Monday, November 02, 2009

book review - The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther

This new book was released on November 1, and my review of it is featured at, a progressive perspective on world events. Below is an excerpt. Please read the full article here.

On the morning of December 4, 1969, lawyer Jeffrey Haas received a call from his partner at the People’s Law Office, informing him that early that morning Chicago police had raided the apartment of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton at 2337 West Monroe Street in Chicago. Tragically, Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark had both been shot dead, and four other Panthers in the apartment had critical gunshot wounds. Police were uninjured and had fired their guns 90-99 times. In sharp contrast, the Panthers had shot once, from the shotgun held by Mark Clark, which had most likely been fired after Clark had been fatally shot in the heart and was falling to the ground.

Haas went straight to the police station to speak with Hampton’s fiancée, Deborah Johnson, who was then eight months pregnant with Hampton’s son. She had been sleeping in bed next to Hampton when the police attacked and began shooting into the apartment and towards the bedroom where they were sleeping. Miraculously, Johnson had not been shot, but her account given to Haas was chilling. Throughout the assault Hampton had remained unconscious (strong evidence emerged later that a paid FBI informant had given Hampton a sedative that prevented him from waking up) and after police forced Johnson out of the bedroom, two officers entered the room where Hampton still lay unconscious. Johnson heard one officer ask, "Is he still alive?" After two gunshots were fired inside the room, the other officer said, "He’s good and dead now."

This article has also been featured at Black Commentator, Z Net, Infoshop, Philly IMC, Peoples' Voice, Daily Kos, Mostly Water,, Eat The State!, Political Affairs mediaLeft, and Assata Shakur Speaks.

Also, be sure and check out the review by Ernesto Aguilar here. and another review at the Why Am I Not Suprised? blog here.

(In this photo, reminiscent of the photos of southern lynchings, smiling police carry away Fred Hampton's body)

Watch the 1971 film "The Murder of Fred Hampton."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Color Lines book review: Other: An Asian & Pacific Islander Prisoners’ Anthology

Below is my new review that appears in the November/December issue of ColorLines Magazine.

Other: An Asian & Pacific Islander Prisoners’ Anthology (AK Press) is an impressive book featuring writing and art by 22 people imprisoned in the U.S. The publisher, the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, writes that it “works with API (Asian and Pacific Islander) prisoners to educate the broader community about the growing number of APIs in the U.S. being imprisoned, detained and deported.”

Other contributes significantly to both prison-abolitionist and ethnic-studies literature, each of which has badly neglected this issue. In the preface, journalist Helen Zia argues that the resulting invisibility of API prisoners extends to the “mainstream media and ethnic media alike,” where they essentially “do not exist.” While the arrest rate among API youth is increasing, APIs still do have a lower arrest and incarceration rate than other racial groups; however, in 2004, the Services and Advocacy for Asian Youth Consortium in San Francisco reported that the API conviction rate is 28 percent higher than other racial groups.

The plight of API prisoners who were legal residents with green cards at the time of their arrest is illustrated by the story of coeditor Eddy Zheng. When granted parole in March 2005, Zheng was ordered deported and was immediately transferred to immigration detention. He promptly appealed the deportation order but was held in detention until February 2007, when he was released after an outpouring of public support. As of this writing, his deportation appeal was pending at the Ninth Circuit Court.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Book Review: "Anarchy Alive!: Anti-authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory"

When Israeli anarchist Uri Gordon first moved to Europe in the fall of 2000 to begin his doctoral studies at Oxford University, he was planning to study environmental ethics. However, Gordon explains that “the IMF/World Bank protests in Prague had just happened, the fresh buzz of anti-capitalism was palpably in the air, and I was eager to get a piece of the action.” After attending a report-back from locals that had traveled to Prague, he quickly became involved in protests locally and around Europe. “I soon ended up doing much more activism than studying,” writes Gordon, who had now been “tear-gassed in Nice, corralled in London and narrowly escaped a pretty horrible beating in Genoa.” He soon decided to shift the focus of his PhD thesis to anarchist politics. The completed thesis has now been published as Anarchy Alive!

Read the rest of the article in this month's Z Magazine. here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chaim Leib Weinberg: A Jewish Anarchist in Philadelphia

--A Review of "Forty Years in the Struggle; The Memoirs of a Jewish Anarchist," by Chaim Leib Weinberg; English Translation by Naomi Cohen; Edited by Robert Helms; Litwin Books, 2008.

The “Old City” neighborhood of Philadelphia is renowned for its many historic sites related to the “founding fathers” and the US colonial era. Yet, very few know about this same neighborhood’s significant anarchist history. Since 1997, local historian Robert Helms has led an “Anarchist Historical Walking Tour” that presents this history of resistance from the poor and working classes, who viewed the rhetoric about “American Democracy” as a fraud, and organized themselves to challenge the power of the ruling class. Helms is the editor of the just-released English translation of Chaim Leib Weinberg’s (1869-1939) autobiography: Forty Years in the Struggle; The Memoirs of a Jewish Anarchist.

This article was published in the July/August issue of Z Magazine. You can read the full article here.

(PHOTO: Chaim Leib Weinberg)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Neoliberalism Needs Death Squads in Colombia

My review of the new book Blood & Capital: The Paramilitarization of Colombia was published today by Upside Down World. Check out the full review here. Below is a short excerpt:

As the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere, Colombia has long been the US’ most important ally in Latin America. Simultaneously, Colombia has also become the hemisphere’s worst human rights violator, with Colombia’s numerous paramilitary organizations recently taking center stage, as they’ve gradually become directly responsible for more human rights atrocities than the formal military and police. In the name of fighting “narco-terrorism,” poor people and dissidents are massacred, assassinated, tortured, and disappeared, among other atrocities—done to eliminate particular individuals and to “set an example” by intimidating others in the community. 97 percent of human rights abuses remain unpunished.

