[Pnews] Revolution Is Illegal - Revisiting the Panther 21 at 50

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 26 14:58:15 EDT 2021


https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/ Revolution Is Illegal
Revisiting the Panther 21 at 50
Orisanmi Burton <https://spectrejournal.com/author/orisanmi-burton/> - April
21, 2021
------------------------------
WITH ORIGINAL ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTS

In a recent open letter
<https://imixwhatilike.org/2020/06/10/bppopenlettertohiphop/> to prominent
Black hip-hop artists, veterans of the Black Panther Party (BPP) argue that
in the midst of a virus that disproportionately kills Black people, and
pervasive racist state terror, it is essential that artists and activists
foster greater continuity between past and present generations of Black
resistance. They write: “much of our history in our people’s struggle has
been kept away from you and seemingly unavailable to your generation as you
reinvent what was done in the past. Our people’s enemies haven’t changed,
circumstances and conditions have. History never repeats itself – but it
damn sure can rhyme.”

To revisit the history of the BPP is to experience the rhyme of history.
Yet, the refrain is not a pleasant one. Indeed, it would be difficult to
argue that circumstances and material conditions have improved for Black
people in the time since “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands Up Don’t Shoot”
supplanted “Black Power” and “Off the Pigs” as ubiquitous rallying cries of
Black struggle. It is a sad reality that the BPP 10-Point Platform and
Program
<https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/workers/black-panthers/1966/10/15.htm> is
just as applicable today as it was when party founders Huey P. Newton and
Bobby Seal co-authored it in 1966.  Foreshadowing contemporary abolitionist
demands, it called for an “immediate end to police brutality and murder of
black people,” as well as “freedom for all black men [*sic*] held in
federal, state, county prisons and jails.” Since that time, racist police
violence has continued unabated and the U.S. prison system has expanded
exponentially.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the persecution of the New York
Panther 21 <https://www.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=863>, a
collection of Black radicals falsely accused of plotting to carry out
wanton acts of violence across New York City. The protracted battles that
emerged around the 21’s arrest and the trial, as well as the judiciary’s
exploitative imposition of bail, the carceral system’s brutal treatment of
them, and the struggle to defend the existence of Black radical
organization, exposed the extent to which Black communities and the U.S.
government were (and are) actively engaged in a form of asymmetrical
combat. By reexamining the Panther 21 we can apprehend a dialectic of Black
radicalism and racist state repression that exceeds the confines of legally
sanctioned means of struggle.
The New York Panthers

The BPP was scarcely 3 years old and the New York Chapter had not yet
reached its first anniversary when the Panther 21 were captured. In that
brief time, the chapter had established offices in Harlem, Brooklyn, and
Queens. They held regular political education classes and had organized
several “survival pending revolution” programs, including a Free Breakfast
for Children program, a Liberation School, and a clothing distribution
program. They also advocated for tenants’ rights, led an anti-heroin
campaign, and participated in efforts to achieve community control over the
police, who were seen not as a source of protection, but as an “occupying
army <https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a3638/fifth-avenue-uptown/>”
that forcibly confined Black people within a system of colonial domination.
COINTELPRO surveillance of BPP’s political education program

In 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labelled the BPP “the greatest threat
to the internal security of the country
<https://www.upi.com/Archives/1969/07/16/J-Edgar-Hoover-Black-Panther-Greatest-Threat-to-US-Security/1571551977068/>.”
That same year, according to scholar Ward Churchill, 24 Panthers were
killed by police, scores more were injured, and at least 749 were jailed.1
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Ward Churchill,
“The Other Kind: On the Integrity, Consistency, and Humanity of Jalil Abdul
Muntaqim.” *Escaping the Prism*. Kersplebedeb Publishing, pg. 191 Hoover’s
Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) essentially constituted a form of
undeclared war against the Panthers
<https://libcom.org/library/war-against-panthers-study-repression-america-huey-p-newton-doctoral-thesis>.
In its efforts to forestall radical social transformation, the FBI was not
alone. The NYPD housed a secretive anti-subversive unit called the Bureau
of Special Services (BOSS), which had planted at least 6 undercover agents
within the chapter from its inception. BOSS was known for targeting
apolitical subjects who presented as “blank slates” and recruiting them
into the organization before they completed police academy training, so as
to prevent them from picking up police lingo.

