Liberate the Caged Voices

Ultimately the struggle for liberation is about and for our children. Renowned illustrator and author of children’s books Bryan Collier’s unique collage work deftly expresses our revolutionary struggle to piece together a world where our children know and love who they are and can live and grow in a safe, self- determined and empowered environment – free of exploitation, anti-Blackness and slavery in any form, for all people; but it also serves to remind us, as we celebrate Juneteenth, that Black people have only achieved a small piece of our quest for freedom in Amerika. – Art by Bryan Collier

by Bay View Editor Nube Brown

This is the second in a two-part interview I did with Jalil Muntaqim, author of “We Are Our Own Liberators,” recently released after 49 years as a political prisoner, on Prison Focus Radio (KPOO San Francisco 89.5), April 22, 2021. I made specific excerpts and edits to align with this month’s theme, Juneteenth.

Juneteenth, described as Freedom Day, brings up a plethora of mixed emotions. And while I want to remain positive and recognize the significance of that day in 1865 in Galveston, Texas, the reality is that in 2021 our people still aren’t free!

I would posit that on many levels, things are worse or, at best, a great distance from where we would be had this government truly invested in the cause of freedom and reparations for the millions of people it enslaved, exploited and genocided.

Instead, we have millions of people unjustly incarcerated, many who are innocent of the “crime” for which they are serving genocidal sentences such as LWOP – life without the possibility of parole – and the Death Penalty. 

And these millions include our youth and our elders who are disproportionately Black, Brown and poor.

These millions are also mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, trans and every iteration of gender non-conforming, full of stories, heart and the constant call to us out here to recognize their humanity as they remind us of ours.

This Amerikkkan government continues to act in violent resistance, here and abroad, to the struggle of Black liberation, true freedom and the dismantling of our colonized minds towards real abolition of legal slavery – and far too many millions of people in this country support it.

This is why, 70 years later, “We still charge genocide!” 

Jalil Muntaqim – Home at last

Nube: Jalil, thank you so much for all of the work you did and being willing to share it with us. It’s valuable and still so timely. Personally, it’s rocking my world. 

When did you start writing “We Are Our Own Liberators?” 

Jalil: Oh, the first time I wrote this book, I started writing this book, was in 1979 and was called at that time, “For Liberation of North America.” It was a pamphlet I put together. I had just got released from a California prison and was extradited back to New York to serve the sentence that I was convicted of in 1975 in New York. 

And so, I was writing, and I put together a compilation of some of my writings in this booklet called “For Liberation of North America” and over the years I continued to write and I decided to put a bigger compilation together. In 2000, I think it was, I put this book together called “We Are Our Own Liberators” and the first edition, first printing of the book was in 2000, and then it was republished in 2010. 

I’m honored to think that what I wrote back 21years ago resonates today. That many people, specifically young people today, are now finding out about the book and recognizing there’s some jewels in it which they can implement today. In my thinking the book is a manual, a how-to manual in regards to our overall struggle. 

And if people want to adhere to the principles laid out in this book, I think that it will reinforce some of the goals and objectives that we’re trying to achieve, you know, in terms of changing the social order which we are now being oppressed by. 

So, unfortunately the book is out of print. I’m trying to figure out some new ways to hopefully get it back into print again. I’m thinking about doing that myself, but it’s going to be a process. But yeah, I am more than pleased, in fact elated to find that this book is resonating with the people out there engaged in struggle today.

Nube: Me too! To see all the young people on these calls, in the class, it’s very inspiring. [Jalil has been teaching a six-part virtual seminar using “We Are Our Own Liberators” as the text.]

The class was supposed to be an hour and a half, and the students said they want it for two hours! I said, whoa, OK! So actually they were into it and that’s why I’m grateful to the young people who joined this class.

Jalil: I’m grateful to the Boston Jericho chapter who put these classes together. After I was released in October of 2020, after almost 50 years in prison, the Jericho Chapter of Boston put together a class for me, for people to register for the class and so I can teach from my book. 

I’m very grateful to Jericho Boston for setting that up. And I’m actually surprised to see how many people had joined up for the class to the point where I have to have two classes, a classroom Tuesday and Thursday evenings. 

And not only that, but the class was supposed to be an hour and a half, and the students said they want it for two hours, you know! I said, whoa, OK, so actually they were into it and that’s why I’m grateful to the young people who joined this class. 

I sincerely hope that they have learned something from it. We’re having our last class tonight and Thursday for this session and I hope that they all have received something from it, gratifying and supportive of their own activism. 

