Friday, August 31, 2012



A little over four years ago in an article on the Angola Three in Scission, I wrote:

Herman Wallace along with (Albert) Woodfox for more than 30 years remained in extended isolation at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. They have been confined alone to small cells for 23 hours a day with only three hours of outdoor exercise a week. Both men were reportedly suffering from serious health problems as a result of their conditions.

As the blog Why Am I Not Surprised has commented back in the early 70s both men (along with Robert King who was freed in 2001, after a successful appeal to the federal court system on another unrelated charge) were committed to address the system of sexual slavery that lay at the base of abuse and rage so intense among the population that there was on average a murder a week inside the walls.

They organized a chapter of the Black Panther Party within the notorious prison to try to alleviate the hell the place had long before become. The organizing capability of the Black Panther Party inside prison, however, was even more threatening to the Powers-That-Be than similar activities in the street at that time. The prison administration couldn't tolerate prisoners taking control of their own lives. It did all it could to put a stop to any such thing in their prison.

But the spirit of men like Woodfox would not be crushed.

"I had to fight corruption and the things being tolerated by the prison administration to control the population," Woodfox, 61, said in an interview. "When you saw the look on these kids' faces -- to see the spirit of another human being broken -- it affected the way you looked at life."

The Times-Picayune in an article this spring wrote:

"It was also completely segregated," said Nick Trenticosta, a New Orleans attorney who continues to fight for the freedom of Woodfox and Wallace, as King was released in 2001. "There were lots and lots of weapons, at least a murder a week - inmates being murdered. It was against that backdrop that Albert and Herman formed a Black Panther Party chapter. They were trying to stop the sexual slavery and rampant rage occurring there everyday."'

Left to fend for themselves at the plantation-turned Angola state prison, inmates in 1973 were subject to being "sold" to each other to be used as "sex slaves" or prostituted out to other inmates in exchange for prison-brands of currency, such as cigarettes."

The warden at the time, C. Murray Henderson, later confirmed this system of sexual slavery in his own book. Henderson was later sentenced to 50 years in prison for the 1997 attempted murder of his wife, writer Anne Butler, on her front porch in St. Francisville."

"It was also completely segregated," said Nick Trenticosta, a New Orleans attorney who continues to fight for the freedom of Woodfox and Wallace, as King was released in 2001. "There were lots and lots of weapons, at least a murder a week - inmates being murdered. It was against that backdrop that Albert and Herman formed a Black Panther Party chapter. They were trying to stop the sexual slavery and rampant rage occurring there everyday."'

Left to fend for themselves at the plantation-turned Angola state prison, inmates in 1973 were subject to being "sold" to each other to be used as "sex slaves" or prostituted out to other inmates in exchange for prison-brands of currency, such as cigarettes."

The warden at the time, C. Murray Henderson, later confirmed this system of sexual slavery in his own book. Henderson was later sentenced to 50 years in prison for the 1997 attempted murder of his wife, writer Anne Butler, on her front porch in St. Francisville."

Left to fend for themselves at the plantation-turned Angola state prison, inmates in 1973 were subject to being "sold" to each other to be used as "sex slaves" or prostituted out to other inmates in exchange for prison-brands of currency, such as cigarettes."

The warden at the time, C. Murray Henderson, later confirmed this system of sexual slavery in his own book. Henderson was later sentenced to 50 years in prison for the 1997 attempted murder of his wife, writer Anne Butler, on her front porch in St. Francisville."

Back in 72 Leontine Verrett was the fiance of the murdered guard Brent Miller. She long believed the three men charged in the crime were guilty. That began to change a couple of years ago. It was then that Billie Mizell, a legal investigator and fledgling author, showed up at Verrett's home near the banks of the Bayou Teche. She said she wanted to talk about Miller's murder.

The LA Times reported last month what Mizell told Verrett stunned her. A bloody fingerprint found at the scene did not match Woodfox or Wallace. There was never any physical evidence linking them to the crime.

Mizell said the star witness against Woodfox and Wallace, a repeat sex offender serving a life sentence, was promised freedom for his testimony -- a deal that the prosecution never disclosed to the defense. He was later transferred to another building where guards plied him with cigarettes, a prized jailhouse currency.
The Times wrote Verrett was still skeptical. But she and Dean, who had also worked as an Angola guard, corroborated everything Mizell said by digging up court files and talking to friends and former co-workers.

After years of struggling with questions about the cold way prison authorities treated her when she sought compensation for her husband's death, issues she ignored as a teenager but that gnawed at her as an adult, she came to a troubling realization.
Maybe the men charged with the murder were not guilty at all. 

"If I were on that jury," Verrett now says, "I don't think I would have convicted them."
"In 1972, Angola was a horror-show of corruption and abuse that inspired state legislators and a newly-elected governor to call for an investigation into what was taking place behind the front gates, where at the time none of the guards employed were black."

Woodfox and Wallace are still locked up today.  What follows is a recent interview with the third member of the Angola Three.  Robert King was released in 2001 after his conviction was overturned.  The following interview which I present to you today for Prison Friday at Scission is from CagePrigoners.

