by Linda Kennedy
Omaha, Neb. – The United States is not the gold standard on human rights that it pretends to be according to U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN) activist Efia Nwangaza. Ms. Nwangaza was one of the keynote speakers at the National Jericho Movement’s annual conference held recently in Omaha, Nebraska.
The USHRN, an independent body of large and small grassroots groups which includes the NAACP and the ACLU, submitted a progress report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee detailing the U.S. government’s record on human rights. That shadow report was submitted along with one from the U.S. in June.
The reports are filed periodically to monitor U.S. progress toward complying with the International Convention to End all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), a treaty adopted by the United Nations in 1965. The U.S. government’s ICERD periodic review will be in Geneva, Switzerland, next month. Ms. Nwangaza plans to attend.
The Human Rights Network report asks that the U.S. find an alternative method of dealing with political prisoners from the Civil Rights Era. It seeks the release of all political prisoners held in the United States and requests a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission be created to resolve all issues relating to COINTELPRO imprisoned civil right activists.
In addition, USHRN wants the U.S. to grant full access of all jails, prisons and detention centers in the United States to a U.N. investigator, Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez. The U.N. Human Rights Committee will review the reports and requests and make recommendations to the U.S. by mid-September about what it must do to achieve compliance with the treaty.
The Jericho Movement is stepping up its work to free political prisoners, especially those caught in FBI Director Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO web. COINTELPRO was an illegal counter-intelligence program which spied on and framed innocent American citizens between 1956 and 1971.
National Co-Chair Jihad Abdulmumit said Jericho will connect with other organizations to work against mass incarcerations, wrongs within the prison system and the treatment of Muslims since 9/11. “Things have changed since the ‘60s,” he said. “What was illegal then is legal now. Instead of our patriotic duty, dissent is a criminal act. Revelations from the NSA scandal, Homeland Security and the Patriot Act are prime examples.”
Ineffective counsel claim filed on behalf of Mondo we Langa
Jericho has long been a supporter of Nebraska’s political prisoners, Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa (né David Rice) and Ed Poindexter, known as the Omaha 2. Mondo we Langa and Poindexter, former members of the Omaha Chapter of the Black Panther Party, were convicted in the 1971 suitcase bombing death of an Omaha police officer. They have been in prison nearly 44 years.
We Langa and his attorney Timothy L. Ashford are waiting for a response from the Nebraska State Supreme Court on a recently filed legal brief. The brief alleges ineffective assistance of counsel on behalf of we Langa.
Ashford has been we Langa’s attorney for 15 years. His suit alleges that prior attorneys were incompetent and that mistakes were made in the original trial and in subsequent appeals in 1972 and 1983.
In addition, Mr. Ashford says, “The attorney general is a judge on the Pardons Board and he is a prosecutor in the Court of Appeals. That is a conflict of interest.” The court has until early August to respond to the brief.
New York Jericho member, DeQui Kioni-Sadiki, who is married to incarcerated former Black Panther Party member Sekou Odinga, says political prisoners are all but invisible to the U.S. government.
“When you meet our political prisoners, our prisoners of war, it changes what we think we know about the United States government. We think we are free because we can walk around and choose what we eat or where we go with relative ease.”
For the Black Panthers, freedom meant more than that. “If you have ever gotten a free breakfast, free lunch, gone to a free clinic – any and all of these social programs you think the government started are in fact the legacy of the Black Panther Party,” she adds, “If you say you love freedom. If you speak of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Malcolm X, Leonard Peltier, Ed Poindexter or Mondo we Langa, you must defend those people who defended us.”
Ms. Kioni-Sadiki says our political prisoners fought for human rights. They are not criminals, “they are freedom fighters who are criminalized.”
Mr. Abdulmumit believes Blacks must wake up to what is real. He says we, as a people, have become apathetic and that we have allowed the media to shape our reality. “Culture is a weapon. It can be used for us or against us. We can use it for our freedom or we can succumb to the capitalistic, racist, materialistic culture forced on us daily by mass media. Jericho seeks to change that; we need your help.”
Mondo we Langa agrees. “Just a couple of weeks ago, many Africans – Blacks, African Americans – in this country observed Juneteenth. This commemorated an announcement of the end of chattel slavery. But here we are a century and a half since that 1865 announcement, many of us having traded the physical force of chattel slavery for the volunteer slavery of psychological bondage.
“As an African political prisoner, one thing that bothers me more than being locked up is seeing how much a movement for liberation and self-respect has eroded and given way to a mass culture of hyper-materialism and self-contempt. Of course I hope the efforts of Jericho and other groups working for the release of political prisoners bear fruit – sooner rather than later. At the same time, I hope we attain an increased understanding of the importance of releasing our thoughts and attitudes from their imprisonment.”
U.S. justice system is criminal
Keynote speaker Dr. Viviane Saleh-hanna compared the prison system to slavery. “The modern day manifestation of slavery is the criminal justice system. The so-called justice system is criminal.” A University of Massachusetts associate professor in the Department of Crime and Justice Studies, Dr. Saleh-hanna says arrest is akin to taking slaves. It tears families apart just as slavery did.
The auction block of slavery has become the modern day plea bargaining – arguing for people’s lives. The slave dungeons are comparable to prisons. Slaveholders had punishment cells to separate freedom fighters. That was solitary confinement. The person in charge of the fort was called the “warden.”
Slaveholders encouraged captives to snitch on each other. Shackles chained captives so those in charge could move them, much the same as today. “Captives were terrorized into a state of submission,” Dr. Saleh-hanna says. “The prison system of today is the legacy of the prison system of slavery.”
Nineteen members of the Black Panther Party are in prison today. Collectively they have been incarcerated for 800 years. In the last year, four have been released. Herman Wallace was released Oct. 4, 2013, and passed away four days later. He was freed after 41 years, most of it spent in solitary confinement.
Lynne Stewart was released from Carswell Federal Women’s Medical Center in Texas on Dec. 31, 2013.
Marshall Eddie Conway was released from the Maryland system on March 4, 2014, after 44 years in prison.
Sekou Kambui aka William J. Turk was granted parole in June by the Bibb County Correctional Facility in Brent, Alabama.
“We have to regain our strength, our psyche – and part of that is to free our soldiers. We cannot abandon our own. We cannot make excuses for ourselves. Bullets are waiting for our young – from white racism or Black ignorance,” said Jericho National Co-Chair Jihad Abdulmumit.
To write to Mondo we Langa or Ed Poindexter, address them at P.O. Box 2500, Lincoln NE, 68542-2500.
Linda Kennedy is a freelance broadcast and print journalist. She teaches media literacy and lives in Seattle, Wash. She can be reached at email@example.com.