Nube: I can’t imagine otherwise, but of course I can only speak for myself. And like I said, I’m getting my world rocked! The class is fantastic. I’m not one of the young ones, though; I’m 56. Jalil, there’s a passage in your book that I wanted to read – I just love this – if you don’t mind, and of course, I would love for you to comment on it. This is on page 117:

“It must also be stated, during the course of the class struggle for national unity, the enemy government will seek to preserve the legitimacy of the neo-colonialist. They will afford them greater amounts of visibility in the media, become more politically friendly, give larger concessions and authority to command the mode and direction of the struggle. 

“This is why it’s so important that revolutionary nationalist forces make their programs for Black community control known amongst the New Afrikan people, especially the working-class. They must diligently, relentlessly and vigorously challenge the national bourgeoisie Civil Rights program as minimal demands insufficient to the needs of the New Afrikan nation. 

“At first, the class struggle may appear to be divisive, but only until lines of demarcation have been drawn between two contending forces and directions and the neo-colony struggle for self-determination and independence. Thereby, class struggle for national unity becomes an essential part of the liberation movement, a fight for Black community control, a part in which the particularities of the contradiction of class divisions within the neo-colony become a motivating factor by which the principal contradiction between the neo-colony and the colonial government becomes acute and antagonistic, and separation and independence become the ultimate goal to attain in a revolutionary nationalist struggle between the nationally oppressed and the national oppressor.” 

Jalil: Very good. Nice reading, you read better than me. Very good. Yes, I had put forth this theory called Three Phase Theory for National Independence. And so there you’re speaking basically to the first phase of the three-phase theory. I added earlier on that without political foundation, you know what I’m sayin’, revolutionary political foundation, then it’s very difficult to have a revolutionary movement. 

And so, theory precedes practice. If your theory’s not together, then the practice is going to be shady. So, what I decided to do – with all of my studies and those 50 some years, or at that time 30 years in prison – I decided to write that book and write the Three Phase Theory for National Independence and put it forward. 

The Three Phase Theory for National Independence essentially lays down the foundation which we understand not only the national liberation struggle, but the class division that is promoted by capitalism, capitalist imperialism and addressing those kinds of issues. 

I tried to promote it out there and had discussions with many academics, intellectuals who discussed the issue, some of them sought to put together a front, a National Liberation Front some years ago. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the wherewithal to maintain it. 

But the Three Phase Theory for National Independence essentially lays down the foundation which we understand not only the national liberation struggle, but the class division that is promoted by capitalism, capitalist imperialism and addressing those kinds of issues. 

So that is the basic foundation of that passage that you read. It’s dealing with the issues of the first-phase class struggle for unity.

Nube: OK, I wanted to move to another topic and get your thoughts on it. There’s a piece of news in the Guardian. They recently did a story about 16-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, that young wanna-be cop who killed the Black Lives Matter activists and just walked away. He is now being funded by the police and other right-wing organizations. 

You were 18 years old, right, when you were fighting the system as a Black Panther? You were then arrested under the COINTELPRO program as an 18-year-old. Is that right? Nineteen? So, you’re a teenager. You were sent to prison for life for your activities.

Do you have anything to say about that? 

The criminal justice system operates in opposition to what is equitable and diverse and equitable operations of support for people of color or poor people in general.

Jalil: This indicates to what degree white supremacy – or the idea of white skin privilege – is prevalent in the social order, including and in regard to the criminal justice system. It goes to show the division of a nation in respects to those who are progressive and those who are reactionary, and responses they have to those individuals that represent the reactionary fashion of the United States. 

And it does indicate to what degree the criminal justice system operates in opposition to what is equitable and diverse and equitable operations of support for people of color or poor people in general. We live in the system that’s based upon the ideas of individualism, rugged individualism and competition and based on capitalism and ideas of white supremacy. 

And if you don’t fit into that mode, then actually the system’s not going to function or be working on your behalf or in your best interests. Essentially, this white guy, this white kid who committed these crimes, was basically not really wanting to be arrested. That doesn’t happen in the Black community, that doesn’t happen in the Brown community, doesn’t happen in the Asian community, you know, so that speaks volumes as to what is really happening in this country.

Nube: Yes, it really does and it’s frightening to think about. I mean they are literally funding their youth to become killers. 

Jalil: That’s not unusual. That’s the nature of this country; that’s how this country came into existence. You know one thing: Unfortunately, many of us have a short memory, you know; we don’t know how to adhere to history to any large degree or look at how history has created conditions which are prevalent today or have impact on what is going on today. 

But its history is based upon violence. The history of this country is based upon violence. 

Internally and externally, this country has always been subjugated to the idea that might is right and, as a result of that, more often than not, people of color are the ones who have suffered.

They started off with violence, started off the violence with the genocide of Native Americans; they started off the violence with the inhumanity of imprisonment, enslavement of African people, you know, the capturing and torturing and transporting of African people to this country for enslavement and profiting off people’s bodies. 

You know, this country is based upon this kind of violence even if you just look at the history of wars that this country has been in – from the war against the British in 1776, the War of 1812, the Panama wars, you know, Teddy Roosevelt and Cuba etc., consistent years of engagement. Violent engagement is the history of this country. 

And so, by looking at it both internally and externally, this country has always been subjugated to the idea that might is right and, as a result of that, more often than not, people of color are the ones who have suffered as a result of that. So why be surprised? When you look at the history of this country, they continue to engage in the same practices that were the very origin of its existence.  

Nube: Indeed. And then, of course, thinking about prisons and the fact that there’s still legal slavery manifesting within our prisons due to the exception clause of the 13th Amendment that says if you are convicted of a crime, you become a slave of the state. We now have 2 million plus people in prisons including hundreds of political prisoners. 

Mumia Abu-Jamal right now is being shackled to the bed while awaiting heart surgery and he was not able to communicate with his people on the outside to give them some peace of mind and himself before he was going into surgery, being subjected to possible death because prison officials don’t want him to get out. They want him to die in prison. [Mumia Abu Jamal is now in recovery and seemingly doing well although still not home with his family.]

In the late ‘70s I filed a lawsuit trying to have the 13th Amendment exception clause removed from the United States Constitution. I even filed a petition to the United Nations to that end.

Do you have anything to say about the 13th Amendment exception clause? 

Jalil: Well, the exception clause. Yeah, at one time I tried some years ago back in I figure the late ‘70s, I filed a lawsuit trying to have the exception clause removed from the United States Constitution. I even filed a petition to the United Nations to that end, but of course, you know without a major campaign that would include the necessity for an amendment to the Constitution to be ratified by the 50 states, then it’s very difficult to get that out of the Constitution, the exception clause. 

Our deeper understanding of the celebration of Juneteenth as unrealized freedom means new language to move us forward in the struggle and is not to be taken lightly as we continue to be denied even the slightest recognition of the Amerikkkan holocaust that was Amerikkkan chattel slavery, as seen by the nauseatingly slow progress toward reparations; and the “jury” is still out on whether we even deserve the freedom declared us in 1863 – albeit 1865 for enslaved people in Galveston, Texas – as manifest in our prisons and codified by the exception clause of the 13th Amendment. 

I understand there is a bill pending in Congress now to try to get that exception clause removed from the Constitution, but essentially what is necessary is you’ve got to have a national determination, a national movement that raises the issues that slavery has never been abolished in this country, that it was institutionalized into the penal system. 

Editor’s note: Abolish Slavery National Network is a national coalition fighting to abolish constitutional slavery and involuntary servitude, in all forms, for all people. See abolishslavery.us.

Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager announced on March 21, 2021, the introduction of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3 (ACA 3), the California Abolition Act, which will amend the Constitution of California to end involuntary servitude in California.

Article 1, Section 6, of the California Constitution currently allows the practice of involuntary servitude as a means of punishing crime. The euphemistic language of “involuntary servitude” masks what this nefarious practice is in plain language: forced labor.

Jalil: And when we come to that understanding that they continue to reap profits from people’s misery, from exploitation of people who’ve been incarcerated, then we have to understand that there is a necessity for people in general to raise their own question as to what kind of system do we now continue to live with?

One of the things that I have raised in a matter of challenge to the system, particularly the criminal justice and the prison industrial complex, was that we need to engage on two levels: one, accountability. We have to enforce that the prison industrial complex does what it claims it’s supposed to do and that is rehabilitate. 

So, one way that we can do that is ensure that the product, the end product of the industry, is better or improved than it was when it went inside the industry. More often than not, what we talk about is quality controls, right –  that the end product, the person who comes out of prison, has the capacity to be an asset to the community rather than a continued liability. 

We want to end the results of recidivism, also the school to prison pipeline. So, if they were sending people to prison at this rate that they are, they’re going to have to show that end product or individual who can be a contributing factor to a social order. 

