From One African to Others
In the summer of 1970, I was a Black Panther, Deputy Minister of Information of the Omaha, Nebraska chapter of the Panther Party's National Committees to combat Fascism (N.C.C.F.). Ed Poindexter was Deputy Chairman. 33 years later, we are prisoners, who have been locked up since August of 1970. Ed is doing time in the Lino Lakes joint in Minnesota, where he transferred to, in about 1980, in order to take advantage of academic opportunities that weren't available here. I'm at the state prison in Lincoln, Nebraska.
As to why Ed and I are imprisoned; in August of 1970, an Omaha cop was killed by a booby-trapped suitcase when it exploded in a vacant house cops had been dispatched to. According to the police department, a 911 call had been made, giving a false report of a woman screaming. Within a matter of several days, a 15-year-old African male, Duane Peak, was arrested in connection with the bombing. Eventually, he confessed to setting the bomb, and under coaching and threats by cops, he would point the finger at Ed, myself, and three others. Ed and I would be the only ones to be tried. We were found guilty of first-degree murder, by a jury of 11 Europeans and 1 African, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Shortly after the conclusion of our trial, Duane pleaded guilty to "juvenile delinquency."
I am a political prisoner in that, because of the political beliefs I held and expressed, I was arrested, tried, and convicted for a killing I neither did nor had knowledge of. In addition, the prosecutor's office used perjured testimony, false and manufactured "evidence," and other tricks of the "justice" trade in order to insure a conviction. And lastly, unjust arrests, trials, and convictions, as well as acts of harassment and terrorism, were all aspects of the national F.B.I./police-led war on the Black Panther Party. But it's not my purpose to use this space to talk about the fact that I'm locked up but to share with you Sisters and Brothers what it feels like to have been locked up 33 years ago, at a time when African people in this country were feeling collective pride and pushing for our liberation, and to being witness today to much that amounts to a spitting on the graves of our ancestors.
Understand that, in August of 1970, prior to my arrest, I was living in a world in which many African people in this country were feeling "black pride" and believing in the validity of "black power." On various levels, our people saw the European(Caucasian) economic/political establishment as "the enemy." It was common for us to be greeting each other on the streets as "Brother" and "Sister." Some of us were looking for and finding the Africa in us. To be a snitch or straight-out agent for the police was seen by many of us as a form of betrayal of or treason against our people, NOT just part of "the game." In our Omaha N.C.C.F. chapter, we sometimes carried guns, but not because we felt we needed protection from our own people. We carried guns sometimes because we were trying to protect the African community from harassment and brutalization by the Europeans' cops and because we faced danger from these cops.
In Omaha, there was no organized Afro-centric cultural movement, so while there were a lot of Sisters and Brothers who were aware and proud of their "blackness," there was little African consciousness. But we knew that the various shades of brown skin we had, the nappiness of our hair, and other physical appearances associated with being "black" were inheritances from our ancestors in Africa. Brothers and Sisters were sporting the "nachrals" with pride. The wearing of African clothing wasn't common in Omaha but was in larger cities, especially on the coasts. In rallies and festivals and so forth around the country, traditional African drumming and/or dance were often featured.
It wasn't just events and concrete developments and such. It was a spirit, a spirit of a people. But some things happened. Some had already begun happening before the summer of 1970. Some would happen later. Important African voices were silenced--by natural and not-so-natural deaths, by exile and imprisonment. The F.B.I.'s COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) used our own egos, jealousies, and rivalries to pit us against each other. And it, as well as local police departments, prosecutors, etc. used frame-ups to get targeted individuals off the streets and used this and other means to "kill" the heads of organizations so that the bodies would die. Government agencies and private corporations bought off and/or co-opted many Africans who had potential to be important voices and/or organizers.
We came under attack by the commercial media. Television ads turned our "nachrals" and hand-shakes and so forth from symbols of pride in our collective identity to mere exhibitions of style and fashion that could be used to sell everything from burgers and fries to Cadillacs. Television series like "Kojak," "Beretta," "Get Christy Love," "Miami Vice," and others injected us with heavy doses of Africans as pimps, dope sellers and addicts, police informants, etc and promoted such characters as acceptable to and for us. On the big screen, it was the "blaxploitation" films. On both television and at the movie theaters, individual Africans and organizations of Africans who were opposed to the European-supremacist political/economic system were crafted and portrayed as fanatic, foolish, or just plain laughable.
We were hit by corporate America and the U.S. government with chemical warfare - malt liquors; cheap, potent wines; heroin; cough syrups; crack cocaine; etc.
A lot of things happened, hurting things. A lot of these things are still happening. And now, like before, most of these events and developments that are destructive to us are being put into effect and continued with the help of African agents. Clarence Thomas is an agent for a right-wing European-supremacist agenda, as are Ward Connerly and several other prominent "black conservatives." There are African entertainers who are agents on behalf of the European-supremacist goal of destroying self- and mutual-respect among African people. African actor/comedians, such as Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Damon Wayans, Jamie Foxx, et al have brought back eye-bugging, butt-scratching buffoonery to a level not witnessed since the days of Stepin Fetchit. There are African rappers whose raps offer us a god of bling-bling to worship, to risk our lives and risk getting big time in the joint to obtain; rappers whose raps popularize the sick idea among us that African girls and women have no value beyond their sexuality and/or their capacity to support us financially; rappers whose raps cultivate a belief in us that there's nothing wrong with blood-spilling gangsterism against African people.
Magazines and other media owned by African persons promote every imaginable form of cultural de-Africanization--presenting images that equate feminine beauty with straight and/or blond hair, light skin, and other European or near-European features; presenting images that equate male sophistication in appearance with Europeans' suits and ties and other trappings of success in European-dominated, capitalist America; and presenting political, economic, and other ideas that reflect Euro-centric perspectives, while ignoring or down-playing ideas that are Afro-centric in nature or that otherwise challenge Euro-centric perspectives seriously.
All this mess is like a nuclear weapon. There's fall-out, a kind of mental and emotional radiation poisoning. I'm hearing and seeing it every day in this joint. The world I was a part of before I was imprisoned, and for even a couple of years or more afterward, has changed. It's as though I've been in a painting and, whenever I've closed my eyes, somebody has switched a color on this canvas, or a shape or a brush stroke. More often in here than not, I'm hearing Africans speak of "nigger"/"nigga," rather than "Brother." More often in here than not, I'm hearing Africans talk about "bitches" and "hos," and the females they're talking about are our Sisters. These are Africans' mamas, sisters, daughters, and so forth. It gets old--grown-ass African "men" claiming or aspiring to be pimps or players or gangsters. Every day, usually more than once, I'm challenging a Brother--sometimes young and sometimes not so young--to respect himself and the rest of us.
I know that, ultimately, it's European-supremacist institutions (past and present) in this country that are responsible for this fall-out, this sickness. But what are we--powerless, mindless people who can be nothing more than puppets? We aren't powerless or mindless. But too many of us in positions to influence African people are ready to say and do the lowest of things for some dead presidents, for some approval by Europeans, for some reputation. And these "too many of us"--including Africans of all kinds of occupations, ages, and backgrounds-have at least one basic thing in common: They look like us, but their minds and hearts belong to others.