by Wanda Sabir
As everyone knows by now, our esteemed elder Brother Tahuti made his transition mid-June. There is a memorial service for him this Saturday, Aug. 1, 4-6 p.m., at Wo’se House of Amen Ra, 8924 Holly St., Oakland, 510-632-8230. Another memorial for Brother Tahuti will be held on Saturday, Aug. 22, 1-5 p.m., at Lil Bobby Hutton (DeFremery) Park, 18th and Adeline streets in West Oakland.
The Third Annual Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey B’Earthday and Community Celebration is Saturday, Aug. 15, 2-5 p.m. Gather at the “Abundant Knowledge” mural at Marcus Books, 3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, in Oakland – just two blocks from the MacArthur BART. Please bring your immense wisdom, families, original books by Garvey, red-black-green items and drums. And don’t forget to bring some funds – as each participant will receive a 10 percent discount on every item purchased that afternoon.
The National UNIA Convention is in Chicago this year, Aug. 19-23. Visit http://www.cbpm.org/chicagodivision401.html.
Drumming in the Garden
AfroSolo celebrates drummers this Aug. 1 at Yerba Buena Gardens, 1-3 p.m., Mission between Third and Fourth streets. This is AfroSolo’s 15th annual free concert in the Gardens, and it features drummers Linda Livingston, who has performed with Sheila E., Pete and Juan Escovedo and Lenny Williams, and Bill Norwood, who has performed with Robert “Magic Man” Winters, The Gospel Hummingbirds, Lenny Williams and The Drifters. He’ll be accompanied by his band. The event is free. For more information, visit AfroSolo.org or call 415-771-2376.
Aug. 4, National Night Out
Join Ella Baker Center for National Night Out for Safety and Liberation at Lake Merritt Boulevard Amphitheater on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 5-8 p.m. Join the conversation on Twitter: #SafetyIs (what? Fill in the blanks). #SafetyIs self-determination and access to basic needs. Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1144013548958470/.
Teens Doing Adult Time in California
On Monday, Aug. 3, at 9 p.m., don’t miss “Toe Tag Parole: To Live and Die on Yard A” on HBO. The film looks at three men who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) when they were 14, 16 and 17 at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, a maximum-security facility in the Mojave Desert.
Although a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without the possibility of parole unconstitutional, those previously convicted still have to serve their sentences in some states. Alan and Susan Raymond direct a film that allows these men to tell their stories. One of the men is Ken Hartman, who has been in prison for 36 years, convicted at 19. He says: “There’s a progression that these things go through. People used to be stoned to death and then they were shot and then they were hung, they were electrocuted. Each step along the way always the argument is made that this is a better kind of death penalty. I’m sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. It’s not better than the death sentence, because it is the death sentence.’”
“As the men of the honor yard say, ‘They will get out when they get their toe tag parole,’ meaning death by incarceration.”
I have been traveling …
This summer I was able to attend two Maafa commemorations, one in Washington, D.C., the other in New Orleans. Here are a few reflections on NOLA as we head into the 10th anniversary of the Great Flood, Aug. 29.
The 15th Annual New Orleans Maafa Commemoration, hosted by Aché Cultural Center, was marvelous! It was huge and from the program at Congo Square to the march to the river, where we visited Crime Scenes (historic sites with monuments which need to be taken down), the momentum just grew. The elders and disabled were in vehicles, police blocked traffic, people saluted the ancestors from their windows and balconies, tooted their horns and pulled out cameras to document the ancestral commemoration procession.
At Congo Square the ceremony began at 7 a.m. When I arrived about 6:45, the space was filling. We listened to live kora music performed by Morikeba Kouyate, Kora Konnection. It was ethereal and fit the wonder such rituals invoke. Sage and other herbs burned as the space was cleansed and the energy cleared. A simple, yet huge shrine was erected – chairs faced the shrine and mic stands.
Freddi W. Evans, author of a book about the history of Congo Square, opened the ceremony. Shkt. Hrimgalah, Ausar Auset Society, Southwest Region, followed with libations and prayers. Father Maurice Nutt, Xavier University Office of Black Catholic Studies, spoke about Black heritage.