Throughout Blood & Capital, author Jasmin Hristov seeks to expose the rational motivations behind state violence for capitalism’s economic elites in the US and Colombia. In meticulous detail, Hristov shows how the super-rich benefit from state repression and how the violators of human rights have essentially become immune from any consequences for their actions. If death squads are truly to be abolished in Colombia, we must look honestly at how and why they exist today. Hristov’s new book is a powerful tool for exposing who truly calls the shots.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Beyond Attica: The Untold Story of Women's Resistance Behind Bars

My review of Victoria Law's new book Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women was published today at Alternet. You can read the full article at Alternet, but here is an excerpt:

The central thesis of Resistance Behind Bars is truly profound. In clear, non-academic language, Law argues that recent scholarship documenting and radically criticizing the increased incarceration rates and mistreatment of women prisoners "largely ignores what the women themselves do to change or protest these circumstances, thus reinforcing the belief that incarcerated women do not organize." Alongside academia, Law also harshly criticizes radical prison activists, arguing that "just as the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s downplayed the role of women in favor of highlighting male spokesmen and leaders, the prisoners' rights movement has focused and continues to focus on men to speak for the masses."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Anarchism, Marxism, and Zapatismo

Both Staughton Lynd (a Marxist from the US) and his co-author Andrej Grubacic (an anarchist from the Balkans) of the book Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History, are public supporters of the Zapatistas, who they argue have set a powerful example of revolutionary organizing that should influence anti-capitalists around the world. Much like the historical traditions of the Haymarket Martyrs and the ‘Wobblies’ (the Industrial Workers of the World) in the United States, Lynd and Grubacic argue that the Zapatistas have synthesized the best aspects of both the Marxist and anarchist traditions.

Staughton Lynd, coming from the Marxist perspective, harshly criticizes the influence of vanguard politics on Marxist revolutionary movements, whereby these movements have adopted authoritarian and anti-democratic practices, with these abuses of power being justified by the argument that their particular group is the vanguard of the revolution, and is therefore entitled to lead the revolution as it sees fit. Lynd sees the Zapatistas’ rejection of vanguard politics as representing a “fresh synthesis of what is best in the Marxist and anarchist traditions.” The Zapatistas, Lynd writes, “have given us a new hypothesis. It combines Marxist analysis of the dynamics of capitalism with a traditional spirituality, whether Native American or Christian, or a combination of the two. It rejects the goal of taking state power and sets forth the objective of building a horizontal network of centers of self-activity. Above all the Zapatistas have encouraged young people all over the earth to affirm: We must have a qualitatively different society! Another world is possible! Let us begin to create it, here and now!”

Read the full book review at Upside Down World.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Book Surveys Oaxaca Uprising to Teach Rebellion

“I am 77 years old. I have two children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren… My children are scared for me. It’s just that they love me. Everyone loves the little old granny, the mother hen of all those eggs. They say ‘They’re going to send someone to kill you. They’ll put a bullet through you.’ But I tell them, ‘I don’t care if it’s two bullets.’ I’ve become fearless like that. God gave me life and He will take it away when it is His will. If I get killed, I’ll be remembered as the old lady who fought the good fight, a heroine, even, who worked for peace…Hasta la victoria siempre. That’s what I believe,” says Marinita, a lifetime resident of Oaxaca, Mexico. Marinita was one of the many participants in the 2006 Oaxaca rebellion, whose first-hand account is featured in the new book released by PM Press, titled Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca.

--This is the first paragraph in my new article, which can be read in full at

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Citing withheld evidence, supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal call for civil rights investigation

The San Francisco Bay View Newspaper has just released my new article spotlighting the campaign to get a federal civil rights investigation into Mumia's case. This 6,000 word piece is the longest Mumia article I've ever written, but it is broken into five sections, to examine five key pieces of evidence that Mumia was unable to present to the jury:

The DA’s office withheld two items from Abu-Jamal’s defense: the actual location of the driver’s license application found in Officer Faulkner’s pocket; and Pedro Polakoff’s crime scene photos. Then, at the request of prosecutor McGill, Judge Sabo ruled to block three items from the jury: prosecution eyewitness Robert Chobert’s probation status and criminal history; testimony from defense eyewitness Veronica Jones about police attempts to solicit false testimony; and testimony from Police Officer Gary Waskshul.

Read the full SF Bay View article here.

--Download the 4 page PDF version of this article here.

--Take action supporting the campaign at!

--Read letters to Attorney General Eric Holder from
Cynthia McKinney and U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means.

**This article has also been featured by Philly IMC, Black Commentator, Z Net, Dissident Voice, Infoshop, Op Ed News, Daily Kos, Poor Magazine, Guerrilla News Network, The People's Voice, Workers World, Free Peltier Now Blog, Mostly Water, Break All Chains Blog, and others.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Appalachia and Colombia: The People Behind the Coal --An interview with Aviva Chomsky

(PHOTO: Aviva Chomsky with delegate Sandra Díaz from Appalachian Voices)

Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and Latin American Studies at Salem State College in Massachusetts. The most recent books she has written are Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class. (Duke University Press, 2008) and They Take Our Jobs! And Twenty Other Myths about Immigration. (Beacon Press, 2007). She has also recently co-edited The People Behind Colombian Coal: Mining, Multinationals and Human Rights/Bajo el manto del carbón: Pueblos y multinacionales en las minas del Cerrejón, Colombia (Casa Editorial Pisando Callos, 2007) and The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Duke University Press, 2003).

Chomsky is also a founder of the North Shore Colombia Solidarity Committee, which has been working since 2002 with Colombian labor and popular movements, especially those affected by the foreign-owned mining sector. She just returned from the Witness for Peace delegation (May 28 – June 6) that traveled to two regions devastated by coal mining: the state of Kentucky and to northern Colombia. The Kentucky segment was sponsored by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC), where participants witnessed the impact of Mountain Top Removal mining and Valley Fills on local communities. In Colombia the delegation met with human rights activists, trade unionists, members of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, and others affected by coal production in Colombia.

Read the full interview here.