State actors were particularly concerned with the BPP’s socialist politics,
and their combination of community self-help with armed self-defense. In a
memo from May of 1969, an exasperated Hoover interpreted the Panthers’ Free
Breakfast Program as a ploy designed to “create an image of civility,
assume community control of Negroes, and to fill adolescent children with
their insidious poison.” In another memo from July, he solicited proposals
designed to thwart plans of the New York chapter to utilize the
Manhattan-based All Saints Roman Catholic Church School as the site of its
programs. Hoover’s claim that the BPP was filling children with poison is
ironic in light of Panther Safiya Bukhari-Alston’s recollection that, in an
attempt to discourage participation, the NYPD spread misinformation that
the Panthers were serving poisoned food.2
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Safiya
Bukhari-Alston, *The War Before*, 20
The Bust

On the morning of April 2, 1969, more than 150 NYPD officers executed a
mass arrest of 16 members of the New York chapter. By 11 am, before most of
them had appeared before a judge, Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan
was standing before the media, reciting the spectacular indictment.
Twenty-one Panthers were charged with plotting to kill police officers and
bomb police stations, rail stations, department stores, government offices,
and the Bronx Botanical Gardens. According to former prosecutor Peter L.
Zimroth, the indictment was explicitly worded to paint the Panthers as
terrorists, disseminate prejudicial information to potential jurors,  and
“legitimize warlike responses by the state.”3
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Zimroth,
Peter L. *Perversions
of Justice: The Prosecution and Acquittal of the Panther 21.* Viking Press,
1974, 23 <https://4509eab1-9117-4402-9671-7fef9e6a5684/#_ednref2>
Select members of the Panther 21

Each of the Panther 21, some of whom escaped capture and went underground
in Algeria and elsewhere, faced up to 170 years in prison. They included
Sundiata Acoli (né Clarke Squire), a computer analyst at NASA; Michael
“Cetawayo” Tabor, a drug rehabilitation counselor who long struggled with
heroin addiction; Afeni Shakur, a school-teacher; Dhoruba bin-Wahad (né
Richard Moore), a gang-leader and self-employed painter; and Curtis Powell,
a biochemist at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. After they pled
not-guilty, a State Supreme Court Judge set each of their bails at
$100,000, an exorbitant sum that all but guaranteed that most of the
Panthers would remain imprisoned for the foreseeable future. Assata Shakur
would later write, “it was well known by everybody in the movement that the
New York police had kidnapped the most experienced, able, and intelligent
leaders of the New York branch and demanded $100,000 ransom for each one.”4
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Look for me in
the Whirlwind; Assata 51 & 205
Against Law

By February 2, 1970, when the pre-trial hearings commenced, most of the
Panthers had been in jail for 10 months. In response to this blatant use of
the courts for political purposes, the Panthers engaged in their own
political counter-tactic: relentless disruption of court decorum. Through
unceasing verbal tirades, they accused their jailers, the prosecution, the
judiciary, and the media of engaging in political warfare. At one point, a
melee emerged between several Panthers and the police, resulting in
injuries on both sides. By month’s end, in response to both these court
disorders and to the firebombing of his house by members of the Weather
Underground, Judge John M. Murtagh declared an indefinite recess of the
proceedings. He promised to resume the trial only after each defendant had
submitted a written and signed statement providing their “assurance that
the defendants are now prepared to participate in a trial conducted under
the American system of justice.”5
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Kempton, Murray. *The
Briar Patch: The People of the State of New York V. Lumumba Shakur Et Al.*
New York: E.P. Dutton Co., Inc, 1973, 1973, 115

The Panther 21 maintained a revolutionary disposition, approaching the
courtroom as a site of political struggle rather than an arbiter of
justice. In lieu of said statement, they submitted an “Open Letter to Judge
Murtagh,” a historical critique of what they reframed the “Amerikkkan
system of justice.” Collectively authored by the Panther 21, the open
letter was transmitted to Murtagh and the public in the form of a written
document and tape recording read by Cetewayo Tabor. The Panthers denounced
the vaunted liberal principle of equality before the law as hypocrisy and
argued that white culture was stricken with a deep-seated “cultural racist
phobia” of Black people in general, and particularly of those who resist
oppression.

