national convention. Brother James was a leader of the opposition to the takeover. Divisions became quite sharp, and a nasty struggle ensued within the Nation at the convention, culminating with the leader of the takeover faction taking a bullet in his leg.

The faction lost the fight, Minister Farrakhan retained his seat, and Brother James was charged and convicted of attempted murder. He was swallowed up in the California prison system, where he remains to this day, serving a term of 15 to life. He has now been incarcerated for about 17 years. Brother James immediately became a “hot potato, way too hot to handle,” and was subsequently abandoned by the Black community locally and nationally, by the Nation of Islam, by his family and by the lesbian-gay community. He has been doing his time completely alone for the duration.

Except for support from me, since I did not feel that I was in a position to lose much politically for standing by him and because I felt strongly that he deserved support from somewhere, over the years, I have spent thousands of dollars on Brother James in cash donations, restitution fees and quarterly “care packages” for toothpaste, cookies, sardines etc., and I do not regret one penny. We have exchanged probably a hundred letters during his incarceration, and I have saved all of his correspondence.

Most of it is about his horrendous experiences in prison, his views of the corruption replete within the prison system and about his continuing global political philosophy, which has remained essentially the same. He has been in several California institutions over the years and is currently being housed in Solano State Prison in Vacaville. He is currently 66 years old and in good health physically, mentally and spiritually. He had absolutely no criminal history of any kind before this first conviction and, remarkably, has had absolutely no prison infractions or offenses during his entire incarceration.

The reason I am writing is that Brother James is coming up for parole review in June 2012 and is asking for any support he can get. He needs help with strategy, legal representation, money and perhaps a letter writing campaign and any other suggestions and/or actions which will help put him in a positive light for his upcoming review. Neither he nor I have any legal or prison support contacts in the Bay Area, and we need some. I have promised to come up with $500 dollars for representation, but I’m sure we need more. I am reaching out to anyone in the prison support movement to take a close look at Brother James. If any political prisoner currently incarcerated is deserving of our support, it is Brother James Bess. PLEASE HELP!

Patrick Haggerty, who can be reached at, wrote this letter to Ed Mead of the Prison Art Project,, in Seattle, who can be reached at Ed asked that it be published in the Bay View. If you can help, please contact Ed or Patrick.


11 thoughts on “Free political prisoner James Bess!

  1. Asad

    Minister Khalid Abdul Muhammad was leadership by example. His dedication to duty and unselfish service to his people should be commemorated, and yet you, DavidT would like to condemn the legacy of that great Black man. He needed to be shot? And have you no love for the millions of WHITES AND JEWS who have committed unspeakable atrocities against the Original people of the Earth? How much blood did Khalid have on his hands? NONE! And yet you side with his would-be assassin? You are both wicked and cowardly.

    Self-respecting Black men and women commemorate El Hajj Doctor Minister Khalid Abdul Muhammad as a a Pan-African hero. I stand behind that with uncompromising sincerity.

  2. Tristin

    Fuck James Bess!! He is where he belongs!! That what happens when you try to be the White man's bitch!
    He tried to kill Dr. Khallid Muhammad!

  3. Tyrone Sanders

    This the fuck boy who show khalid muhammad for speaking out against white supremacist but fully supports 100% the European Feminism, European Liberal Ideology and European Homosexauality. How many white politicians have black people shot?

  4. Info

    The prison system isn't appropriate for any human being. Letting the devil do the work of the righteous is tantamount to cowardliness. There are far more worthy causes to support than the liberation of James Bess. It should not be ignored because he tried to kill Dr. Khalid Muhammad. How does he get to the top of the list of "political prisons" to advocate for release? A political prison falls into 1 of 3 categories: political prisoner of consciousness; political prisoners of war; and slaves of politics. The masses of prisoners within and without the penal system are "slaves of politics." What makes this bird more worthy of flying amongst eagles than any other bird?

  5. anaheim

    I like this "He had absolutely no criminal history of any kind ".. So I guess shooting and killing your own brother is not a crime. I know he CLAIMED self defense and got off with that claim. But he is exactley were he should be now. I was a juror in his trial of attempted murder of Dr. Khallid Muhammad. I do not like nor believe he what Dr. Muhammad preached but he did have a right to live and Mr. Bess tried to take that away. So i believe Mr. Bess is exactley where he belongs.

  6. @ImhotepMBA

    Probably time for this brother to be set free. There are convicted murderers on the streets after having served less time than this man. At probably 68 years of age at this point, he is no threat to society.

  7. Namarataza

    You say no criminal history where you getting your info, you need to read this and this is just what they know of.

    Los Angeles Times June 01, 1994

    Muhammad Case Suspect Has a Record of Violence : Shooting: James E. Bess was acquitted in the slaying of his brother. He was convicted of manslaughter in Missouri.

    When James E. Bess was arrested in the attempted slaying of a Nation of Islam leader in Riverside, those who had known him in recent years found the outburst of violence out of character.

    But his past as a young Muslim was marked by serious clashes that resulted in arrests, convictions and the death of his brother.

    In the mid-1960s, Bess was convicted of manslaughter in Missouri and of assault in Fresno, according to newspaper accounts at the time. A decade later, he fatally shot his brother during a family argument at his Fresno home, but a jury found that he had acted in self defense.

    "Violence has a way of following him around," said John Nelum, head of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People in Fresno, who has known Bess for more than 20 years.

    Nelum, the NAACP chief, recalled that Bess was bright and personable but had a violent streak.

    "I wouldn't say James has a history of being crazy," he said. "But he's definitely a strange fellow. You don't push James. He's bound to explode."

    In March, 1966, the Fresno Bee reported that Bess, then 21, and his 19-year-old brother were sentenced to prison terms in the beating and kicking of a 41-year-old Fresno man who refused to buy the newspaper Muhammad Speaks.

    Bess admitted that he kicked the man when he was down and had "lost control of himself," the Bee reported.

    During the trial, the prosecutor revealed that the Bess brothers also were convicted in 1964 of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison but paroled the same day, in Caruthersville, Mo.

    After the assault conviction, state medical authorities said James Bess represented "a considerable potential menace to the community."

    In 1975, the Bee reported, Bess, then 30, shot his older brother, Elvin, in the right eye, killing him. When police arrived, Bess handed over a .22-caliber rifle and said, "You can have the rifle. I shot him."
    Bess told police he believed his brother had a gun in the package he carried, according to a newspaper account at the time, but the package contained a frying pan found near the victim's body. The jury acquitted Bess, finding that he fired in self defense.


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