PHOTO: Cerrejón mine, Colombia

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Angola Three: Torture and Slavery in the United States

(PHOTO: left to right: Herman Wallace, Robert King, and Albert Woodfox)

The Angola Three: Torture in Our Own Backyard

By Hans Bennett

(, May 2, 2009)

“My soul cries from all that I witnessed and endured. It does more than cry, it mourns continuously,” said Black Panther Robert Hillary King, following his release from the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 2001, after serving his last 29 years in continuous solitary confinement. King argues that slavery persists in Angola and other US prisons, citing the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which legalizes slavery in prisons as “a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." King says: “You can be legally incarcerated but morally innocent.”

Robert King, Albert Woodfox, and Herman Wallace are known as the ‘Angola Three,’ a trio of political prisoners whose supporters include Amnesty International, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Congressman John Conyers, and the ACLU. Kgalema Mothlante, the President of South Africa says their case “has the potential of laying bare, exposing the shortcomings, in the entire US system.” Woodfox and Wallace are the two co-founders of the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP)—the only official prison chapter of the BPP. Both convicted in the highly contested stabbing death of white prison guard Brent Miller, Woodfox and Wallace have now spent over 36 years in solitary confinement.

The joint federal civil rights lawsuit of King, Woodfox, and Wallace, alleging that their time in solitary confinement is “cruel and unusual punishment,” will go to trial any month in Baton Rouge, at the U.S. Middle District Court. Herman Wallace’s appeal against his murder conviction is currently pending in the Louisiana Supreme Court, and on March 18, he was transferred to the Hunt Correctional Facility in St. Gabrielo, Louisiana, where he remains in solitary confinement. On March 2, the US Fifth Circuit Court heard oral arguments regarding Albert Woodfox’s conviction, after the Louisiana Attorney General appealed a lower court’s ruling that overturned the conviction.

An 18,000-acre former slave plantation in rural Louisiana, Angola is the largest prison in the US. Today, with African Americans composing over 75% of Angola’s 5,108 prisoners, prison guards known as “free men,” a forced 40-hour workweek, and four cents an hour as minimum wage, the resemblance to antebellum US slavery is striking. In the early 1970s, it was even worse, as prisoners were forced to work 96-hour weeks (16 hours a day / 6 days a week) with two cents an hour as minimum wage. Officially considered (according to its own website) the “Bloodiest Prison in the South” at this time, violence from guards and between prisoners was endemic. Prison authorities sanctioned prisoner rape, and according to former Prison Warden Murray Henderson, the prison guards actually helped facilitate a brutal system of sexual slavery where the younger and physically weaker prisoners were bought and sold into submission. As part of the notorious “inmate trusty guard” system, responsible for killing 40 prisoners and seriously maiming 350 from 1972-75, some prisoners were given state-issued weapons and ordered to enforce this sexual slavery, as well as the prison’s many other injustices. Life at Angola was living hell—a 20th century slave plantation.

The Angola Panthers saw life at Angola as modern-day slavery and fought back with non-violent hunger strikes and work strikes. Prison authorities were outraged by the BPP’s organizing, and overwhelming evidence has since emerged that authorities retaliated by framing these three BPP organizers for murders that they did not commit.

Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace

Both convicted of murder for the April 17, 1972 stabbing death of white prison guard Brent Miller, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have recently had major victories in court that may soon lead to their release. In response, Angola Warden Burl Cain and the Louisiana State Attorney General, James “Buddy” Caldwell, are doing everything they can to resist this and to keep the two in solitary confinement. In sharp contrast, Miller’s widow, Leontine Verrett, now questions their guilt. Interviewed in March, 2008, by NBC Nightly News, she called for a new investigation into the case: “What I want is justice. If these two men did not do this, I think they need to be out.”

Woodfox and Wallace were inmates at Angola, resulting from separate robbery convictions, when they co-founded the Angola BPP chapter in 1971. Woodfox had escaped from New Orleans Parish Prison and fled to New York City, where he met BPP members, including the New York 21, before he was recaptured and sent to Angola. Wallace had met members of the Louisiana State Chapter of the BPP, including the New Orleans 12, while imprisoned at Orleans Parish.

On September 19, 2006, State Judicial Commissioner Rachel Morgan recommended overturning Wallace’s conviction, on grounds that prison officials had withheld evidence from the jury that prison officials had bribed the prosecution’s key eyewitness, Hezekiah Brown, in return for his testimony. However, in May 2008, in a 2-1 vote, the State Appeals Court rejected Morgan’s recommendation and refused to overturn the conviction. Wallace’s appeal is now pending in the State Supreme Court, with a decision expected any month.

On June 10th, 2008, Federal Magistrate Christine Noland recommended overturning Woodfox’s conviction, citing evidence of inadequate representation, prosecutorial misconduct, suppression of exculpatory evidence, and racial discrimination. Then, on November 25, US District Court Judge James Brady upheld Noland’s recommendation, overturned the conviction, and granted bail. Attorney General Caldwell responded by appealing to the US Fifth Circuit. In December, the Fifth Circuit granted Caldwell’s request to deny Woodfox bail, but indicated sympathy for the overturning of the conviction, writing: "We are not now convinced that the State has established a likelihood of success on the merits." On March 3, oral arguments were heard by appellate Judges Carolyn Dineen King, Carl E. Steart and Leslie H. Southwick, and a decision from them is now expected within six months. If the three judge panel affirms the overturning of Woodfox’s conviction, the state will have 120 days to either accept the ruling or to retry Woodfox. The state has already vowed to retry him if necessary. If the Fifth Circuit rules for the state, Woodfox’s conviction will be reinstated.

Ira Glasser, formerly of the ACLU, criticized AG Caldwell, writing that following the October 2008 announcement that Woodfox’s niece had agreed to take him in if granted bail, Caldwell “embarked upon a public scare campaign reminiscent of the kind of inflammatory hysteria that once was used to provoke lynch mobs. He called Woodfox a violent rapist, even though he had never been charged, let alone convicted, of rape; he sent emails to [Woodfox’s niece’s] neighbors calling Woodfox a convicted murderer and violent rapist; and neighbors were urged to sign petitions opposing his release. In the end, his niece and family were sufficiently frightened and threatened that Woodfox rejected the plan to live with them while on bail.” In his Nov. 25 ruling, Judge Brady himself criticized the intimidation campaign: “it is apparent that the [neighborhood] association was not told Mr. Woodfox is frail, sickly, and has a clean conduct record for more than twenty years.”