There were special guests like President Obama’s Washington Fellowship or Young African Leaders, who are studying at Xavier University this summer, and a wonderful young women step group who performed. The latter group of Pan African youth spoke and taught us a greeting in their native tongue. The young woman from Nigeria knelt and touched the ground. Many, if not all, said this ceremony, especially the white attire, reminded them of home.
A high point was when the Nubian Messengers Collective from Brooklyn performed, but the energy rose again when Zion Trinity and Kamau Phillips blessed the space with another libation, many folks from the wings danced into the center of the gathering and raised the spirits in a collective Ashay!
Quess, a poet with Black Youth Project, told a wonderful story about his grandmother and later at Gen. Lee’s statue raised the energy at the Confederate flag burning (smile).
Brother Luther Gray and Wood hosted. Sister Carole Bebelle, co-founder and director, Aché Cultural Arts Center, gave a short talk about love, with an admonishment to be about the work of healing our communities, that love is action. I was seated next to her and two elders, the elder behind me was 91. The age range was great – babes in arms to 91 – awesome! There were lots of youth too who were active participants. I loved the libations and poetry and music all mixed up together.
There was even a place in the program for the Coalition for the Commemoration of African Ancestors of the Middle Passage (ICCAAMP) to speak. Brother Theodore Lush, Montgomery, Ala., and I were present. I spoke and gave everyone the website address: RemembertheAncestors.com. Several people came up to me afterward from California and elsewhere to find out more. This was really exciting (smile).
After Chief Warhorse, Choctaw Nation, gave a rousing talk, there was a release of Serenity Peace Doves led by Chief Clarence Delcour, Creole Osceolas, and Big Queen Cherise Harrison Nelson, Guardians of the Flame, followed by a spiritual blessing with Heal-hers.
After the final prayer, we lined up and processioned out of the gate into the streets on a march to the river, which took us through the French Quarter and a lot of African history. NOLA is certainly a great place to tangibly remember the ancestors. African heritage is everywhere.
People received white carnations for the River Ceremony. They didn’t have enough flowers, which must mean the ceremony is growing larger.
On the front line, there were youth carrying a banner, followed by dancers FiYiYi and N’Fungola Sibo West African Dance Troupe – they were pretty awesome (smile). The drummers and other musicians filed in right after them and then the rest of us filled in the body. Some women carried umbrellas made from white lace; others wore hats. It was pretty hot. The elders and those who needed a lift rode in cars and vans or cycled transport.
One of the dancers waved the Pan African red, black and green flag. When stopped at a Crime Scene, like that of businesses which traded in Black flesh or at the statue of the man responsible for importing more Black Africans into this country via Brazil than any other – locs flying with the flag – the dancer would take the space back with his presence and the flag. He was awesome (smile). Marcus Garvey would certainly have approved, along with Ida B. Wells Barnett, Rosa Parks, Gen. Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Dubois and others (smile). This was a part of the procession I had not expected which I enjoyed the most.
Brother Luther Gray said the history talks were a 2015 addition. Locating the Maafa in the cement, granite and asphalt, then situating the story in the symbolic bones of the perpetrators and resisters made the walk in the heat so meaningful. I had to wipe tears and perspiration from my eyes multiple times. Grounding the commemoration in the physicality of the places made it real in a tangible way for me.
I want to walk the route again and see and hear more. Real estate certainly makes the intangible real. One cannot deny the chains, the whips, the bricks forged by Black hands and the continued criminal acts of violence on Black souls. Towards the end of the walk, one guide broke down as she shared the story of the slave market just in front of us. These businesses are still open and generating money. We are talking living, unresolved historic trauma that tourists and residents walk by, sit in to eat without a pause, a libation or a thought about the atrocity.
I knew we would pass landmarks such as the Tomb of the Unknown Slave at the historic Catholic Church, St. Augustine, where Michaela Harrison sang a beautiful song while a Mardi Gras Indian chief stood behind the chains on the altar where red palm oil had been poured. Interpreters shared the history of the places we stopped to pay our respects. Among the places we visited were Café Maspero, slave exchanges and municipal buildings. Hidden History, LLC, led this aspect of the walk. These are our ancestors; this is our story.