They argued that throughout its historical development, U.S. law has
operated as an instrument of ruling class domination and racial
criminalization. As evidence, they cited the unbroken chain of racist law:
the tacit authorization of racial slavery in the founding documents of the
United States; fugitive slave laws that curtailed Black freedom in
non-slave holding states; the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott
case; the “Black Codes,” which effectively criminalized Blackness after the
Civil War; Ku Klux Klan terror, which persisted through the complicity of
the police and courts; and *Plessy v. Ferguson*, the 1896 case that
legalized racial segregation. They further argued that while the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 overturned legal segregation, it did so without upending
the white supremacist organization of American society. They argued that a
narrative of American political development from a Black perspective
exposed “[the court’s] remarkable and ingenious talent for interpreting the
law according to the needs and interests of the dominant white ruling
class.”

The political significance of the 21’s open hostility toward the authority
of established law attains deeper political significance when interpreted
in relation to the fledgling efforts of Black revolutionary organizations
to institute and legitimize new bodies of law. In 1968, citizens of the
newly formed Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika, which
sought to secede from the United States, signed the Declaration of
Independence of the Black nation.6
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Willie Wright,
“”Free the Land!”: Exploring the Spatial and Political Legacies of the
Republic of New Afrika in Detroit, Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi,”
(2017). Edward Onaci, *Free the Land: The Republic of New Afrika and the
Pursuit of a Black Nation-state* (The University of North Carolina Press,
2020). In the spring of the following year some BPP chapters began
organizing Peoples’ Tribunals, makeshift court proceedings in which
community members adjudicated conflicts, determined the guilt or innocence
of the accused, and handed down penalties on their own authority. The party
organ described these tribunals as “the only legitimate and just recourse
that Black people have to redress their grievances.”7
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>“People’s Tribunal*,”
The Black Panther*. Vol 4. No. 30. June 27, 1970, 12. Franziska
Meister, *Racism
and Resistance: How the Black Panthers Challenged White Supremacy*, vol. 43
(transcript Verlag, 2017), 66-67. At the same time, the party was in the
early stages of organizing a Revolutionary Peoples’ Constitutional
Convention where they planned to convene representatives from various
radical left organizations on the campus of Howard University in
Washington, D.C. in order to author and ratify a new constitution that
reimagined the United States as a democratic and anti-imperialist
formation. These efforts to delegitimize established law while
simultaneously establishing the legitimacy of new law is the sine qua non
of revolutionary politics.8
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Dhoruba bin-Wahad
in conversation with author, June 29, 2020.; “Revolutionary People’s
Plenary Session,” *The Black Panther, *Vol. 5 No. 10, September 5, 1970, 11.
The NYC Jail Rebellion

It is remarkable that the Panthers refused to comply with Murtagh’s order
even though it extended the trial by 6 weeks, during which they were forced
to remain in New York City’s brutal carceral system. The harrowing
experience of Panther Lee Berry offers a particularly acute example of what
they experienced. Berry was in the Veterans Administration Hospital being
treated for epilepsy when the NYPD appeared at his bedside, and he was
hauled downtown, arraigned, and saddled with an unattainable bail. Berry
was then taken to the Manhattan House of Detention, also known as The
Tombs, where he was thrown in a concrete cell with no mattress and held
under 23-hour lock-up. Berry remained in the Tombs for eight months, during
which he had more than a dozen epileptic seizures for which he received
minimal medical attention. At one point, he awoke in a pool of his own
blood, having fallen, smashed his head against the concrete floor, bit into
his tongue. On another occasion, after failing to stand upon command, a
guard savagely beat him with a blackjack.9
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)> Assorted
coverage of the Panther 21. *The Black Panther*, Vol 3. No. 8, June 14,
1969; William Bronston, M.D. “New York’s Tombs of Torture.” *The Black
Panther, *Vol. 3. No. 19, August 30, 1969*, *8. Marva Berry, “To Concerned
Personnel of the Tombs.” *The Black Panther*, Vol 3. No. 20, September 06,
1969, 3; Marva Berry, “Brother From the 21,” *The Black Panther *Vol. 4 No.
8, January 24, 1970, 3.

