Posted February 28, 1998
MUMIA ABU JAMAL, Leonard Peltier, Geronimo Pratt: These names, and the facts of the individual cases, are reasonably well known—especially among socialists and progressive activists. But it is perhaps less well-known that there are scores of similar victims of politically-motivated racist injustice doing time—many spending decades—in state and federal prisons across the United States.
There is, of course, a reason why the few cases have been widely publicized. Mumia is unique in facing execution. The events on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that resulted in the prosecution of Leonard Peltier were a particularly stark result of the still-continuing injustice being perpetrated against native peoples.
Geronimo Pratt’s release last year, after twenty-five years in jail, and the latest court findings of gross misconduct during his original trial, made headline news around the country.(1)
Now there is a move to publicize the plight of other individuals—like Herman Bell, Jalil A. Muntaqin, Mafundi Lake, Mutulu Shakur, A Nuh Washington, Abdul Majid, Gary Tyler, Bashir Hameed, and many others—who have also been victims of similar politically-motivated prosecutions often based on coerced and perjured testimony.
All of the individuals on that particular list are Black militants, and this is by far the largest group, but there are also Puerto Ricans, Native Americans (besides Peltier), and a few white activists as well.
There is clear evidence that before their arrest and prosecution for various alleged crimes, many of these people were targets of the FBI’s infamous “Cointelpro” operation, or similar government efforts to undermine groups which this country’s rulers consider a threat.
Their imprisonment—and especially the length and brutal conditions of their incarceration—is often a direct result of their political activity, or the fact that they belonged to organizations the government did not like. This is particularly so when they refuse to renounce their political views.
A leaflet published by ProLIBERTAD—a group focusing on Puerto Rican political prisoners—notes that the average jail sentence for murder in the U.S. is 22.7 years; the average for rape is 13 years; the average for kidnapping is 24.1 years; but the average term for Puerto Rican political prisoners is 70.8 years.
One of these prisoners, Carmen Valentin, is serving 98 years in a prison in California, far from her home. She was arrested and charged in 1980, along with ten other Puerto Rican independence activists, with “seditious conspiracy.”
In other words, she was not even accused of committing a violent act, or doing anything illegal other than planning actions with others to gain independence for Puerto Rico.
Linda Evans is a white woman who became active in the anti-racist and women’s movements. She was arrested in 1985, charged with harboring a fugitive and buying four guns with a false name. For this she was sentenced to a total of forty years in prison.
A particularly stark case is that of the MOVE 9. These survivors of the infamous bombing carried out against the MOVE Organization by the city of Philadelphia in 1978 were charged with murder because a policeman, James Ramp, was killed during the assault on their home.
All of the ballistic (and other) evidence indicates that the fatal shot was fired by a fellow police officer. Those charged with the murder were huddled in the basement of the house, trying merely to protect their own lives at the time of the killing. No weapons were found in their possession.
Yet they were convicted of Ramp’s murder and are now serving terms of 30-100 years each. The judge who pronounced them guilty and passed sentence appeared the next day on a talk show and a caller (Mumia Abu-Jamal) asked him “Who shot James Ramp?” Judge Malmed’s reply: “I have no idea.” The MOVE 9 remain in prison.
For years small groups of supporters have worked to publicize these and similar cases. Now a movement is coming together to try and wage a more coordinated struggle. The immediate focus is a demonstration in Washington, D.C., called for March 27 this year, called Jericho `98 in a reference to the biblical battle of Jericho “where the walls came tumbling down.”
A mission statement issued by the Jericho `98 organizing committee states:
The Jericho march is gaining increased publicity and support. Dennis Banks, National Field Director of the American Indian Movement is organizing a caravan from California.
- At the end of January, LA District Attorney Gil Garcetti filed a 202-page appeal of Pratt’s release. Pratt’s legal team is asking for ninety days to prepare a response. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times editorial on February 3, “Mis-guided Move Against Pratt,” noted that the DA’s arguments are “the same lame ones” that the judge has already rejected.—ed.
- The term “prisoners of war” here is a reference to the name by which some of these individuals refer to themselves. It is based on the idea that there is a war by the U.S. government against Blacks, and Puerto Ricans and Native Americans, and that these individuals are being held captive as a direct result of their activities on the other side of that war.
For further information contact: Jericho `98 National Steering Committee, c/o FMAJC P.O. Box 650, New York, NY 10009; (212) 330-8362; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Bloom is a member of the National Committee of Solidarity, one of the many political organizations, defense committees, and civil rights groups that have endorsed the Jerico ’98 march.