When the October 27-29 National Public Radio (NPR) series on the case reported directly from Angola, reporter Laura Sullivan observed, “a hundred black men are in the field, bent over picking tomatoes. A single white officer on a horse sits above them, a shotgun in his lap…It's the same as it looked 40 years ago, and 100 years ago.” Commenting that many at Angola today “seem to want to bury this case in a place no one will find it,” NPR reported that Warden Burl Cain and others refused to comment. However, Caldwell told NPR he is convinced that Woodfox and Wallace are guilty, and that he will appeal Woodfox’s case all the way to the US Supreme Court. "This is a very dangerous person," Caldwell says. "This is the most dangerous person on the planet."

As NPR documented, there is no physical evidence linking Woodfox or Wallace to the murder. A bloody fingerprint was found at the scene but it matches neither prisoner’s prints. Prison officials have always refused to test that fingerprint against their own inmate fingerprint database. Caldwell vows to continue this policy, telling NPR: "A fingerprint can come from anywhere…We're not going to be fooled by that."

Caldwell also told NPR that he firmly believes the testimony of the prosecution’s key eyewitness, Hezekiah Brown, a serial rapist who had been sentenced to life without parole. Brown first told prison officials that he didn’t know anything, but he later testified to seeing Miller stabbed to death by four inmates: Woodfox and Wallace, and two others who are now deceased: Chester Jackson (who testified for the state and pled guilty to a lesser charge) and Gilbert Montegut (who was acquitted after an officer provided an alibi).

Pardoned in 1986, and now deceased, Brown always denied receiving special favors from prison authorities in exchange for his testimony. However, prison documents reveal special treatment, including special housing and a carton of cigarettes given to him every week. Testifying at Woodfox’s 1998 retrial, former Warden Murray Henderson admitted telling Brown that if he provided testimony helping to “crack the case,” he would reward him by lobbying for his pardon.

Solitary Confinement for “Black Pantherism”

In early 2008, a 25,000-signature petition initiated by, calling for an investigation into Woodfox and Wallace’s convictions and solitary confinement, was delivered to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal by the head of the State Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, Cedric Richmond. To this day, Jindal remains silent on the case.

In March, 2008, following a visit from Congressman John Conyers, Chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee; Innocence Project founder Barry Scheck; and Cedric Richmond, Wallace and Woodfox were transferred from solitary and housed together in a newly-built maximum security dormitory for twenty men. This temporary release from solitary lasted for eight months, during which time Woodfox reflected: “The thing I noticed most about being with Herman is the laughing, the talking, the bumping up against one another…we’ve been denied this for so long. And every once in a while he’ll put his arm around me or I’ll put my arm around him. It’s those kinds of things that make you human. And we’re truly enjoying that.”

In April, following his visit, Conyers wrote a letter to the FBI requesting their documents relating to the case, stating: “I am deeply troubled by what evidence suggests was a tragic miscarriage of justice with regard to these men. There is significant evidence that suggests not only their innocence, but also troubling misconduct by prison officials.” The FBI responded by claiming that they had no files on the case, because, they had supposedly been destroyed.

In his deposition taken October 22, 2008, Warden Burl Cain explained why he opposed granting Woodfox bail and removing him from solitary confinement. Asked what gave him “such concern” about Woodfox, Cain stated: “He wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant…A hunger strike is really, really bad, because you could see he admitted that he was organizing a peaceful demonstration. There is no such thing as a peaceful demonstration in prison.” Cain then stated that even if Woodfox were innocent of the murder, he would still want to keep him in solitary, because “I still know he has a propensity for violence…he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates. I would have me all kinds of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them. I would have chaos and conflict, and I believe that.”

The only other known US prisoner to have spent so many years in solitary confinement is Hugo Pinell, in California. One of the San Quentin Six, Pinell was a close comrade of Black Panther and prison author, George Jackson. Currently housed in Pelican Bay State Prison’s notorious “Security Housing Unit”, Pinell has been in continuous solitary since at least 1971. The recently freed Angola 3 prisoner Robert Hillary King says Pinell “is a clear example of a political prisoner.” This January, Pinell was denied parole for the next 15 years, which King says “is a sentence to die in prison. This is cruel and unusual punishment, which may be legal but is definitely not moral.”

Robert Hillary King

From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King

The new book From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Robert Hillary King has just been released by PM Press, and King is currently touring the East Coast to promote the book. This inspiring book tells of King’s triumph over the horrors of Angola. Born poor in rural Louisiana, he was raised mostly by his heroic grandmother, who King recounts “worked the sugar cane fields from sun up ‘til sun down for less than a dollar a day. During the off-season, she washed, ironed clothes, and scrubbed floors for whites for pennies a day or for leftover food. Her bunions and blisters told a bitter but vivid tale of her travails.”

King first entered Angola at the age of 18, for a robbery conviction. In his book, he admits to doing some non-violent burglaries at the time, but maintains his innocence regarding this conviction and every one since. Granted parole in 1965, at the age of 22, he returned to New Orleans, got married, and began a brief semi-pro boxing career as “Speedy King.” He was then arrested on charges of robbery, just weeks before his wife Clara gave birth to their son. After being held for over 11 months, his friend pled guilty to a lesser charge and was released on time served. Simultaneously, the DA dropped the charges against King, but he was not released, because his arrest, coupled with his friend’s guilty plea was deemed a parole violation. Therefore, King was sent back to Angola where he served 15 months and was released again in 1969.

