by Jalil A. Muntaqim
I was captured on Aug. 28, 1971, in San Francisco after a car chase and gun battle with San Francisco police. It was alleged that myself and co-defendant Albert Nuh Washington were attempting to avenge the assassination of George L. Jackson in San Quentin on Aug. 21, 1971.
I was convicted for the S.F. shootout, a federal bank robbery, and in 1975 convicted of killing two police officers in New York that occurred on May 21, 1971. This conviction was code named NEWKILL by the FBI in a May 26, 1971, meeting at the White House between J. Edgar Hoover, then-President Richard Nixon and members of the Watergate plumbers.
I’d been a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, and the White House had decided to ensure BPP members were convicted for NEWKILL. I was captured for alleged revolutionary-military actions, charged and persecuted in criminal proceedings; the U.S. corporate government criminalizes political rebellion.
After my conviction in New York City, I was returned to California to complete the S.F. conviction and sentence. I was placed in San Quentin Adjustment Center, locked on the first floor in a cell between Ruchell Cinque Magee and Charles Manson. The San Quentin Six were locked a few cells away on the same tier.
In 1975, I received a newsletter from Yuri Kochiyama, representing the New York City chapter of the National Committee in Defense of Political Prisoners. The newsletter highlighted a call for the United Nations to consider the existence of the U.S. political prisoners.
After reading the newsletter, I drafted a proposal for progressives and activists to assist political prisoners to petition the United Nations on our behalf to call for a formal investigation into our existence and the conditions we suffered in prisons across the country. I showed the draft to Ruchell, who thought it was very good, but suggested I let Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt review it.
I had the proposal smuggled to the second floor of the Adjustment Center where Geronimo was being held, along with Russell Little and Bill Harris, members of the SLA (Symbionese Liberations Army), for his critique. Geronimo tweaked the proposal and sent it back for me to rewrite and send to Yuri and NCDPP to implement.
Unfortunately, after several weeks there was no response from Yuri or NCDPP, so the proposal was abandoned until early 1977. At that time, I met a white guy in San Quentin nicknamed Commie Mike, and I shared the proposal with him. He put me in contact with the United Prisons Union, a prison reform advocacy group in San Francisco.
After a meeting with Pat Singer, a leader of UPU, it was agreed UPU would take on the proposal and develop what evolved into the National Prisoners Petition Campaign to the United Nations. Soon thereafter, the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee joined in support of UPU in building the petition campaign to the U.N. We were able to obtain former Amnesty International attorney Kathyrn Burke to assist with the development of the petition to be presented to the United Nations.
By 1978, the campaign had prisoners in 25 states, including Hawaii, supporting the petition. The petition was submitted to the U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and recorded as U.N. document E/CN.4/Sub.2/NG0/75. This was the first time a document concerning the existence of U.S. political prisoners and racist prison conditions had been filed, recorded and heard at the U.N.
In 1979, evolving from this initiative, an effort was made to have the International Jurists tour the U.S. and interview political prisoners. After a number of interviews, the International Jurists filed a report to the United Nations affirming political prisoners exist in the United States.
Also in 1979, our campaign knew a journalist in Paris would be attending a news conference by U.S. United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young. I was asked were there any specific questions I wanted asked by the journalist, and I said only one: “Do political prisoners exist in the U.S.?” Ambassador Young answered truthfully, stating “… perhaps thousands,” and for his admission, then-President Jimmy Carter fired Andrew Young from his post.
It should be noted, also as part of the overall campaign, Cuba’s President Fidel Castro offered to trade U.S. political prisoners for prisoners in Cuba the U.S. wanted. Unfortunately, because we did not have contacts with the State Department or know anyone who was willing and capable of intervening in our behalf, that trade did not happen.
Many years later, the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika organized annual marches around the White House, demonstrating and calling for the release of U.S. political prisoners. In 1995, the PG-RNA, for lack of funding and participation, stopped the Jericho marches, which I thought should continue.
So, in 1996, I distributed a call for action to reestablish the Jericho marches. Comrades Safiya Asya Bukhari and Herman Ferguson came to visit, decrying they were unable to organize a national Jericho march in a year’s time. In our meeting in the visiting room at Eastern Correctional Facility in New York, we agreed that a concerted effort would be made to organize the Jericho March for 1998.
Sista Safiya and Baba Herman’s organizing ability was incomparable, initiating the campaign by establishing an organizing committee, a P.O. box address for communications, and a non-profit tax status to raise funds. They then issued a call for progressives in the left, especially those supporting political prisoners across the country, to join in the organizing initiative.
Both Safiya and Herman crisscrossed the country, meeting with activists, explaining the importance of the march and demonstration, letting activists know we have a collective responsibility to support our captured and confined warriors and demand their release and amnesty. Within two years, their indomitable spirit and revolutionary determination successfully brought 6,000 activists from across the country to Washington, D.C., for the Jericho March and rally.