Lee Berry’s wife, Marva Berry, led a protracted legal and political battle
that resulted in her husband finally being transferred to the prison ward
of Bellevue Hospital, but while there, his condition only worsened. At
Bellevue, Lee Berry developed blood clots, pneumonia, a hole in his lung,
and was subjected to an unnecessary appendectomy. His hostile treatment at
the hands of penal authorities and medical professionals exemplified the
longstanding grievances of incarcerated people across the nation.

Under intense public pressure, the prosecution was forced to sever Berry
from the trial and in May of 1970, he was released on a reduced bail amount
of $25,000. He was only the second Panther to be bailed out. Back in
January, women-led activist groups raised the $100,000 needed to bail Afeni
Shakur out of the Women’s House of Detention. The fact that Berry survived
his torment and that these exorbitant sums were raised is a testament to
the massive political prisoner support and defense apparatus that emerged
around the Panthers. Groups such as The Committee to Defend the Panther 21
featured active participation from a range of prominent public figures in
entertainment and politics.10
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>ibid.

Although they were imprisoned for political activism and had achieved
something akin to celebrity status, the Panthers were not much different
from most of the city’s jail population; of the 14,000 people packed within
NYC’s  jail archipelago, the vast majority were Black and Latinx people
from economically impoverished and heavily policed communities, who
remained incarcerated for months and even years because they could not
afford to make bail.11
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>ibid. These
dynamics were forced into the public consciousness when on October 1, 1970,
captives in the Branch Queens House of Detention erupted in collective
rebellion.

A day earlier, Judge Murtagh had revoked Afeni Shakur’s bail after she
arrived to court forty minutes late. *The Black Panther* attributed the
Branch Queens rebellion to Murtagh’s punishment of Shakur and to “the
accumulated frustration, desperation and rage of the prisoners” who took
“the only form of action that the pigs of the power structure relate to
—revolutionary action.”12
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Burton, Orisanmi.
“Organized Disorder: The New York City Jail Rebellion of 1970.” *The Black
Scholar *48, no. 4 (2018): 28-42.

Although most of the rebellious captives did not belong to a political
organization, they identified with the Panthers and the Young Lords, the
Puerto Rican to the BPP.13
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Fernández,
Johanna. *The Young Lords: A Radical History.* UNC Press Books, 2019. They
tore through the jail, captured jail personnel as hostages, and opened the
cell doors of nine Panther 21 defendants, all of whom were being isolated
from the general population on the seventh floor. The rebels elected a
leadership committee of six men, including Panthers Lumumba Shakur (Afeni’s
husband), Kuwasi Balagoon, and Kwando Kinshassa. That the demands the
captives issued to the state had much in common with what the BPP’s
10-Point Platform demanded for Black people outside the prison walls,
reflected the abysmal condition of Black life in the urban ghetto. The FBI
kept close watch as the rebels demanded the cessation of pervasive
state-sanctioned brutality, improvement to prison conditions, better
medical care, enhanced access to educational materials, a jury of their
peers for the Panther 21, and the immediate reinstatement of Afeni Shakur’s
bail.14 <https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Burton,
Organized Disorder; Losier, Toussaint. “Against ‘Law and Order’lockup: The
1970 Nyc Jail Rebellions.” *Race & Class *59, no. 1 (2017): 3-35.
COINTELPRO surveillance of BPP jail rebellion

The rebels maintained control of Branch Queens for 5 days, during which
simultaneous insurgencies emerged in The Tombs (in which some Panthers on
trial for a lesser-known conspiracy participated) as well as 3 other
carceral facilities. It was in the context of this multi-sited rebellion
that Mayor John Lindsay acceded to the seemingly outlandish demand that an
emergency bail review hearing be held on the grounds of the
rebel-controlled jail. On October 3, 1970, while the rebels held hostages
on the top floor, a panel of 3 State Supreme Court judges oversaw
proceedings in a room adjacent to the warden’s office.