Upon release, King was again arrested on robbery charges, and was convicted, even though his co-defendant testified that he had only picked King out of a mug shot lineup after being tortured by police into making a false statement. King appealed, and while being held at New Orleans Parish Prison, he escaped, but was re-captured weeks later. Upon returning to Orleans Parish he met some of the New Orleans 12--BPP members arrested after a confrontation with police at a housing project. He was radicalized and worked with the Panthers organizing non-violent hunger strikes, and engaging in self-defense against violent attacks from prison authorities.

In 1972, King moved to Angola shortly after the death of prison guard Brent Miller. Upon arrival, on grounds that King “wanted to play lawyer for another inmate,” he was immediately put into solitary confinement: first in the “dungeon,” then the “Red Hat,” and finally to the Closed Correction Cell (CCR) unit, where he remained until his 2001 release. At CCR, King writes that the Angola BPP chapter and others continued to struggle, using the one hour a day outside their cells (when they were allowed to shower and interact in the walkway) to organize: “That was how we talked, passed papers, educated each other, and coordinated our actions.”

King writes about the fight, started in 1977, to end the practice of routine rectal searches of prisoners: “Coming to a consensus conclusion that this practice was a carryover from slavery (before being sold, the slave had to be stripped and subjected to anal examination), and after months of appealing to our keepers, we decided to take a bold step: we would simply refuse a voluntary anal search. We would not be willing participants in our own degradation.” When King and others refused, they were viciously beaten. Woodfox hired a lawyer on the prisoners’ behalf and they filed a successful civil suit. The court ruled to ban “routine anal searches.” Another victory came after a one month hunger strike that stopped the unhealthy and dehumanizing practice of putting the inmate’s food on the floor to be slid underneath the cell door, whereby food would often be lost and the remaining food would usually get dirty.

In 1973, King was accused of murdering another prisoner, and was convicted at a trial where he was bound and gagged. After years of maintaining his innocence and appealing, his conviction was overturned in 2001, after he reluctantly pled guilty to a lesser charge of “conspiracy to commit murder” and was released on time served.

Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore

On June 21, 2008, Robert King attended the unveiling of a 40-foot mosaic dedicated to Angola prisoner and Angola BPP member Kenneth “Zulu” Whitmore, launching the “Free Zulu” campaign. King is working to publicize his case, saying “Zulu is a true warrior, Panther, a servant of the people. He has fought a good battle, for so long, unrecognized, unsupported!”

The mosaic adorns the back of activist/artist Carrie Reichardt’s home in the West London suburb of Chiswick. Reichardt says “we chose to base the design around a modern day interpretation of the Goddess Kali. She is considered the goddess of liberation, time and transformation. We wanted to use a strong, positive image of a female that would give hope and encourage others to join the struggle to bring about social change. Her speech bubble says 'The revolution is now'.”

Imprisoned since 1977, Whitmore met Herman Wallace while imprisoned in 1973 at the East Baton Rouge Prison. Whitmore was released but then arrested and subsequently imprisoned at Angola when he was convicted of robbery and second-degree murder after he had returned to the community and been a political organizer. Just like the Angola 3, the case against him is full of holes, and he is appealing his conviction. Whitmore does not have a lawyer yet, so the website is raising money to support his appeal.

Angola: The Last Slave Plantation

The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation

Three court cases are now pending: the federal civil rights lawsuit at the US Middle District Court, Albert Woodfox’s appeal at the US Fifth Circuit, and Wallace’s appeal at the State Supreme Court. At this critical stage, a new DVD has just been released by PM Press, titled The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation. The DVD is narrated by death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, and features footage of King’s 2001 release, as well as an interview with King and a variety of former Panthers and other supporters of the Angola 3, including Bo Brown, David Hilliard, Geronimo Ji Jaga (formerly Pratt), Marion Brown, Luis Talamantez, Noelle Hanrahan, Malik Rahim, and the late Anita Roddick.

The perpetuation of white supremacy and slavery at Angola is a central theme throughout the film. Fred Hampton Jr., emphasizes that “we’ve got to make the connection between these modern day plantations, and what went down with chattel slavery.” Scott Fleming, a lawyer for the Angola 3, says: “That prison is still run like a slave plantation…People like Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace are the example of what will happen to you if you resist that system.”

Longtime Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama says that Woodfox and Wallace “love people and will fight for justice even if it puts them on the spot. I think of them as real heroes…who hated to see people in the prison get hurt.” San Francisco journalist and former BPP member Kiilu Nyasha adds that “it behooves us to not forget those who were on the frontlines for us….We need to come to their rescue because they came to ours.”

The many years of repression and torture have failed to extinguish the Angola 3’s spirit or will to resist, as Woodfox explains in the DVD: “At heart, mind and spirit, we’re still Black Panthers. We still believe in the same principles as the BPP, we still advocate the ten point program. We still advocate that all prisoners, black or white, are human beings. They deserve to be treated as human beings.”

For more information, please visit

Hans Bennett is an independent multi-media journalist ( and co-founder of Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal (

640_poppy_in_angola_009.jpg original image ( 1184x1728)

11-year old Brit "Poppy" visited Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace for four hours on August 8, 2008. Poppy said afterwards: “When I first saw Herman and Albert I ran up to them and gave them a huge hug. It was weird to think that this is a rare treat for them, just to have a hug from another human being.”

VIDEO: Robert King Wilkerson (one of the Angola 3) and Louisiana House Judiciary Chairman Cedric Richmond deliver 25,000 petition signatures from members calling on Governor Jindal to investigate and intervene in the Angola 3 case.

VIDEO: Outraged by the injustice of their situation after having visited Herman and Albert in March of 2008, Conyers spoke about the case at the Student National Medical Association's (SNMA) annual conference.

VIDEO: The first official act from the Angola 3 London - an unveiling of a mosaic on the back of The Treatment Rooms in Chiswick, by Baroness von Reichardt. The mosaic is dedicated to the memory of Anita Roddick who first introduced the Baroness to Herman Wallace one of the Angola 3 in solitary confinement in Louisiana State Penitentiary - "The Farm". The ceramics within the mural contain life enriching quotes from both Herman and Anita. Power to the People!

