FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile

Photo by Alex Barth | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Alex Barth | CC BY 2.0

On 20 December, President Obama offered pardons and commutations to 231 individuals within the penal system of the United States.  This brings the total number to 1,176 which include 395 life sentences. Still, Obama has time for more pardons and commutations before he leaves office on January, as there are murmurs that Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning are contenders for this ceremonial nod.

While the list of people who should be pardoned stretches far beyond these four individuals, the first two are noteworthy given what they represent in terms of America’s historical erasure of black activism as both Abu-Jamal and Shakur being form Black Panther Party members.   And their sentencing is not coincidental to their political activism.

Anyone a stranger to journalist and activist Abu-Jamal’s plight need only refer to the media coverage by Democracy Now! which has kept up with his story, from living under a death order since the 1990s to his release from solitary confinement to his more recent hospitalisation as a result of diabetes and the state’s refusal to give him hepatitis C treatments.  One also need be aware of the travesty of the US justice system to which Abu-Jamal was subjected which included, but is not limited to: unreliable prosecution witnesses, unreliable evidence tampering,  and the denial of a trial de novo into which new evidence would be submitted.

Shakur’s story is fascinating in that there is now evidence to suggest that she and other Panthers were targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO which sought to frame black political activists, focussing on several Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army members.  Hoover notoriously marked the Black Panther Party as the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”  During and even after the Civil Rights Movement, there was an all out war against the black liberation movement which has been well-documented over the past thirty years.  Notwithstanding, Shakur,  today resides in Cuba having escaped from prison in 1979, later receiving political asylum in Cuba in 1984 where she has lived since.

Angela Davis, commenting on Shakur’s case, points out what is little known by most Americans even today:

It’s horrendous, the extent to which the repression associated with the era of the late 1960s and 1970s continues to this day. And we might also mention the fact that vast numbers of people are still behind bars from that era, members of the Black Panther Party—Mondo we Langa, Ed Rice. My co-defendant, Ruchell Magee, has been in prison for over 50 years. So I think that when we put all of these things together, they create a kind of invitation for increased radical activism for trying to resolve these issues that have been decades in the making.

In the aftermath of the US election with many liberals in shock over the Trump victory, what has shocked me in recent weeks in discussions with my fellow Americans is how uninformed most are as to the complicity that both parties have had in the imprisonment of black Americans. While Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) died after 44 years behind bars, his co-defendant, Edward Poindexter, along with many others like the recently released Eddie Conway (2014) and Albert Woodfox (2015) are some of the longest incarcerated political prisoners in US history.

While it is no secret the problems of forensic evidence within the courts, the abuses within the justice system which have historically demonstrated disfavour towards people of colour, and the practices of former FBI Director, J.Edgar Hoover (1924-1972), who set out to silence minorities as he held unchecked authority for his almost fifty years in power, the state’s unjust war against former Black Panther Party members demonstrates that these individuals were often framed or put into prison with insufficient evidence. For decades.

Sekou Odinga, a former Panther who spent fifteen years incarcerated, lists the Black Panthers still in prison today:

  • • Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald
  • • Ed Poindexter
  • • Joseph Bowen
  • • Jalil Muntaqim
  • • Herman Bell
  • • Russell Shoats
  • • Sundiata Acoli
  • • Veronza Bowers
  • • Robert Seth Hayes
  • • Zulu Whitmore
  • • Maliki Shakur
  • • Mutulu Shakur
  • • Imam Jamil Al-Amim
  • • Kamau Sadiki
  • • Mumia Abu-Jamal

Those in exile include Assata Shakur and Pete O’Neal.

While the concern over Donald Trump’s policies towards immigrants and people of colour is reason for caution, this concern should pale in comparison to the political entelechy at hand— the suspended animation of the legal cases of these former Black Panther members still behind bars or in self-imposed exile.  After a string of Republican and Democrat presidents, the reality is that these injustices could have been exonerated long ago by former presidents from both parties.  The fact of these political prisoners and exiles evidences the perniciousness and longevity of structural racism within the United States, racism that casts a long shadow upon the US justice system.

I ask that President Obama please pardon all the Black Panthers behind bars and in exile!

More articles by:

Julian Vigo is a scholar, film-maker and human rights consultant. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015). She can be reached at: julian.vigo@gmail.com

September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savoir
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
Robert Hunziker
The Elite World Order in Jitters
Ben Dangl
After 9/11: The Staggering Economic and Human Cost of the War on Terror
Charles Pierson
Invade The Hague! Bolton vs. the ICC
Robert Fantina
Trump and Palestine
Daniel Warner
Hubris on and Off the Court
John Kendall Hawkins
Boning Up on Eternal Recurrence, Kubrick-style: “2001,” Revisited
Haydar Khan
Set Theory of the Left
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail