by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson
During November 2021 the San Francisco Bay View (SFBV) newspaper published an article about Keith “Malik” Washington and a 2011 letter in his handwriting that described him as having been a “rock star” informant for the FBI and Texas officials who wanted to be reinstated. He appealed to the Texas Inspector General’s office to use him as a snitch against another prisoner in exchange for being granted parole.
A number of reactions to this exposure followed, some seeking exoneration of Keith, others condemning him and yet others asking for a formal hearing to determine, if indeed, the letter was written by him. Many others have been silent, not knowing how to react.
As someone who had an on-and-off political relationship with Keith and whom he named on occasion as a personal friend and inspiration to his own work (when he represented himself as a revolutionary), I think that it is important that I weigh in on this situation and address a number of related issues. Also, many people, including the editors and publishers of SFBV with whom I’ve worked for years, have asked me to offer my views on the entire affair.
Comrades need guidance on how to address this situation – a confirmed informant in our midst is not a matter to be indecisive, silent or to vacillate about. It’s an antagonistic contradiction (a contradiction between the people and the enemy, not one among the people) and must be addressed as such.
My history with Keith
My first contact and involvement with Keith came in 2013, shortly after I was interstate transferred to the Texas prison system. My first day there I had several physical altercations with the pigs at the reception unit where they cut my dreadlocks off by force while I was belly-chained, handcuffed and leg-shackled, then transferred me to solitary confinement at the Estelle Unit in response to my resistance to their assault. I wrote about the experience in an article that was published in the SFBV.
Keith sent me a message stating he was a member of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (NABPP) and had just been transferred away from Estelle Unit (he said he believed it was to keep us separated). I had no role in his NABPP recruitment contrary to a recent statement full of spin and fabrications ghostwritten by Tom “The Great White Hoax” Watts, but claiming to come from the Central Committee of the NABPP.[i] I will respond to that statement elsewhere.
Keith expressed that he’d seen various articles and art of mine in SFBV newspapers and opened a dialogue with me on the basis of the one I wrote about my experience at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (sic!) reception center and Estelle Unit.[ii] Over the next eight years we exchanged letters probably seven times. He said he wrote me many other times, but I never saw any of those letters.
At that time he called himself Optimus Prime, a name I rebuked as a caricature from bourgeois culture unfitting a revolutionary and especially a Panther.
As I continued work I’d been doing since 2004 of writing exposés on prison abuses and was involved in various prisoner support projects, I observed that Keith began writing prison exposés and involving himself in work patterned after my own. His prolific writings began appearing in the SFBV as well beginning in latter 2013.
Because almost no one on the inside was writing to expose prison abuse to the public, I fully endorsed this aspect of Keith’s work. Also, because I know and personally experience the repression that comes with such exposures, I believed he was sincere and endorsed him to the point that I drew a portrait of him wearing a “Panther” shirt and recommended his promotion to a leadership position in the NABPP.
As time went on, I observed that his politics were “all over the place.” Tom Watts had independently recruited him during 2009 while I was held incommunicado by the pigs, the very year the “Fusion Center” of Virginia State Police issued a report calling me a “domestic terrorist threat” because of my prison abuse articles which they said proved effective at turning the public against law enforcement.[iii]
Tom, in his recent ghostwritten statement, claims I had a hand in recruiting Keith in 2009, which was a lie and impossible, since everyone who worked with and around me knew 2009 was the year I was kept incommunicado, and Tom was the only outside person who corresponded with prisoners involved with and interested in the NABPP.
So, during and following 2015, I called on Tom repeatedly to see to Keith’s political education as a Party member. Tom never followed through on this (nor gave anyone else political education for that matter), although he acknowledged the need and promised and promised over and over to do so. In fact, Tom opened the door for anyone to join the NABPP under the so-called Hasan Shakur enrolment, calling on 1,000 prisoners to join the NABPP after the pigs in Texas executed Hasan, our Minister of Human Rights, in 2006.
Tom independently initiated the enrolment campaign in defiance of my critique that such open recruitment practices were an error made by the original Black Panther Party that “allowed raw elements to join who were not trained and prepared to lead a revolutionary movement and offered no protection against infiltration by disruptive elements and enemy agents who would undermine the Party’s ability to operate a high level of ideological, political and practical unity.” I wrote this warning critique in my 2006 article, “On the Roles and Characteristics of the Panther Vanguard Party and its Mass Organizations.”[iv]
I was interstate transferred to Indiana in 2018, where prisoners have use of GTL tablets, which allow them to use the phone inside their cells throughout the day. This allowed me to communicate directly with outside people as I had not been able to do in other prison systems.
He increasingly came off as someone who used the prison movement as a platform to bring attention and resources to himself while inside, which he no longer needed now that he was out.
SFBV editor Mary Ratcliff and I talked often, and she came to share and ask my advice on various matters related to the paper. I tried to help her locate someone to succeed her as editor, which on account of her advanced age – and being a “white” editor of a Black newspaper – she had been struggling to do for years. She confided in me that she was impressed with the prisoner support work of Amani Sawari, so I appealed to Amani, with whom I was in contact, and was able to interest her in taking on the position of SFBV editor, which ultimately didn’t pan out.
Some time later Mary shared with me that Keith was expected to make parole from Texas and had a brief federal sentence to complete, following which it was planned he’d move to San Francisco and come on as SFBV editor.