Created by To raise awareness of The Angola 3. Sung by The Gospel Choir of Chowchilla Female Prison, California.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Angela Y. Davis speaks in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal

On April 24, in Oakland, CA, former political prisoner Angela Y. Davis spoke in support of death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, at an event marking Abu-Jamal's 55th birthday and the release of his new book Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. The USA. Recently interviewed by The SF Bay View Newspaper, Davis wrote an introduction for Jailhouse Lawyers (read the full introduction below) and she is also the author of Are Prisons Obsolete?.

Read more here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Media, Revolution, and the Legacy of the Black Panther Party --An interview with Kiilu Nyasha


(PHOTO: Kiilu Nyasha hosting her TV show)

Media, Revolution, and the Legacy of the Black Panther Party

--An interview with Kiilu Nyasha

By Hans Bennett, April 2, 2009

Kiilu Nyasha is a San Francisco-based journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Kiilu hosts a weekly TV program, "Freedom Is A Constant Struggle," on SF Live (Comcast 76 and AT&T 99), which can be viewed live at every Friday at 7:30 pm (PST), and rebroadcast Saturdays at 3:30 p.m., and Mondays, 6:30 p.m.. She writes for several publications, including the SF Bay View Newspaper and Also an accomplished radio programmer, she has worked for KPFA (Berkeley), SF Liberation Radio, Free Radio Berkeley, and KPOO in SF. Some of her work is archived at and

This is an edited interview, featuring excerpts from Nyasha’s article: “Ruchell Cinque Magee and the August 7th Courthouse Slave Rebellion.”

Hans Bennett: How did you join the BPP?

Kiilu Nyasha: I started running into Panthers when I worked for President Johnson's so-called “War on Poverty,” at The Community Action Institute (CAI) in New Haven, CT. We were supposed to organize the community, and of course they didn't really mean it; but I was politically naive. So I took them literally at their word and plunged into organizing, going to various community meetings.

A young Panther named Belva, just a teenager and known as "sisterlove," was sent to New Haven from Oakland to organize a free breakfast program. A town hall meeting was organized to decide whether or not they could institute the breakfast program. I was employed at the teen center where they wanted to house the breakfast program. I wound up being the Breakfast Program Coordinator after being eliminated by CPI when they closed the auxiliary Community Action Institute, absorbing those they wanted to stay into the main body, CPI. Later on, I was recruited from the Chapter to work as office manager and secretary to the attorneys for Lonnie McLucas, Ericka Huggins and Bobby Seale, including the late Charles Garry, Esq.

When I found myself jobless, I applied for welfare because having worked for Yale and the government, I didn't qualify for unemployment insurance. I had a 9 year-old son and rent for my apartment was $80/month, but they would only give me $25 a week. What was I supposed to do with that? So I joined the second chapter of the BPP in late 1969, created after the first chapter got locked up for murder charges, along with the Chairman, Bobby Seale -- basically recruited to organize around the Panther trials by Robert Webb [martyred] and Doug Miranda. At this time, I was still “Pat Gallyot”, because I changed my name later in the 1970’s.

HB: Tell us about the BPP.

KN: The BPP was initiated by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, who were students at Merritt College in Oakland. They saw the needs of their community and began to address them with the Ten-Point Platform and community programs. They confronted police brutality by following the police around with law books and guns, because at the time, it was legal to carry arms openly. They witnessed arrests to make sure the police didn't go into their brutality mode. Eventually, there was a shoot-out between the police and the BPP when Huey's car was stopped, and an officer was shot and killed in self-defense. Huey himself was shot in the abdomen and the picture of him handcuffed in the hospital went around the world.

An incredible movement swept this country like wild-fire, because police abuses were a national epidemic. The BPP developed a 10-point platform demanding self-determination for our Black community, including land, bread, housing, clothing, education, justice and peace. We started free medical clinics, and in New Haven, the clinic was staffed by doctors and nurses from Yale. In Oakland, Dr. Tolbert Small initiated the sickle cell anemia awakening with education and free tests.

We propagated revolution and formed the original “rainbow coalition.” We worked with many groups, including the Young Lords, the Young Patriot Party from Appalachia, the Peace and Freedom Party, SDS, the Red Guard, the Brown Berets, I Wor Kuen, and the American Indian Movement. History books have omitted the fact that Blacks were leading the revolutionary movement in this country. Other communities adapted our programs for themselves. We organized within our own separate communities, but we all came to the same rallies. So then you'd have this huge multicultural rally led by the BPP. It was also intergenerational. I was practically an elder at 30 because most Panthers were teenagers.

HB: What is the BPP’s legacy?

KN: Once instituted, our free breakfast program was in high demand because kids were hungry. Subsequently, a free school lunch program was started in New Haven, and similar free food programs were instituted across the country.

The “Black is Beautiful” campaign elevated the mentality of Black people in terms of what we thought about ourselves. Don't forget, James Brown's song “I'm Black and I'm Proud” came on the heels of the BPP. Music and culture reflected the Movement. That legacy has endured.

The BPP ushered in a whole crew of Black politicians, but what did that do for Black people, especially poor Black people? For example, President Obama is a friend of capitalism, imperialism, and fascism. Fascism needs a new brown face to deal with the so-called Third World. Obama cannot and will not produce real change, like moving from capitalism to socialism, redistributing the wealth, abolishing the prison system per se, and changing domestic and foreign policies.

HB: How did the BPP fare against US government repression?

KN: We were defeated. They pulled every dirty trick in the book to wipe us out and succeeded. They organized fratricide and had us killing each other. They jailed and assassinated us. By 1969, 28 Panthers had already been murdered by the police. There was the blatant murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago in 1969.

President Richard Nixon and FBI Director J Edgar Hoover orchestrated COINTELPRO and another program that was behind the walls called “NEWKILL.” We were targeted and declared the most dangerous threat to the internal security of the US. This came out when the secret programs were revealed after files were stolen from the FBI office in Media, PA. Later, Senator Frank Church conducted hearings further documenting the repression.