After the march and rally, it was decided the momentum from the effort should continue, and the Jericho Amnesty Movement was born. The Jericho Amnesty Movement is charged with the responsibility of supporting and representing the interests of U.S. political prisoners and calling for their release, especially those known to have COINTELPRO convictions.
There have been continued initiatives to raise the profile of U.S. political prisoners at the United Nations. In 2016, Jihad Abdulmumit, the current chairperson of Jericho, made a presentation in Geneva, Switzerland, on behalf of U.S. political prisoners. Jihad was a member of the Black Panther Party and BLA and a former political prisoner; he understands this struggle to forge a determination to free U.S. political prisoners.
In 2018, the Jericho Amnesty Movement will reach a milestone of 20 years of actively fighting on behalf of U.S. political prisoners. In these nearly 20 years, Jericho has established a medical committee to assist political prisoners in their health needs and a legal defense committee to assist political prisoners in their legal defenses and challenges, assist families of political prisoners to visit, and continue to fight for their release.
When we consider that many of those who were COINTELPRO targets are still in prison, we can agree that Jericho is an important formation bridging the generations from the struggle of the 1960s and 1970s to the millennials. Obviously, for any movement to be sustained, grow and evolve, activists must support their political prisoners.
The Black Panther Party was instrumental in developing community organizing and political objectives to be achieved. The Party made people understand the process of fighting the status quo to empower the community.
For example, in 1967 the Party started armed patrols of the police, carrying weapons and law books, demanding cops follow the Constitution and laws on stop and frisk procedures. This type of public display of challenging police procedures encouraged folks on the streets to recognize the police weren’t all powerful or omnipotent.
This was the primary reason the FBI COINTELPRO launched over 300 attacks against the BPP. In fact, the FBI employed every tactic used to destabilize a country in order to destroy the Black Panther Party. This includes illegal surveillance, infiltration, provocateurs, burglarizing offices and homes, stops and frisks, illegal arrests, poison pen letters, misinformation in the media, snitch jacketing and assassinations.
Indeed, on March 9, 1968, J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI, issued a COINTELPRO memorandum that stated in part: “The Negro youth and moderate must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries.”
The FBI employed every tactic used to destabilize a country in order to destroy the Black Panther Party.
It must be understood that the FBI COINTELPRO did not begin with the U.S. corporate government’s efforts to destroy the Black Panther Party, and “to prevent the rise of a Black Messiah.” However, the FBI COINTELPRO illegal, unconstitutional activities from 1967 to 1970 resulted in the death of approximately 33 Panthers.
Despite the attacks on the BPP, the youth flocked to the Party, especially after 1967 when Bobby Seale and 26 armed Panthers entered the California legislature protesting hearings on gun control. This action captured the imagination of young Black youths across the country that the fight for revolution was here. The subsequent passing of the Milford Act made it illegal for Panthers to publicly carry weapons while patrolling the police.
Also in 1968, membership increased when the Party established its “Serve the People” programs, initiating the free breakfast program for children. In 1969, the first BPP Free Breakfast for Children Program was started at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland, and the Party was distributing and selling 100,000 copies of its newspaper, The Black Panther, weekly.
By 1968, the BPP had established 38 branches and chapters with 5,000 members. It was the indomitable spirit of these thousands of young people dedicating themselves to the Party and continuing the struggle for freedom and equality that began from the time when New Afrikans were brought to this country as slaves.
Hence, when Willie Ricks and Stokely Carmichael proclaimed our struggle was for “Black Power,” it ignited a political cataclysmic storm of youthful energy for freedom. The Black Panther Party Ten Point Platform and Program manifested that declaration in the pragmatic development of programs on behalf of our people. It is this legacy of resistance and fightback that Jericho incorporates, as lessons learned from the BPP.
I was one of those thousands of young people who, at 16 years of age, first signed up to become a Panther; at 18 years old I was recruited into the Black underground. A little more than a month before my 20th birthday I was captured, and am now one of the longest held political prisoners in the world.
With 46 years in prison, I continue to seek ways to contribute to the overall struggle. The writing of my books, “We Are Our Own Liberators” and “Escaping the Prism – Fade to Black,” is part of giving back to this generation of activists. It is necessary to ensure the continuum from one generation to the next, and it is incumbent on each generation to support political prisoners who paved the way, passing the torch of revolution.
In this regard, recently the Jericho Amnesty Movement embarked on a new national and international campaign to persuade the U.N. International Jurists to initiate a formal investigation into human rights abuses of U.S. political prisoners and to demand the U.S. corporate government implement the U.N. Minimum Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners and immediately release our political prisoners.