Café Maspero was the site of a protest led by Brother Luther after the French Restaurant refused to remove chains and whips from its walls. Can you imagine walking into this restaurant and seeing Black people eating there under shackles? The restaurant refused the request; however, after the protest began with picket signs, the artifacts came down.
The procession would stop just to celebrate life and Blackness on the warm, humid, hot New Orleans Saturday. Drummers played at these injunctions while several people danced on the streets and in the audiences we attracted. We also picked up mourners and celebrants – we mourned the loss and celebrated our victory. Despite the difficulty, we are still here.
After the River Ceremony, where there were more tears, poems about Black lives cut short through violence and how that shows up in our bodies, Oracle’s poem, “She Has a Migraine,” and another poet, Denise Lyles-Cook, shared a poem about Mama Harriett Tubman. Once again, the moment was full as these women called on our ancestors, giants like Mama Tubman.
The ceremony closed with the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice,” then people who had flowers went to the river for a quiet meditation. Watermelon and ice cooled us off a bit afterward. There was even a little shade under a few trees. I am so happy there was a bus shuttle back to Congo Square. I didn’t know how to walk back (smile) and my phone battery was too low to use the GPS.
Sakura Kone, a friend from the Bay who now lives in NOLA, invited Theodore and me over to his house to freshen up and to a play later on, Lenwood O. Sloan’s “Vo-Du MacBeth: A Play about Power in Two Acts,” which was also a benefit for Aché Cultural Center. The play, set in New Orleans just before the Civil War, was outstanding and featured the musical arrangements of Bill Summers, a NOLA legendary percussionist.
I think we must have looked like we were melting (smile). Theodore had been on the Megabus all night traveling to NOLA from Montgomery. His bus ran late and he missed the first couple of hours, but he arrived before the procession to the River and I got a chance to meet him and others from Alabama (smile). Montgomery’s Maafa Commemoration was the following Sunday, July 12. There were folks from Selma there as well who spoke earlier at Armstrong Park.
After the procession, we met at the Robert E. Lee Circle, where a Confederate flag was burned to symbolize the continued annihilation of Black personhood. At Huck Finn Restaurant, May 21, 2015, Cyrille Neville’s daughter, Liryca Neville, and her co-workers’ receipt was returned with a racial epithet written on it. Imagine what such does to the digestion and why should Black people have to swallow such insults? See http://theadvocate.com/news/12439396-123/an-african-american-lunch-customer-gets.
The July 4 weekend is certainly for the African Ancestors of the Middle Passage. That Essence is also happening means people who might not normally be in NOLA are also present. It is too bad that the Essence Festival no longer represents the interests of Black NOLA. Less than 10 percent of the profits earned touch NOLA’s Black community before leaving, more than one person told me.
This is not Black power economics, my friend Malik Rahim told me when we parted after I saw the mural of Albert Woodfox. Malik said he walks through the Superdome and says a prayer for all the Black people who died from government apathy and neglect Aug. 29, 2005, and thereafter.
I also thought about the graves the building sits on. It was built on an African Burial Ground. There were news articles in the local Black paper about Aché’s Maafa Commemoration and, at the Basin Train Station Museum and Theatre, Aché is a part of the museum permanent exhibits. This is where we attended the play Saturday night. Sister Carol Bebelle and Brother Luther Gray have really made Black heritage, especially ancestor reverence and art for social change, integral to the fabric that is Black NOLA. Aché is a keeper of the flame.
That Sunday, Robert King, Malik, his wife and I attended the memorial service for Glenn Ford, Oct. 22, 1949-June 29, 2015. The brother spent 30 years behind bars for a crime he was exonerated of, only to die less than a year after his release. It was a beautiful ceremony, but the state of Louisiana robbed this man of his life.