HB: What impact did the BPP have on police brutality and prisons?

KN: We may have caused a temporary calm, but it actually got worse. For example, Panthers Harold Taylor and John Bowman (currently of the SF8) were chased down in Los Angeles by plain-clothes police and shot at. They shot back, were eventually arrested, had a capital trial, but were acquitted on grounds of self defense. However, today we're getting shot left and right. The incarceration rate is the highest in the world. President Clinton ushered in a prison boom that has our prison population up to 2.4 million today. Here in California there are 180,000 prisoners, with many more on probation and parole. We're living in a police state and have a cradle-to-prison policy for our youth. We have to regroup and develop new tactics and strategies that address today’s conditions.

HB: What can we learn from the successes and failures of the BPP, so that we can be more effective today?

KN: Organizing worked! As in, door-to-door street organizing, on the ground, rolling up our sleeves and going right to the people, and helping them meet their own needs. People have gotten far away from that. Stop knocking on city hall’s door! Why are we asking our enemies for help? Working within the system only works if you consider yourself an infiltrator. We have to draw the line and stop supporting it. Today, we should organize gardens to grow our own food.

Propaganda is a necessary tool and our job right now is to raise consciousness to educate to liberate. The BPP had regular political education classes. That needs to happen again. People need to get into small study groups and discuss politics.

Also, students aren’t organizing on the campuses like they used to. I think it's partly because the lower class isn't on the campuses these days, because nobody can afford it.

HB: What do you think of recent events in Latin America, where people are fighting US domination and local ruling class power?

KN: I’m inspired! I highly recommend the recent documentary film about Venezuela titled “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The people’s reversal of the attempted coup is such a wonderful demonstration of people's power and what an impact it can have. Watching it recharged my batteries. I was like "Oh my goodness!" It's very exciting, promising, and I hope we have sense enough to be in solidarity and support the struggles there and everywhere else oppressed people are fighting. How else is the US empire going to be defeated? The global economy is here to stay.

HB: This issue of global solidarity reminds me of Huey Newton's idea of “revolutionary intercommunalism,” emphasizing that in today’s age of transnational corporate power, the US working class’ liberation is inherently tied to that of workers everywhere. Globalization is a popular topic today, but do you think Huey gets credit for talking about it back then?

KN: Huey’s theory was brilliant, prophetic, and is a perfect solution in today's world. Of course Huey has not been given proper credit and it’s the same thing with Malcolm X. Now more than ever, oppressed people around the world need to unite against the common enemy that is transnational corporations. We can’t let them divide us. We're in the throes of a death spiral right now, and if we don't hurry up and deal with climate change, for example, things will get horribly worse for ordinary people and we can kiss this planet good-bye, probably within this century.

HB: When did you start working in media?

KN: Because of my years of secretarial work, I had typing skills. At the time of Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins’ trial in New Haven, on behalf of the Panther Defense Committee, we printed a tabloid and I co-wrote and typeset an article covering the story. I also wrote articles for the national BPP paper, and eventually learned how to put a newspaper together. After moving to San Francisco, I was working for a local Black newspaper called The Sun Reporter, but left in anger after they chopped up an article that I wrote about the uprising at NY State Prison in Attica that resulted in the massacre of some 39 prisoners and guards. Afterwards, in late 1971, a bunch of us had political education classes that met at my pad in the Fillmore, and we put together a tabloid called "By Any Means Necessary." In '72, I wrote and published another tabloid titled, "Niggahs of the World Unite."

Later, I lived in the Hunters Point neighborhood, and while practicing a very strenuous form of martial arts, my muscles started deteriorating. I wound up in the medical system for many years--a long, hairy story. Suffice it to say, I walked into the system in 1975 and rolled out in 1980, and have been in Chinatown ever since, living in a 12 story Housing Authority building that they said was the only place they could find that was wheelchair accessible.

HB: How does the mainstream media today compare to 40 years ago?

KN: It’s much worse! I used to see BPP leaders Kathleen Cleaver and David Hilliard on TV. The movement used to get media attention. Now you can't get any media attention on prisoners. We can have a demonstration with 10,000 people, and they still don't cover it. You don't even have good journalists anymore.

HB: Why do you think that is?

KN: Look at all the journalists who’ve been fired for telling the truth. Not to mention all the journalists who have been murdered these past few years, particularly by the US in Iraq. It intimidates people and they need real courage to tell the truth today.

HB: How has the alternative media changed?

KN: It's not anywhere as bold. We had the BPP newspaper and all kinds of badass tabloids. Today they censor you. To me, with a few exceptions, the Black press and other alternative media have fallen down on the job.

(ARTWORK BY KIILU NYASHA; from left to right: Ruchell Magee, George Jackson, and Jonathan Jackson)

HB: Your recent Black Commentator article titled “Black August 2008” focused on the legacy of the late prison author and BPP leader, George Jackson, who was assassinated by guards at San Quentin Prison on August 21, 1971.

KN: I initiated a correspondence with George in early 1971, and months later, got a one-hour visit in the holding cell of San Quentin. I’ve met no one before or since more dedicated to revolutionary change. George’s book of prison letters, Soledad Brother, was a best seller, and his second book, Blood In My Eye, had just been finished at the time of his death, and was published posthumously.

George was one of the three “Soledad Brothers,” whose story began on January 13, 1970 when a tower guard at Soledad State Prison shot and killed three Black captives on the yard, leaving them unattended to bleed to death: Cleveland Edwards, “Sweet Jugs” Miller, and W. L. Nolen, all active resisters in the Black Movement behind the walls. Others included George Jackson, Jeffrey Gauldin, Hugo L.A. Pinell, Steve Simmons, Howard Tole, and the late Warren Wells.

After the common verdict of “justifiable homicide” was returned and the killer guard exonerated at Soledad, another white-racist guard was beaten and thrown from a tier to his death in retaliation. Fleeta Drumgo, John Clutchette, and Jackson were charged with his murder, and became known as The Soledad Brothers. A campaign to free them was led by college professor Angela Davis, and George’s brother Jonathan. The three were awaiting trial, with a mandatory death sentence if convicted, at the time of George’s death.