One by one the panel summoned pre-trial detainees that had been nominated
by the rebels. Each of them selected Gerald Lefcourt, a young, white member
of the Panther’s legal defense team as their legal representation. The
result of the hearing was remarkable. Nine captives were immediately
released on their own recognizance and an additional four had their bails
reduced to $25 each. According to Lefcourt, the supporters amassed outside
quickly pooled the $100 needed to post the bails, securing the captives’
immediate release. He calls it the first ever “legal jailbreak.” The
eruption of collective illegality compelled the arbiters of law and order
to adhere to their own standards. Two days later, as rebels in jails across
the city were releasing their hostages, Judge Murtagh reinstated Afeni
Shakur’s bail.15
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Burton,
Organized Disorder.
A Pyrrhic Victory

A day after the Panthers organized this unprecedented hearing, which forced
the judiciary to tacitly admit to its conspiracy to imprison poor people of
color through bail, they were back in criminal court, standing trial for
allegedly conspiring against the state. The prosecution’s case hinged on
testimony from 3 BOSS agents. Before posing as a Panther, Eugene Roberts
had successfully infiltrated Malcolm X’s fledgling Organization of
Afro-American Unity and had served as Malcolm’s bodyguard on the night of
his assassination. Due largely to his military experience, agent Ralph
White had swiftly climbed to the position of Section Leader in the Bronx
office of the BPP. Carlos Ashwood, also known as Carl Wood, had been
serving as an insurance auditor before joining the NYPD and infiltrating
the party in the summer of 1968 before many of the defendants did.
Collectively, the testimony of these “star witnesses” revealed that the
Panthers studied revolutionary tactics, used incendiary rhetoric, and
engaged in ongoing preparations for armed self-defense. However, the
evidence they presented fell far short of proving that the Panthers planned
to carry out the violent bombings and assassinations for which they were
accused.

To the contrary, as the trial progressed a picture emerged of an
organization riddled with *agents provocateurs*. “An agent provocateur,”
writes Victor Kaledin, a Russian Intelligence expert, “is a police agent
who is introduced into any political organization with instructions to
foment discontent against a government, or to fake a case in order to give
his employers the right to act against the organization in question.”16
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Chevigny, Paul. *Cops
and Rebels: A Study of Provocation.* [1st ed. New York,: Pantheon Books,
1972., 221 White testified that he had participated in efforts to recruit
people into the organization and that he instructed various Panthers in the
use of weapons, including methods of constructing time bombs.17
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Donner,
Frank. *Protectors
of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America.* Univ of
California Press, 1992, 182  Roberts testified that he had played a key
role in organizing reconnaissance missions on the alleged bombing targets
and in one of his reports, described White (who he did not know was also an
agent) as the most “militant” of all the Panthers.18
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Kempton, Murray. *The
Briar Patch: The People of the State of New York V. Lumumba Shakur Et Al.*
New York: E.P. Dutton Co., Inc, 1973, 1973; Zimroth, Peter L. *Perversions
of Justice: The Prosecution and Acquittal of the Panther 21.* Viking Press,
1974, 23 Ashwood testified that he personally helped construct a bomb with
the assistance of an unindicted accomplice, leading one juror to proclaim
that “the only corroborated act of insurrection” offered during the entire
trial was carried out by a cop.19
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Kennebeck,
Edwin. *Juror
Number Four: The Trial of Thirteen Black Panthers as Seen from the Jury
Box.* New York, NY: Norton, 1973, 171

Finally, on May 13, 1971, the jury, composed of 6 whites, 5 Blacks, and 1
Puerto Rican – 11 men and 1 woman – began their deliberation. Most expected
that after a protracted legal struggle that lasted two years, involved more
than 60 witnesses, and cost the city more than $2 million, that
deliberations would amble on for weeks as well. Instead, the jury reached
their verdict over pastrami sandwiches. They re-entered the courtroom 90
minutes later, having unanimously agreed that although the state had
constructed a compelling narrative of the Panthers as bloodthirsty
terrorists, it had offered little to no evidence proving its claims. Amidst
raucous cheers from the audience, the jury foreman uttered “not guilty” 156
times. <https://bea81391-5b2b-4850-9f45-85d642f7d52c/#_ednref1>

Liberal analysts celebrated the acquittal as an illustration of judicial
impartiality, yet it is important to recognize that for the Panthers, the
outcome of the trial was a Pyrrhic victory. Although they were exculpated
in a court of law, the state’s legal attack deprived the organization of
some of its most capable leaders, drained it of its financial resources,
and forced many of its members into hiding. The Panthers had argued all
along that these strategic effects, and not the dispassionate
administration of justice, were the primary aim of the prosecution.
Moreover, acquittal offered no protection against ongoing extrajudicial
surveillance, harassment, repression, and violence. While the Panthers were
fighting for their lives in the jails and the courts, the FBI was stoking
tensions within the national organization. One result was that in February
of 1971 the BPP ruptured into contending factions and BPP co-founder Huey
P. Newton expelled the entire Panther 21 from the party. An ecstatic Hoover
subsequently informed his field agents that “this dissension coupled with
financial difficulties offers an exceptional opportunity to further
disrupt, aggravate and possibly ‘neutralize’ this organization through
counterintelligence.”