That Monday I went to Albert Woodfox’s bail hearing in St. Francisville, the county Angola State Prison is in. The courthouse was two hours from where I was staying with my cousin in Slidell. Albert Woodfox looked well, under the circumstances. I think I must have been the only person who thought his petition would be granted. The next hearing is to hear the court’s decision on the state’s appeal of the third federal ruling in favor of Woodfox’s release. If the appeal is upheld, the plan is to set a retrial date in the state court. The attorneys will request a change of venue. For those who are interested in keeping up with the case, visit http://angola3.org/blog/.
The federal road to freedom
After a summer of back and forth briefing on paper, on Sept. 2 at 9:30 a.m. a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will hear oral arguments on whether Federal Judge James Brady’s June 8 “unconditional writ” officially overturning Albert’s conviction, ordering his release and barring a retrial – a ruling he presented as “the only just remedy” – will stand. A decision from that court is expected sometime later this fall.
If Judge Brady’s ruling is upheld, Woodfox will be released and a retrial banned. If reversed, the Fifth Circuit does not have the power to reinstate his overturned conviction but can put limits on the terms of Judge Brady’s writ and release order.
A third chance for justice in state court
Meanwhile, as this federal appeals process plays out in the Fifth Circuit, a third attempt to prosecute Albert is already, simultaneously, underway. Months before Judge Brady issued his final ruling, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell began the process of preparing to retry Albert a third time.
Both sides will be filing multiple early motions on paper throughout the summer. Then they will meet again in St. Francisville in front of state court Judge William Carmichael of Louisiana’s 20th Judicial District on Sept. 21 and 22. During these two days, the evidentiary ground rules, a timetable and likely a tentative trial date will be set.
Free Albert Woodfox now!
There is so much on my mind. The first is Albert Woodfox and why the fact that he has been granted release by a federal judge three times over several years – yet is still behind bars – is not reason for public outrage. There should be something in the local and national media daily, weekly, monthly. Amnesty International has decided to keep the Angola 3 as one of its campaigns, but is that sufficient for it to be a local cause celebre? Albert Shaka Woodfox is entering 42 years in solitary confinement. How visible is Amnesty International? People have to get out and make noise, lots of people. Shut down the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. In fact, shut down the country for the federal court hearing at the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Sept. 2, 9:30 a.m.
I attended the bail hearing July 6 in Saint Francisville, Louisiana, the same county where Angola State prison, sits. What a fiasco. Justice is not what is happening in that county or any other jurisdiction for that matter. The judge pretending to be righteous just put on a convenient show, perhaps for outsiders like me, who thought Mr. Woodfox’s request for bail would be set.
As long as the last member of Angola 3 continues to be a celebrity case internationally and not locally and nationally, the state of Louisiana will continue to get away with its treachery. They have no solid evidence to keep the man locked up, which is why he has been granted acquittal three times.
The reason he is not out is the state’s appeal each time. There is an appeal pending now. The state of Louisiana is trying to wait it out so Woodfox will be in no condition to enjoy what is left of his life when he is finally released. We’re going to stay optimistic, yet get real – the state of Louisiana would love to have Woodfox die behind bars. This is the urgency!
And Albert Woodfox is not the only person who has been convicted for his ideas and sentenced to die for them. Look at Mumia Abu Jamal, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Leonard Peltier and so many other men, women and children, who might not be on milk cartons or in New York Times Sunday ads, but whose lives are just as important and need to be called out and lifted up daily, weekly and monthly so that the judicial systems – local, state and federal – do not think we have forgotten them.
Absence does not make any of our heartache any less for the travesty leveed, as justice evades America’s court system. Never forget elected and appointed officials serve their masters, not ours. Both are political designations. Honesty and truth have nothing to do with the outcomes in American courts.
At the bail hearing, the prosecution admitted to having as witnesses prisoners whose testimony was less than credible, testimony recanted and/or dismantled, yet the idea that the state’s entire case is set on quicksand did not make it decide to agree with the federal decision to release Woodfox. In fact, the Black attorney who is a part of the prosecution team stood facing Woodfox and with finger gesturing toward him, voice elevated, said that the state would never allow his bail to be granted or allow him to walk free.
