[Pnews] Freedom fighter Safiya Bukhari and a voice for political prisoners - [complete article]

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Sep 21 13:26:34 EDT 2015


  Freedom fighter Safiya Bukhari and a voice for political prisoners

            *Herb Boyd* <http://amsterdamnews.com/staff/h-boyd/> | 9/18/2015


Two things recently brought back memories of Safiya Bukhari: the release 
of Stanley Nelson’s film on the Black Panther Party and the various 
commemorations surrounding the uprising in Attica prison in 1971.

Given her political commitment to the legacy of the Panthers and 
relentless dedication to the welfare of political prisoners, she would 
have undoubtedly been in attendance at these events.

Much of what we obtain from her eventful life is gleaned from her 
writings, particularly a “coming of age” chapter included in “The War 
Before: The True Life of Safiya Bukhari” (Feminist Press, 2010), edited 
by Laura Whitehorn. Born Bernice Jones in the Bronx in 1950, she wrote, 
“I am one of a family of 10 children. My parents were strict and 
religious, but proud and independent.”

Whitehorn’s introduction to the book fills in some of the details of 
Bukhari’s early years. “In 1968, she was attending Brooklyn’s New York 
City Community College as a premed student,” she wrote. Education was 
the magic elixir in Bukhari’s family, the portal through which they 
could escape the poverty and oppression of being Black in America.

One day, Bukhari and her friends were traveling through Harlem when they 
encountered members of the Black Panther Party. They were asked if they 
wanted to volunteer for the Panther’s Free Breakfast for Children 
Program. Bukhari liked what she saw and continued to return as a 
volunteer, though not yet a member of the Party.

Her membership began when she intervened to help a Panther selling the 
Party’s paper after he was harassed by the police. “It wasn’t the 
Panthers that made me join the Black Panther Party,” she often said. “It 
was the police.”

For her intervention, Bukhari was arrested, and a year later, in 1969, 
she was fully involved and working on projects from the Party’s Harlem 
office. “By the summer of 1970,” Bukhari related, “I was a full-time 
Party member and my daughter [Wonda] was staying with my mother. I was 
teaching some of the political education classes at the Party office and 
had established a liberation school in my section of the community.”

But the heat was on from various factions of the nation’s law 
enforcement agencies, none more insidious than the FBI’s COINTELPRO 
operation that, by 1971, had succeeded in driving a wedge in the Party, 
leaving it split with rival factions on the East and West coasts. 
Bukhari became communications director of the East Coast organization, 
editing its newspaper, Right On! “She also issued statements received 
from the clandestine Black Liberation Army, which was aligned with the 
East Coast Panthers,” Whitehorn added.

Many of the liberation fighters were forced to wage their struggle 
underground, though Bukhari, by now a Muslim, chose to stay above 
ground, where she could work to assist the BLA. In 1975, she and members 
of a militant collective were in Virginia to practice on a shooting 
range. After that, they planned to travel to Mississippi. Bukhari, in 
preparation for the trip, went to a grocery store for cold cuts to make 
sandwiches, thereby avoiding having to stop at restaurants.

She was in the store shopping when two of her comrades entered the store 
and what next happened was clouded in gunfire that led to a death and a 
wounding of her two comrades by the storeowners. Bukhari was arrested 
and soon the FBI was on the scene.

“My bail was set at $1 million for each of the five counts against me,” 
she wrote. Her trial lasted one day and she was sentenced to 40 years 
for armed robbery.

“Long before her arrest,” Whitehorn explained, “Safiya had developed 
massive fibroid tumors. In prison, her condition worsening, she received 
frighteningly little medical care. In late 1976, Safiya escaped.” Two 
months later she was recaptured and returned to the prison in Goochland, 
Va. By then her condition was so severe that she had to have a hysterectomy.

In 1983, after eight years and eight months in prison—the last four in 
which she deliberately tamped down her political voice so not to 
alienate “the Left”—she was granted parole and released. She rejoined 
her mother and daughter and secured employment in the Bronx office of 
the Legal Aid Society.

Between 1984 and 1998, Whitehorn recalled, Bukhari was unstinting in her 
involvement in the plight of political prisoners. She visited prisoners, 
“wrote to them, and always accepted their collect phone calls. She 
communicated their needs and ideas to the outside world, and she wrote 
and spoke on their behalf.”

Through these efforts, eventually, with the help of other activists, 
including the late Herman Ferguson and the still incarcerated Jalil 
Muntaqim, she created the Jericho Movement. “The name Jericho was used 
to conjure up the image of massive resistance that would succeed in 
bringing down the walls of prisoners, freeing the more than 100 
political prisoners behind bars at that time,” Whitehorn observed.

Her work on behalf of political prisoners was wide-ranging, through 
forums, pamphlets, books, lectures and even a weekly radio show she 
conducted on WBAI with Sally O’Brien. Associated with this endeavor was 
her role in establishing the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition.

“In the early years of this century, Safiya’s health deteriorated,” 
Whitehorn wrote. “Not many of us knew how badly she suffered from a 
variety of ailments connected with hypertension. A week after the death 
of her mother in 2003, Safiya died of pulmonary embolism to the lungs. 
Her death at the age of 53 was mourned by leftists and progressives 
across the globe.”

The power of Bukhari’s legacy resonates from “The War Before,” and 
testimonies by Bukhari’s daughter, Wonda Jones, Angela Davis and Mumia 
Abu-Jamal bracket Whitehorn’s superb editing of the essays, articles and 
speeches by Bukhari.

At the close of one of the many documents included in the book, Bukhari 
stated, “The issue of political prisoners is part of that movement that 
we are building, and in building that movement we must understand that 
this is not a separate issue. It is an integral part of that movement. 
It can’t be put in front of the movement and it can’t be an 
afterthought. It must be woven into the very fiber.”

Woven into the fiber in the same way, Bukhari was an inextricable part 
of that tapestry for total liberation of the world’s political prisoners.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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