Deploying a commonly used tactic, the FBI constructed a “poison pen
letter,” designed to exacerbate strained organizational, political, and
interpersonal dynamics. Made to appear as though it was sent from Myra
Bennett, with whom Cetewayo Tabor had two children, the letter taunted
Newton for allowing “Cet” to flee to Algeria with Connie Mathews, Newton’s
personal secretary, who is blithely referred to as “that woman of yours.”
Hoover hoped the letter would “cause [Huey] to again strike out at the
Panther 21, further causing the rift between him and those sympathetic with
NY 21 to be widened, both black and white.”

Although the bureau’s machinations clearly played a role in the
debilitation of the BPP, these tactics were effective because they
exploited contradictions that existed within the organization. The
authoritarian structure of the national hierarchy, the adherence by key
members to patriarchal norms of relating to women, and its failure to
mobilize effective security and communications protocols, rendered it
vulnerable to the FBI’s attacks.
COINTELPRO poison pen letter

Ten days after the acquittal, Hoover instructed the New York FBI Office to
“intensify investigations of [the Panther 21].” Thus, for many of those
involved, the grueling ordeal was but an episode within a much longer
biography of struggle. The split within the BPP and ongoing state
repression birthed the Black Liberation Army (BLA), an underground
politico-military formation, heavily populated by veterans of the
beleaguered New York chapter. In 1973, Dhoruba bin-Wahad was sentenced to
life in prison for the attempted murder of two NYPD officers. After
spending 19 years of his life in prison, Dhoruba’s legal team secured his
release by proving that the prosecuting attorney knowingly withheld
exculpatory evidence from the defense and the jury. In 1974, Sundiata
Acoli, another Panther 21 defendant, was sentenced to life in prison for
the killing of Werner Foerster the previous year. The shoot-out that
claimed the New Jersey State Trooper’s life also resulted in the wounding
and capture of Assata Shakur and the killing of Zayd Malik Shakur. Acoli,
bin-Wahad, and the Shakurs were members of the BLA.20
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Look for me in
the Whirlwind; Assata

The United States Government has long maintained that it holds no political
prisoners. Yet still today, Sundiata Acoli, at the age of 84 remains behind
bars; he was recently hospitalized with Covid-19. BPP veterans Mumia
Abu-Jamal and Russell “Maroon” Shoatz have also been in prison for decades
and are experiencing severe health challenges. Although Herman Bell and
Jalil Muntaqim were recently released from prison, others such as Panther
21 veteran Kuwasi Balagoon were less fortunate. In 1986 Balagoon died in
prison due to complications related to HIV. Several Panthers have died in
prison, with the most recent victim being Romain “Chip” Fitzgerald, after
51 years in a cage. If the current movement to free David Gilbert – a
veteran, white anti-imperialist who was closely associated with the
Panthers – does not succeed, he will suffer the same fate. However, efforts
to support political prisoners are not calls for the state to show mercy;
they are a form of abolitionist care21
<https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Kaba, Mariame. *We
Do This ’Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice*,
edited by Tamara K. Nopper. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2021. and an
essential political praxis that builds knowledge of past struggle while
showing future generations that those who fight for liberation will not be
forgotten.