HB: You wrote that we should honor Jackson’s legacy by working to free two California prisoners: Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell and Ruchell “Cinque” Magee. Currently housed in Pelican Bay State Prison’s notorious “Security Housing Unit," Pinell has been in continuous solitary confinement since at least 1971. On January 14, 2009, Pinell was denied parole for 15 years, a virtual re-sentencing.

KN: The book titled “The Melancholy History of Soledad Prison,” by Min Yee, documents how Hugo Pinell was one of the original members of the Black Movement, led by George Jackson and others in Soledad Prison. At that time, it wasn't safe for Blacks to walk the yard. The collusion between the racist, KKK-type guards and white racist prison gangs was horrendous. These conditions were horrible.

Yogi was eventually transferred to San Quentin, and was there on August 21, 1971, when George was assassinated. That day, in what was described by prison officials as an escape attempt, George allegedly smuggled a gun into San Quentin in a wig. That feat was proven impossible, and evidence subsequently suggested a setup designed by prison officials to eliminate Jackson once and for all as they had tried numerous times. On that fateful day, three notoriously racist prison guards and two inmate turnkeys were also killed. According to an eye witness, when Jackson was shot while running on the yard, he got up instantly and dived in the direction of some bushes. He was subsequently murdered while lying on the ground wounded.

Six Black prisoners were charged with murder and assault. Hugo Pinell, Fleeta Drumgo, David Johnson, Luis Talamantez, Johnny Spain, and Willie Sundiata Tate became known as the “San Quentin Six.” Johnny Spain was the only one convicted of murder. The others were either acquitted or convicted of assault. Hugo is the only one remaining in prison, and badly needs our support.


(ARTWORK BY KIILU NYASHA; from left to right: Hugo "Yogi Bear" Pinell, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Albert "Nuh" Washington)

HB: Tell us about Ruchell Magee.

KN: I first met Ruchell in the holding cell of the Marin County courthouse in the Summer of 1971. I found him to be soft-spoken, warm and a gentleman in typically Southern tradition. We’ve been in correspondence pretty much ever since. I was then working for The Sun Reporter, and covering the pretrial hearings of Angela Davis and Ruchell Magee. By 1971, Ruchell was an astute jailhouse lawyer. He was responsible for the release and protection of a myriad of prisoners benefiting from his extensive knowledge of law, which he used to prepare writs, appeals and lawsuits for himself and many others behind the walls.

Ruchell was fighting charges of murder, conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and conspiracy to aid the escape of state prisoners. Although critically wounded on August 7, 1970, he was the sole survivor among the four brave Black men who conducted the courthouse slave rebellion, leaving him to be charged with everything they could throw at him. On August 7, 17-year old Jonathan Jackson raided the Marin Courtroom and tossed guns to prisoners William Christmas and James McClain, who in turn invited Ruchell to join them. Rue seized the hour spontaneously as they attempted to escape by taking a judge, assistant district attorney and three jurors as hostages in that audacious move to expose to the public the brutally racist prison conditions and free the Soledad Brothers.

McClain was on trial for assaulting a guard in the wake of Black prisoner Fred Billingsley’s murder by prison officials in San Quentin in February, 1970. With only four months before a parole hearing, Magee had appeared in the courtroom to testify for McClain.

The four revolutionaries successfully commandeered the group to the waiting van and were about to pull out of the parking lot when Marin County Police and San Quentin guards opened fire. When the shooting stopped, Judge Harold Haley, Jackson, Christmas, and McClain lay dead; Magee was unconscious and seriously wounded as was the prosecutor. A juror suffered a minor injury.

Magee had already spent at least seven years studying law and deluging the courts with petitions and lawsuits to contest his own illegal conviction in two fraudulent trials. As he put it, the judicial system “used fraud to hide fraud” in his second case after the first conviction was overturned on an appeal based on a falsified transcript. His strategy, therefore, centered on proving that he was a slave, denied his constitutional rights and held involuntarily. Therefore, he had the legal right to escape slavery as established in the case of the African slave, Cinque, who had escaped the slave ship, Amistad, and won freedom in a Connecticut trial. Thus, Magee had to first prove he’d been illegally and unjustly incarcerated for over seven years. He also wanted the case moved to the Federal Courts and the right to represent himself.

Moreover, Magee wanted to conduct a trial that would bring to light the racist and brutal oppression of Black prisoners throughout the State. “My fight is to expose the entire system, judicial and prison system, a system of slavery. This will cause benefit not just to myself but to all those who at this time are being criminally oppressed or enslaved by this system.”

On the other hand, Angela Davis, his co-defendant, charged with buying the guns used in the raid, conspiracy, etc., was innocent of any wrongdoing because the gun purchases were perfectly legal and she was not part of the original plan. Davis’ lawyers wanted an expedient trial to prove her innocence on trumped up charges. This conflict in strategy resulted in the trials being separated. Davis was acquitted of all charges and released in June of 1972.

Ruchell fought on alone, losing much of the support attending the Davis trial. After dismissing five attorneys and five judges, he won the right to defend himself. The murder charges had been dropped, and Magee faced two kidnap charges. He was ultimately convicted of PC 207, simple kidnap, but the more serious charge of PC 209, kidnap for purposes of extortion, resulted in a disputed verdict. According to one of the juror’s sworn affidavit, the jury voted for acquittal on the PC 209 and Magee continues to this day to challenge the denial and cover-up of that acquittal.

Ruchell is currently on the mainline of Corcoran State Prison doing his 46th year locked up in California gulags - many of those years spent in solitary confinement under tortuous conditions! In spite of having committed no physical assaults or murders. Is that not political?

HB: Let’s conclude with a quote from George Jackson.

KN: He wrote in Blood In My Eye: “Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution.”

--Hans Bennett is an independent multi-media journalist ( and co-founder of Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal ( Special thanks to Ed Mertex for help transcribing the interview.