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How the discovery of COINTELPRO saved me from prison

January 28, 2014

by Billy X Jennings

By now millions of Americans have heard about COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO was the FBI’s evil and illegal system of spying, lying, telephone wire taps, frame-ups and assassination that violated the constitutional and human rights that they claim to uphold. I was recently asked, while doing a Black Panther Party historical tour in Oakland, how COINTELPRO affected me personally. Here is one of my stories.

Huey P. Newton, Billy X Jennings 1971, web
Huey P. Newton and Billy X Jennings in 1971
The Black Panther Party was one of the FBI’s main targets during the 1960s and 1970s. Over 30 members of the Black Panther Party were killed by law enforcement agencies from local to federal agents; for example, the murder of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton 45 years ago.

The government was out to get BPP members at all costs. During 1969 alone, over 400 members of the BPP were stopped and arrested and over 15 of our offices were raided. We still have about 20 political prisoners – victims of COINTELPRO – set up and falsely convicted of crimes they did not commit.

One of the methods they used to entrap progressives and revolutionaries was the Selective Service Board, also known as the Draft Board. They would choose the people they wanted to harass and started sending you letters.

Getting a draft notice is life changing for anyone. Cleveland Sellers told me that when he was working with Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, this was the method they used on SNCC to get brothers off the street. Back then, like now, when you turn 18 you have to register for the military through the post office.

I joined the BPP when I was 17 and when I turned 18 I did register, although it was against the BPP rules to join another military service unless it was for Black Liberation. Another reason to register was that early on, the police used to ask for draft cards, and if you didn’t have one, they would harass you or arrest you.

I never heard a word from the Draft Board until I was moved to the BPP national headquarters. I was an aide to David Hilliard, who was in charge of the BPP at that time, while Huey and Bobby were both in prison and Eldridge was in exile.

COINTELPRO was the FBI’s evil and illegal system of spying, lying, telephone wire taps, frame-ups and assassination that violated the constitutional and human rights that they claim to uphold.

David was arrested in 1969 for threatening the life of then President Nixon in a speech. David was also going to court for the April 6th shootout with the Oakland Police in 1968, when Lil Bobby Hutton was killed. One of my jobs was to attend court with David daily. David’s trial was in the news daily and being watched closely by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

During the trial, I started receiving letters from the Selective Service Board along with Clark Bailey, who worked with me as an aide to David. One day after court, David told me to go talk to this older white guy who was attending court daily.

That was Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous baby doctor. He was a well known anti-war activist and draft counselor. He gave me his card and I met with him a few times. We discussed options like going to Canada, going underground and even going to jail. I decided to wait and see what would happen.

Several months passed and David was convicted on gun charges from the shootout and was now on his way to prison.

Huey P. Newton got out of prison in August 1970, only a few months before David went to prison. Huey P. Newton was back in charge of the BPP.

The COINTELPRO papers had recently been discovered by the “people’s burglars,” the antiwar activists who broke into the FBI office in Media, Pa. They sent copies around to different news agencies, which exposed the FBI’s illegal program.

These papers were the smoking gun, like the video of Rodney King being beaten. This proved the BPP’s suspicions that there was a government conspiracy to destroy the Black Panther Party.

Clark Bailey and I had been selected by the Central Committee, the governing body of the BPP, to be Huey’s aides while he attended court. Huey won an appeal from his earlier conviction and now had to go through another trial. Back then whenever Huey went to court, many supporters showed up as well as a gang of TV reporters.

The COINTELPRO papers had recently been discovered by the “people’s burglars,” the antiwar activists who broke into the FBI office in Media, Pa. They sent copies around to different news agencies, which exposed the FBI’s illegal program.

One day we were coming from court and I saw these police in suits staring me down as I walked passed them with Huey. Huey’s car arrived and we put him into it. Once Huey was in the car, about five FBI agents approached me, identified themselves and said I was under arrest for draft evasion. I turned and looked at Clark, and he nodded, which meant that he saw what happened and would report it to Central HQ.