That means they need to have college programs inside prisons across the board, need to have vocational programs inside prisons across the board and those vocational programs should be locked to a link with a union outside. So, the person gets out of prison, you have a union representative right there to meet them and introduce them into the workforce, but as union representatives. 

Of course, they don’t want anything like that to happen because that means that people may not be coming back to prison, and they would have competition in the workforce. Guys who go to the penitentiary become educated, become trained, become skilled and they’d be the end product coming out. 

We need to develop a new means for talking about abolitionists or an Abolitionist Movement that essentially creates conditions by which we take the incentives out of the prison industrial complex.

So that’s one way to challenge the system and ensure that the end product coming out is a person who will not go back to prison again. At least have the least opportunity, least incentive to go back to prison again. 

The second part is BDS, boycott, divest and sanction, right? Because it is big business, then we want to withdraw money from that business. All right, so we want to develop a national campaign to boycott prisons to ask corporations who have invested in prisons to divest from those prison systems and also create sanctions, that we will sanction those corporations that are doing any kind of business inside the prison system in the United States. 

And if we were to do so and deal with the issues of the monetary incentives for creating and building prisons, then we would really have to create the kind of movement that would often in my thinking create conditions for the abolition or what we call abolishment of prisons. 

So, we need to develop a new means for talking about abolitionists or an Abolitionist Movement that essentially creates conditions by which we take the incentives out of the prison industrial complex. One. And we ensure that the end product of this industry is one who is perfected to the extent that we know for the most part, and I mean by professional force, that they will not be going back to prison again. They become skilled individuals, educated individuals. 

People should be coming out of the penitentiary with college degrees and/or certificates in journalism or apprentices in various skilled programs – carpentry, masonry, every kind of industry that they create in prisons. There should be an equivalent organization, equivalent business, industry outside where those individuals once released, they go right into the market, right into the job force. And that is the way our prisons essentially, allegedly are supposed to work but do not. 

Nube: OK, what about these industries that you’re talking about in relation to having those resources available for people in the community so our people aren’t vulnerable to the criminal injustice system in the first place? The assault on every facet of our existence creates multiple pipelines to the prison industrial complex, not just the school. And most crucially, what about the snatching our youth from our communities into the prisons and then holding them, like you, for almost 50 years, which I think is genocidal. I want to know what you think about that.

Imprisoned, our people aren’t reproducing – young men, young women not reproducing. So, in and of itself according to the protocols of genocide, you are preventing the production of growth rates of a people. And genocide is, in whole or in part, a crime against humanity.

Jalil: Well, of course it’s genocidal. There’s no doubt about it any time that you take millions of people over a period of time and hold them in prison, first of all, and you’re generating them at a young age. The 1994 Clinton Crime Bill created the conditions by which individuals 13 years of age can be charged as an adult! 

OK, and so let’s take that into account, 13 years of age, a child being charged as an adult and sent to prison for life, right? That’s the 1994 Crime Bill and since that period, you have millions of people who have been sent to prison – many of them have got out – but nonetheless, they have been sent to prison at their most formative, their most productive age and held in prison 10, 20, 30, 40 years. 

That means our people aren’t reproducing. Young men, young women not reproducing. So, in and of itself according to the protocols of genocide you are preventing the production of growth rates of a people, right? And genocide is, in whole or in part, a crime against humanity, all right? 

So that is part of the process by which for our Black people, our New Afrikan people in the United States, our population has not grown beyond 13.5 percent in the last 40, 50 years, all right? We are confronting not only the issues of being sent to prison at a young age and held for long periods of time, but we also experience terrorism and being murdered in the streets by the police and other social morbidities like healthcare and environmental racism. 

Infant mortality rates of Black people are greater than they are for white people in this country. And so, when you take this accumulative degree of understanding, the mortality rate of Black people in this country, we can make that charge of genocide.

This concludes my two-part interview with Jalil Muntaqim, beloved son, father, grandfather, great grandfather political prisoner and author, recently returned to us after almost 50 years in prison. I invite you to read Part 1 of this interview in the May Bay View.

Jalil ends by stating: “We still have the same charge, so we charge genocide again. I ask everyone listening here to go to spiritofmandela.org, endorse the campaign, support the international jurors’ effort that we put forth and bring the international community to support our struggle inside the 3,000-by-2,000-square-mile territory of the United States.” 

In revolutionary love and shared humanity, Nube