The judge agreed with the prosecution on that, and all was settled in the state’s favor. We are such a polite hypocrisy. Note I did not say “democracy.” I just couldn’t believe it.
Woodfox has two important dates this month and next. One is to hear the outcome of the state’s opposition or appeal of Judge Bradey’s order to release Woodfox; the other is to begin jury selection after setting a date and a venue for the state retrial. This second plan is null if the state loses the first decision, which is federal, and Woodfox is released.
When one’s defense and supporters are well-intentioned yet have no connection philosophically with your people, there is a significant lag between comprehension and action. Time moves slowly because there is no urgency in the engine. While not everyone has an idea what it feels like to be in solitary confinement for hours, let alone years on end, many Black people in America know what it means to have a loved one kidnapped by the judicial system and traded off to a plantation so far away, you cannot visit.
All attorneys and judges should, as a part of their training, have to spend at least a week in a prison, two or three days in solitary confinement, a day in the skilled nursing facility … and at a rehearsal for death – strapped in and lifted to see those in the viewing room. If there is no empathy, certainly the emotion can be forced if framed in an environment such as this.
Also, the legal trainees will not have any special treatment; no one will know they are “textbook prisoners,” except the warden and perhaps someone on the tier to keep them alive. If this experience does nothing except give pause to those who sentence others to prison or defend those sentenced to such, it would have been worth it.
Some of our comrades have been locked up so long, all their support has died, and they sit without resources hoping someone will remember them and put money on their books. I learned at a recent visit to the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), California prisoners who are not lifers without the possibility of parole have to pay restitution to the state for their victim(s). One woman’s bill is $60,000.
Let’s say the prisoner is getting 11 cents (low) or 24 cents (high) per hour for work; half of this goes into this fund. Often, the victims do not even know such a fund exists and never apply for these funds. Also, LWOP prisoners are not supposed to have to pay into this fund, since they are never getting out, yet many are being fined despite this clause.
It is just messy and we need to make noise. Make noise for Albert Woodfox. Make noise for Russell Maroon Shoatz. Make noise for the MOVE family! Make noise for Mumia Abu Jamal. Make noise for all the women in California prisons who languish in skilled nursing facilities with terminal illnesses. Peaches just died earlier this year from cancer in the throat. She was 45 years old. Was she released to die at home? No.
Make noise for Patricia Wright, who is one of these terminally ill women. Make noise for all the women imprisoned in California for non-violent felonies. Make noise for all the women who have been moved throughout the state and now cannot reach family and loved ones. Make noise for all the prisoners we cannot locate in privatized prisons in California and elsewhere.
Make noise for all the children tried as adults and support legislation in California to release these prisoners and review the cases of those who do not qualify. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None and California Coalition for Women Prisoners are good places to stay informed and get active.
With regards to Albert Woodfox, if you are in New Orleans or Louisiana, just start. Send a letter to all the local papers. Find out where his hearing is taking place and fill your car with people and show up. No one is going to invite you. When you arrive, you might not even be welcomed, but don’t let that deter you. Fill your car with people and go anyway.
I am speaking specifically to Black people now, people directly affected by the Louisiana judicial system and the notorious New Orleans police department. Don’t forget the San Francisco 8. We cannot let others, no matter how well meaning, take over our movements for justice and fight for us. We can work with anyone, because Afrikan liberation affects the entire system, but we are philosophically a different people.
Don’t let money or resources stop you from staying in the picture. If need be, put your hand over the camera if what it reflects is inaccurate. Afrikan people move differently. We think differently and we see change differently. Dr. Wade Nobles says in “Seeking the Sakhu,” “African American insanity is the result of engaging in behavior that denies one’s African identity and survival imperatives [which are to preserve our people and to preserve our relationship with nature]. … [K]now thy Ka” (37).
We need to take the lead, not tire and not give up. The fight for justice is eternal. The devil is alive and active and has no problem rallying its troops. Don’t forget the Great Flood and what happened to our people in the Gulf, especially New Orleans where, after Hurricane Katrina passed, the levees broke. This is the same state that is keeping Albert Woodfox locked up.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.