As I was able to read more and more of Keith’s writings and positions he was taking in defiance of the NABPP’s political line and efforts by me and others to correct him on those positions. I noted a particular opportunism in his political work and a tendency to frequently name drop, flatter and align himself with anyone with name recognition – from government officials, to clergy, to political activists and so on – who tended to lend him support or offer him a platform to promote himself. I raised these concerns within the NABPP.
Keith is released from prison
On Sept. 3, 2020, Keith was released from prison and moved to SF. We spoke by phone a few times.
Before long he showed himself less and less interested in prison support work, and prison issues at all, and more interested in making money. He increasingly came off as someone who used the prison movement as a platform to bring attention and resources to himself while inside, which he no longer needed now that he was out. Hence his growing distance from everything related to it.
I expressed my concern to him. His response was to avow his commitment to support me. I reminded him several times that his responsibility was to the people and to everyone he left behind who looked up to him as an example and those involved in political work and that how he conducted himself reflected on us all.
Whenever I called, he’d increasingly beg off, claiming to be busy but would ask if I needed money. I’d decline.
I expressed my misgivings to Mary and doubts about his seriousness as a SFBV editor.
Then came negative reports from Mary and Nube Brown (Keith’s prior partner and present editor of SFBV) about his abusive behavior and relapse into drug addiction. At this point he began totally avoiding my calls and ignoring third party messages that we needed to talk. He apparently recognized that I was attempting to contact him with questions and criticisms.
The accusations against Keith, if true, place him firmly in the camp of the enemy, as an enemy of the people.
Both Mary and Nube also expressed the belief that he was avoiding me and felt it was because I was the one person in his orbit who saw him as he truly was and would confront him directly with my critiques. Mary also told me that I had been spot on in my misgivings about Keith, and that every one of them had proven correct.
I first heard news of the exposé on Keith being an informant after it had already gone to print in the SFBV. I’d just been returned to the Virginia prison system from Ohio. I then spoke to Mary. She and Nube wanted to tell me about the entire situation sooner and ask my input on how to handle it, she said, but didn’t out of consideration for struggles I was involved with in Ohio. I was disappointed but not surprised.
I then had a comrade go onto Keith’s social media pages to see what if any responses he’d made to the exposé. There were none. I had a comment posted on his Facebook page asking if he indeed wrote that 2011 letter (and stating that I was awaiting a copy of it). He did not reply. A few days later, his Facebook page was deactivated.
My verdict on Keith Washington
There are two sides in this struggle, that of the people and that of the enemy. The accusations against Keith, if true, place him firmly in the camp of the enemy, as an enemy of the people. I have not seen nor heard anywhere where he has denied writing that 2011 letter asking to be an informant in exchange for parole – which is clearly in his handwriting and speech – nor otherwise being a rat, although he has both the intelligence and many platforms to do so. In fact, he has avoided pointed inquiries made to him on this, including from myself.
Under the circumstances, I believe the evidence against Keith to be overwhelming, having received and read numerous handwritten letters from him, and where he has avoided responding to the exposure of the 2011 letter. So I think it is binding that he is and was, in fact, a rat and should be disavowed, ostracized and in all respects treated accordingly.
It is a typical dynamic in class society – villainizing the victim; but more often in Amerika – portraying women of color as nursing grudges, angry, dangerous.
After the czar was overthrown in the 1917 Russian Revolution and the revolutionaries opened the files of the secret police and old state, they were surprised to find many trusted comrades were enemy agents and spies. It is impossible to weed out and prevent all infiltrators, but when uncovered they must be purged without remorse. This is my verdict on Keith.
Was Nube venting spite?
I don’t believe Nube published the exposé on Keith seeking revenge because their relationship went bad, as I have heard some have accused her. Given the nature of the issue and the evidence, she had a duty to do so. In fact, as Nube experienced his abuse and deterioration into drug addiction, she shared the situation with me – since Keith and I had been members of the same party and he represented me as a close friend – asking my advice on how and if to reveal his abuse and indiscretions toward her, his betrayal of the movement and so on. She repeatedly expressed concern with doing what was most correct politically as well as for his well-being.
Nube loved Keith. She sought to strike a principled balance between the interests of the people and the struggle and responding to Keith, and therefore she sought advice from others she believed had more political experience. Hers was obviously a difficult position on account of the heartbreak she endured, going public with her personal suffering and relationship, and being the burden bearer of the foul news about Keith, who many looked up to and whom she’d helped build a support base for while he was in and out of prison. Keith also proved adept at playing on people’s sympathies. In the end she correctly saw her duty to the people as trumping any sentiments for Keith.
It is troubling as ever that Black and Brown women are frequently the target of vilification and ridicule when they speak out against abuse and corruption. It is a typical dynamic in class society – villainizing the victim; but more often in Amerika – portraying women of color as nursing grudges, angry, dangerous.
This tendency spans the white liberal and left milieu and must be called what it is, prejudices of the privileged. There is both a class and racial basis to it; and it must be identified and struggled against.
The responsibility for what has come to pass lies at Keith’s feet alone. He created this web and he ended up in its tangle. Such is the just desserts of those who, as Comrade George put it, “would sell their soul for a mess of pottage.”
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
[i] Tom’s article published on social media is entitled, “The Snake Rears its Head: Ten Years We Had A ‘Rock Star Informant’ in the NABPP: Exposing Keith ‘Malik’ Washington”
[iii] This report can be read on the Prison Legal News website.
Send our brother some love and light: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1007485, Nottoway CC, 2892 Schutt Rd, Burkeville VA 23922.