[Pnews] Black Panther film fuels calls for release of jailed political activists

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 16 14:44:50 EST 2018


  Black Panther film fuels calls for release of jailed political activists

Sam Levin - February 16, 2018

Film serves as ‘opportunity to remind people of the real heroes of the 
Black Panthers’, says former party leader


When he was released from prison in 2014, Sekou Odinga felt like he was 
falling from the sky into a foreign land. After 33 years behind bars, 
the former Black Panther 
<https://www.theguardian.com/film/black-panther> party leader was 
released into a United States he didn’t recognize – with strange 
technology and grandchildren he had never hugged.

Though he celebrated with family and supporters, Odinga, 73, also 
remained mindful of the many other civil rights activists who weren’t so 
lucky: “You always feel like you don’t want to leave nobody behind.”

This weekend, his advocacy group is gathering outside movie theaters 
across New York City to educate crowds at sold-out screenings of Black 
Panther about the real-life Black Panthers who fought for black 
liberation in the 1960s and 1970s – some of whom have also been fighting 
for their own freedom from incarceration for decades.

The Marvel superhero film 
which is already breaking records 
at the box office 
takes place in a fictional African country and has been widely praised 
as a well-timed political commentary 

For some activists, however, Ryan Coogler’s film and mostly black cast 
is much more than a refreshing comic book story that breaks down 
in an industry dominated by white film-makers.

The Afrofuturist film has sparked renewed calls from attorneys, families 
and civil rights leaders for the release of more than a dozen 
former members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP), the 
radical group founded in 1966 
in Oakland, California.

“Many are in the worst prisons and the worst conditions, and a lot of 
them are getting older and suffer from health problems,” said Odinga, 
who was convicted 
of attempted murder of police officers in the 1980s, a time when the US 
government was aggressively targeting black power movements with 
surveillance, violence, arrest and prosecution. “This is an opportunity 
to remind people of the real heroes of the Black Panthers and the 
conditions they live in today.”

The film, which begins in Oakland, was released months after it was 
revealed that the FBI’s terrorism unit 
had labeled some people “black identity extremists”, claiming that 
activists fighting police brutality posed a violent threat. The concept 
resembled the US government’s highly criticized domestic 
counterintelligence program known as Cointelpro 
which was used to monitor and disrupt the Black Panthers and other 
leftist groups 

“We have to educate people that this has all happened before, and it 
will happen again if we’re not careful,” said Malkia Cyril, a California 
activist whose mother was a Black Panther. Kamau Sadiki, a former Black 
Panther whom Cyril considers an uncle, was convicted decades after the 
1971 killing of an officer and is still in prison, where he has 
maintained his innocence.

“We need people to understand that these are not simply criminals who 
committed some heinous crime being punished,” said Cyril. “These are 
black activists who are largely being punished for their activism.”

Although the Black Panthers made news for criminal trials and clashes 
with police, the party’s foundational work 
centered on “survival programs” for black communities neglected by the 
government – including free breakfasts 
for children, health clinics and “liberation” schools 

“They all uplifted people,” said Ericka Huggins, a former Black Panther 
leader from Oakland.

She said she hoped the film spread that message. She recounted when the 
former Black Panther Eddie Conway was released in 2014 after he 
challenged his conviction in the shooting death of an officer, for which 
he spent 44 years in prison: “He arrived on the outside of these walls 
with nothing but passion and love.”

Others deserve that opportunity, she said.

In the lead-up to the film, many have mentioned Mumia Abu-Jamal, a 
former Black Panther who had his death sentence commuted to life in 
and continues to fight for his release in a controversial police killing 
case. His lawyers have long argued his innocence, claimed he was denied 
a fair trial and more recently fought for proper medical treatment 
behind bars.

“Mumia is always focused on working toward the liberation of black 
people and all oppressed people,” said his lawyer Bret Grote. “He is 
quite optimistic and brimming with energy and life, and they’ve never 
been able to diminish that for a moment despite what they’ve put him 

Kietryn Zychal, a Nebraska writer and activist, said she would watch the 
Black Panther film closely so that she could later try to recount as 
much of it as possible to Ed Poindexter, another incarcerated former BPP 
member. He was sentenced to life 
for a bombing that killed an officer, convicted based on the 
questionable testimony 
<http://www.n2pp.info/print/Amnesty_International_4-7-1980.pdf> of a 

“His case needs some attention from people outside of Nebraska,” said 

Monifa Akinwole-Bandele, an activist whose father was a Black Panther 
Party member, said incarcerated BPP members, like Herman Bell 
are repeatedly denied parole in the face of pressure from police unions.

She said she hoped the presentation of powerful black characters in the 
film could inspire audiences in the same way that the BPP inspired her.

“Adults I looked up to had taken such a bold stance against racism in 
America,” she said. “It had a huge impact on me and what I thought was 

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