During a recent conversation about these events, Dhoruba bin-Wahad told me
that “these kids struggling today don’t have to reinvent failure. When they
say they want to empty the jail and dismantle the Prison Industrial
Complex, they need to go back to the struggles of the people who actually
did that.”22 <https://spectrejournal.com/revolution-is-illegal/void(0)>Dhoruba
bin-Wahad in conversation with author 2020. One of the key lessons to be
learned from this history is that revolution is illegal. Revolution is
criminalized because it necessarily entails destroying law. Understanding
this means that contemporary activists cannot expect a government that
facilitates the coercive dispossession of economically impoverished
communities of color across the nation and the world to facilitate,
legitimate, and reward radical struggles to transform, undermine, and
abolish the state as it is currently constituted. The Panthers paid and
continue to pay a high price for the militant forms of struggle in which
they engaged. They made several mistakes and miscalculations. However, many
of them want us to understand that their sacrifices were worth it, if only
to set an example for future generations.
<https://1394c931-8df9-401b-8882-2fdef6f8ac32/#_ednref1>
Protesters support the Panther 21
Notes & References

[1] Ward Churchill, “The Other Kind: On the Integrity, Consistency, and
Humanity of Jalil Abdul Muntaqim.” *Escaping the Prism*. Kersplebedeb
Publishing, pg. 191

[2] Safiya Bukhari-Alston, *The War Before*, 20

[3] Zimroth, Peter L. *Perversions of Justice: The Prosecution and
Acquittal of the Panther 21.* Viking Press, 1974, 23

[4] Look for me in the Whirlwind; Assata 51 & 205

[5] Kempton, Murray. *The Briar Patch: The People of the State of New York
V. Lumumba Shakur Et Al.* New York: E.P. Dutton Co., Inc, 1973, 1973, 115

[6] Willie Wright, “”Free the Land!”: Exploring the Spatial and Political
Legacies of the Republic of New Afrika in Detroit, Michigan and Jackson,
Mississippi,”  (2017). Edward Onaci, *Free the Land: The Republic of New
Afrika and the Pursuit of a Black Nation-state* (The University of North
Carolina Press, 2020).

[7] “People’s Tribunal*,” The Black Panther*. Vol 4. No. 30. June 27, 1970,
12. Franziska Meister, *Racism and Resistance: How the Black Panthers
Challenged White Supremacy*, vol. 43 (transcript Verlag, 2017), 66-67.

[8] Dhoruba bin-Wahad in conversation with author, June 29, 2020.;
“Revolutionary People’s Plenary Session,” *The Black Panther, *Vol. 5 No.
10, September 5, 1970, 11.

[9] Assorted coverage of the Panther 21. *The Black Panther*, Vol 3. No. 8,
June 14, 1969; William Bronston, M.D. “New York’s Tombs of Torture.” *The
Black Panther, *Vol. 3. No. 19, August 30, 1969*, *8. Marva Berry, “To
Concerned Personnel of the Tombs.” *The Black Panther*, Vol 3. No. 20,
September 06, 1969, 3; Marva Berry, “Brother From the 21,” *The Black
Panther *Vol. 4 No. 8, January 24, 1970, 3.

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12] Burton, Orisanmi. “Organized Disorder: The New York City Jail
Rebellion of 1970.” *The Black Scholar *48, no. 4 (2018): 28-42.

[13] Fernández, Johanna. *The Young Lords: A Radical History.* UNC Press
Books, 2019.

[14] Burton, Organized Disorder; Losier, Toussaint. “Against ‘Law and
Order’lockup: The 1970 Nyc Jail Rebellions.” *Race & Class *59, no. 1
(2017): 3-35.

[15] Burton, Organized Disorder.

[16] Chevigny, Paul. *Cops and Rebels: A Study of Provocation.* [1st ed.
New York,: Pantheon Books, 1972., 221

[17] Donner, Frank. *Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police
Repression in Urban America.* Univ of California Press, 1992, 182

[18] Kempton, Murray. *The Briar Patch: The People of the State of New York
V. Lumumba Shakur Et Al.* New York: E.P. Dutton Co., Inc, 1973, 1973;
Zimroth, Peter L. *Perversions of Justice: The Prosecution and Acquittal of
the Panther 21.* Viking Press, 1974, 23

[19] Kennebeck, Edwin. *Juror Number Four: The Trial of Thirteen Black
Panthers as Seen from the Jury Box.* New York, NY: Norton, 1973, 171

[20] Look for me in the Whirlwind; Assata

[21] Kaba, Mariame. *We Do This ’Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing
and Transforming Justice*, edited by Tamara K.  Nopper. Chicago, IL:
Haymarket Books, 2021.

[22] Dhoruba bin-Wahad in conversation with author 2020.
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