I was taken in a side elevator up to the top floor of the Alameda County Jail. Later, I was taken to San Francisco, to the Federal Building. I was cuffed in the back seat of the FBI car.

They stopped the car on the Bay Bridge in the emergency lane. The blond headed guy turned around and said, “We want to know a few things or you’re going into the Bay.” They asked about Huey, money and the people in Algeria.

I told them that it would look very funny if I was found floating in the Bay with FBI handcuffs, since the news media saw me being arrested. He turned around and told his partner we have a smart ass in the back seat. So they drove to the Federal Building, and I was out of jail the next morning.

A few months passed and I was due in federal court for my hearing. I was very concerned about the possibility of going to prison. By that time, the party had gotten me a lawyer through Charles Garry’s office. I had come in for a few visits and he seemed to be a good lawyer.

The day of the court hearing, my name was called and I stepped forward with my lawyer. There were three federal lawyers at their table. The lead lawyer stated their charges. My lawyer stood up, turned to me and said, “We got this.”

My lawyer knew of the COINTELPRO papers and used them against the government. The FBI didn’t want to reveal that they had been spying on David Hilliard, Huey Newton and the BPP in general.

He looked over at the government lawyers and asked for ALL papers and information that the U.S. government had on Bill Jennings, including wiretaps and film. The government lawyer sat down and huddled with the other lawyers. Within seconds, he stated that the government won’t proceed with the charges against Mr. Jennings. My lawyer looked at me, smiled and shook my hand. He said that we got them.

What had happened was that my lawyer knew of the COINTELPRO papers and used them against the government. The FBI didn’t want to reveal that they had been spying on David Hilliard, Huey Newton and the BPP in general.

Since I was with David and Huey so often, there was constant surveillance and they did not want to reveal the extent to which they had been spying on the BPP. I beat that case, thanks to the activists in Media, Pa., who broke into that FBI office in 1971.

I was not alone. Many people benefitted from the exposure of the COINTELPRO papers in keeping them out of jail. However, we still have many political prisoners who are victims of COINTELPRO.

Many people benefitted from the exposure of the COINTELPRO papers in keeping them out of jail. However, we still have many political prisoners who are victims of COINTELPRO.

All power to the people!

Billy X Jennings, historian and archivist for the Black Panther Party and its alumni, maintains and constantly updates the It’s About Time Archive, http://www.itsabouttimebpp.com/, and can be reached at itsabouttime3@juno.com.

 

3 thoughts on “How the discovery of COINTELPRO saved me from prison

  1. JEANNE JENNINGS

    GREAT ARTICLE!! I NEVER KNEW THIS ABOUT YOU BIG BROTHER IM VERY PROUD OF YOU I'VE SEEN MOST OF YOUR VIDEOS & TAPES I THINK THIS WAS WELL WRITTEN I KNOW JULIA MAE IS DAMN PROUD!! KEEP WRITING!!

    Reply
  2. andre young

    Then,(as a member of the BPP), as now(entrepreneur) my aim, purpose and goal continues to assist Black African Americans with developing innovative training and employment projects. Though, I have never relinquished the BPP clinched fist(power to the people)salute; now a days, I waive all other signs and signals as ludicrous, especially in view of our desperate economic plight.. Then, 1960s/1970s, my endeavors was to enlighten Black folk about Sickle Cell Anemia, SCA,, and our health as a whole, and I did. Practically all by myself/lonesome. The BPP took up the SCA project/helm and ran with it, which propaganda exceeded any and all expectations. Without the California BPP, SCA probably would never have reached the national preeminence/height it did. The BPP was the catalyst, for SCA. The Seattle BPP should have been the leading BPP.
    Admittedly, it was scary to be a BPP member back in the day, because there were so many wannabes and counter revolutionaries working for the law enforcement officials. It was awful, because many Black folk were claiming/pretending to be BPP members during the process of committing major crimes. Most crime attributed to the BPP was perpetrated by law enforcement officials. Nevertheless, my focus was health education about Sickle Cell Anemia. Since then, Black folks' health has deteriorated expeditiously i.e. fat. .

    Reply

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