This especially calls for the release of those with COINTELPRO convictions who have languished in prison for 30 to 50 years. These political prisoners were contemporaries of Nelson Mandela; when he was fighting against Apartheid in South Afrika, they were fighting against Jim Crow segregation and second-class citizenship in the U.S.
This Jericho campaign motto is “In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela,” and activists across the country are urged to join and support it in whatever way they are able in political solidarity toward the building of the National Coalition for the Human Rights of Political Prisoners. For more information on this campaign or on the existence of U. S. political prisoners, keep reading and visit www.thejerichomovement.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela: Campaign for UN investigation into the human rights of US Political Prisoners
Proposal to campaign for UN international jurists to initiate a formal investigation
In the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed the release of a few political prisoners after long, hard-fought battles. We also know many more were denied release after winning court battles, like Sundiata Acoli, Veronza Bowers and Dr. Mutulu Shakur. Either the court decided they should be released and the Parole Departments appealed, preventing release, or the Parole Board granted release, and state apparatus appealed to annul those decisions. In either case, our comrades continue to languish in prison, as these decisions leave few, if any, avenues of recourse to remedy the situation.
On the other hand, we have witnessed and celebrate the tremendous victories like the release of the Cuban Five, and the recent release of Oscar Lopez Rivera. His being granted clemency is one in a long line of clemency successes for Puerto Rican Independentistas. The broad-based international support for the Puerto Rican independence movement speaks loudly to the lesson of a unified and uniform determination.
We must seek the wherewithal to replicate their organizational success in our continued struggle to win the release of our incarcerated comrades. As we congratulate and celebrate the release of Oscar, it is extremely important to encourage that body of activists to join in our fight in international solidarity. His victory is our victory, and our continued fight should be their continued fight!
In this regard, I have been reflecting on our past successes, particularly having the United Nations International Jurists tour and interview a number of our political prisoners. Following the visits, the International Jurists reported to the U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities that political prisoners exist in the United States.
Soon thereafter, the late and honored Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba, offered, on Dec. 24, 1977, to make an exchange of prisoners held in Cuba for our captured revolutionaries. Unfortunately, we did not have the fortitude or organizational capacity to demand this exchange be made – to force the issue with the U.S. corporate government.
Some of the comrades interviewed by the International Jurists 35 years ago still languish in prison today. Therefore, I would like to propose it is time to organize a new international campaign to persuade the U.N. International Jurists to initiate a formal investigation. This investigation would be based on discovering U.S. human rights violations as they pertain to our long-held political prisoners.
I am proposing this campaign be organized under the slogan of “In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela,” as it is believed this slogan will resonate with progressives around the world. It will inspire them in international solidarity to join our efforts to persuade the U.N. International Jurists to initiate this call for a needed investigation.
Some of you may be aware that recently departed U.N. Rapporteur Juan Mendez successfully had a report and recommendation accepted by the U.N. General Assembly condemning the U.S. policy and practice on punitive solitary confinement. The U.N. General Assembly now identifies this accepted condemnation and recommendation as the “Nelson Mandela Rules.”
It would be politically and strategically advantageous for our campaign to build on Juan Mendez’ success with our organizing slogan “In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela.” This is especially significant since many of our imprisoned comrades suffer the punitive conditions of solitary confinement.
When giving consideration to the New York Times Dec. 4 and 5, 2016, special report on the racial discrimination in disciplinary practices in the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, we know the “Mandela Rules” have been violated. In fact, I am writing this proposal from NYS Southport premiere gulag – in solitary confinement for a bogus disciplinary Tier III hearing in stark violation of the “Nelson Mandela Rules.”
Therefore, it is anticipated the organizing of this proposal will permit us to accomplish the following:
- Build a national determination focused on petitioning the International Jurists to initiate a human rights violation investigation;
- Create a political environment to build international solidarity among progressives around the world in support of our political prisoners;
- Build a media propaganda campaign in support of this determination, giving greater recognition to our political prisoners and the conditions of their imprisonment;
- Expose U.S. hypocrisy on the U.S. human rights record and its continued violation of the “Mandela Rules”;
- Strengthen our capacity to represent our political prisoners, broadening the base of unity and support among the New Afrikan/Black, Native American, Puerto Rican, Chicano/Mexicano, Euro-American etc. anti-racist and anti-imperialist trends in the overall struggle;
- Have the U.N. International Jurists report to the U.N. General Assembly, hence to the world, the U.S. human rights violations as they specifically pertain to the existence of U.S. political prisoners;
- The report by the International Jurists to be used for the development of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with international observers to remedy the COINTELPRO persecutions and convictions.
The proposal tasks us to formulate and structure an organizational determination and action plan to possibly form a Coalition on Human Rights for Political Prisoners. Such coalition would be comprised of representatives of our political prisoners, human rights advocates, legal representatives, progressive organizations and faith-based groups.
In closing, after careful review, I ask this proposal be copied, widely distributed and posted for discussing toward implementation. Again, with the success of Oscar and the recent release of a few political prisoners, it is time to step up our fight for freedom “In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela.”
Fundraising and developing the UN International Jurists Campaign
It has been brought to my attention that there is a growing interest to build and support the national and international initiative to persuade the U.N. International Jurists to conduct a formal investigation of the treatment of our political prisoners.
A member of the National Lawyers Guild has made me aware a specific concern toward initiating this campaign will be cost. As is usual, when talking about building and sustaining an initiative and campaign of this magnitude, developing financial resources is an issue of contention. Here, I would like to briefly address this concern in hope of offering some practical and pragmatic approaches to alleviate this concern.
Obviously, for this campaign to be a success and hopefully evolve into a sustainable organizational determination, it is essential and necessary to forge specific functioning committees tasked with specific purposes. For lack of a better term, I’ll call this the Financial Committee:
The FC will be tasked to build the economic foundation for this campaign. It will
- Establish a 501(c)(3) tax deductible account for fundraising;
- Develop a grant proposal to attach to the proposal for the campaign to be presented to the following funding resources; Haymarket Fund, Rosenberg Fund, A.J. Muste Foundation, North Star Fund. Other foundations or funding sources should be investigated to potentially support this campaign. Grant proposals should be written tailored to the funding sources’ criteria. However, our objective should not be to be complacent when it comes to testing the limits of those criteria – our innovative and creative structuring of the grant should be able to satisfy the demands of these funding sources.
- Start crowdfunding by establishing a working relationship with a crowdfunding source such as Indiegogo and other online funding sources.
- Make direct appeals with a specific bullet points funding pitch to be broadcast at intervals on progressive radio programs across the country, especially on Pacifica Radio.
In addition, create a short video pitch on the existence of U.S. political prisoners, our overall struggle and the specific objective of this campaign, appealing for people to make direct donations. This video pitch should be loaded on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Google and other social media platforms. The video pitch is both an educational tool and fundraising application further broadening the base of support, not only for this campaign, but for all of our political prisoners.
- Organize other fundraising committee events, including reaching out to the entertainment community to do benefits in support of the campaign.
The five specific initiatives present how the overall campaign can be adequately financed to ensure its success. It will further serve to secure the organizational development of the campaign to potentially evolve into a sustainable organizational determinant to project political-ideological direction for the future of struggle.
The importance of this (R)evolutionary prospect is we anticipate our long-term need to represent political prisoners. Other specific committees that will need to be organized are the Propaganda Committee, Legal Committee and the Committee for Organizational Development.
I am confident the initial organizing committee will have both the vision and courage to forge a non-sectarian political approach with the goal to eventually organize a broad-based Coalition on Human Rights for Political Prisoners. There are many voices that must be heard, and this vehicle will serve to ensure these voices are both recognized and heard subject to our initial, uniform and common interest on behalf of all political prisoners.
The importance of this (R)evolutionary prospect is we anticipate our long-term need to represent political prisoners.
Ultimately, the task is to secure the International Jurists to conduct this investigation on human rights of political prisoners and to build international solidarity in support of this determination in anti-imperialist solidarity with progressive forces around the world.
If you desire me to present my thinking to the above-mentioned committees, please let me know. I hope these ideas are found both helpful and doable. Of course, it is extremely important to have the right committed people assigned to the task to be accomplished. It is my sincere hope there are more than enough activists who are interested in this objective and campaign and prepared to employ their talents to ensure our success.
Remember: We Are Our Own Liberators!
In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela!
Revolutionary Love and Unity,
Jalil Abdul Muntaqim (Anthony Bottom) is one of the longest held political prisoners in the world. He is the author of “We Are Our Own Liberators,” a compilation of prison writings. Many of his essays have been published in scholastic anthologies such as “Schooling a Generation,” ed. Chiasole (2002); “The New Abolitionist: (Neo) Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prisoners Writings,” ed. Joy James (2005); “This Country Must Change,” ed. Craig Rosenbraugh (2009). Jalil’s articles have appeared in the New York Amsterdam News, the San Francisco BayView newspaper and many progressive publications. His most recent book, “Escaping the Prison – Fade to Black,” a compilation of poems and essays with an extensive afterword by Professor Ward Churchill, published by Kersplebedeb Publishing & Distributing in Canada, can be purchased on Amazon.com and from AK Press. Jalil is the co-founder of the Jericho Amnesty Movement. For more information on Jalil’s NEWKILL conviction and fight for parole, check http://www.freejalil.com. And send our brother some love and light: Jalil Muntaqim (Anthony) Bottom, 77A4283, Shawangunk CF, P.O. Box 700, Wallkill NY 12589.