CagePrisoners Exclusive: Aviva Stahl talks to former Black Panther Robert King

Written by CP Editor
Hamja Ahsan (left) whose brother Talha Ahsan has been fighting extradition to the US from prison in the UK for 6 years, and Robert King Hamja Ahsan (left) whose brother Talha Ahsan has been fighting extradition to the US from prison in the UK for 6 years, and Robert King

Racial profiling, torture, solitary confinement and decades in prison fighting for justice. These may be signatures of the US-led war on terror but such practices have been in motion for a long time. Robert King, one of the 'Angola 3', knows first-hand what it meant then as much as it does now and discusses his thoughts with CagePrisoners.

 “...if you got a life sentence for a crime you didn’t commit, you will never get out of prison, what can be more terrorizing than this?  You’re in a cell 23 hours a day, a 6x9x12 cell, so terror has always been a part of imprisonment. I have always seen it as terror.  So I can see how people around the world can say that being in prison, what’s going on in prison, is tantamount to terrorism.  And it is. And it’s nothing new.  It didn’t start with Guantanamo Bay, not to minimize, the same people who ran Guantanamo Bay, they started in America. It began there, and it expanded out.  And that’s why it’s so important that people in America, people around the world, need to get on board with what’s going on...”

The Angola 3 - Robert Hillary King, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace -  met in Angola Prison in Louisiana. The three men were politically radicalized after they were introduced to members of the Black Panther Party, and subsequently founded a local prison chapter of the Panthers. The men organized strikes and sit-ins – they were “troublemakers” – and perhaps as a result, in 1972 Albert and Herman were convicted of a murder that few people believe they committed, the stabbing of 23-year-old prison guard Brent Miller. Robert was not even at Angola Prison at the time, but was still investigated for involvement in the murder. Even Miller’s widow doubts that that the Angola 3 are responsible for her husband’s murder. There was no physical evidence against them, and some people have said that the prosecution’s star witness, Hezekiah Brown, agreed to testify in exchange for cigarettes, TV, birthday cakes, and even a potential pardon.

Each member of the Angola 3 was placed in solitary confinement in 1972, spending 23 hours a day in 6x9 foot cells.  Robert remained there for 29 years, after being convicted for the murder of another prisoner in Angola by an all white jury.  His conviction was overturned in 2001, but Albert and Herman are still locked up.

AS: You were born in 1942.  What was it like growing up as an African American in that time in the States?
RK:  I’m a post World War II baby, and that means I was born right after World War II.  I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, which is the Southern part, but it could have been New York or Philadelphia or it could have been DC...  Might not have been as intense... more covert, if you’re in another place...
South Africa was bombarded for Apartheid, but they learned it from the United States. The name has changed, they called it Jim Crow.  It was a Jim Crow society, in which I could not, being a person of colour, being of African descent, there were places that I could not go, and it was unlawful for me to go.  It was systemic, not just racism that was involved, systemic discrimination, and it was generated by the system.  It was a system of apartheid, I don’t care if they call it Jim Crow, Jan Crow, or Uncle Crow, it was a system in which South Africa some years later inherited and perpetuated. 
So coming up in that environment, I understood that there were places that were designated for me being the person that I was, people were carving out an existence for me, how I was supposed to survive.  I had a “place” in society being a person of colour, they gave me a “place”. I was to remain in that place. But it so happened that I broke out of that circle...  At an early age I began to see the discrimination and the racism, and the discrepancy that existed among the races, I couldn’t articulate or define it at the time, I thought that this was the state of affairs and it was normal.  So I think that was a major breakthrough, when I saw how abnormal it was, that it really wasn’t normal, I think at an early age I began to circumvent that, get out of all the things that give it rationale, I began to see it as being a deception, and I began to focus my own brainpower on what was going on...
I saw the contradictions, because I did go to school for a while, eight years of it, they wanted you to pledge allegiance to the flag, they told me it was a Christian nation and God was a forgiving individual, and yet you saw all the hypocrisy that existed within a system that encourages you to become a Christian... I think the system itself needed a rebirth. And fortunately that happened.... when I say a rebirth, I mean the beginning of a rebirth, it hasn’t happened yet... but it happened when people began to see that there was a discrepancy, and I think that people started to fight for their civil rights, something that they should not even had to come into play at that time, back in 1954 when Martin Luther King came onto the set, that’s something we should have taken for granted.  People of colour, even though the laws allegedly applied to us, we did not reap the benefits of those laws, such as voting, or living where we wanted to live, or getting the type of job or employment that was commensurate with a decent economic lifestyle, that didn’t allow you to struggle, to constantly struggle.  But the civil rights, it took time to achieve this and we’re still struggling to achieve this... these things are still prevalent, in American society, in spite of what people on the outside of American society may believe. 
In saying this, I hope it’s never taken out of context, I say this, that for some people, America is heaven.  Because the system was geared around certain people, it was established around certain people... but the decency of the system did not reach people of colour.  People who were considered “white”, they had privilege automatically; they came into the world privileged through skin colour.  And so like I said, that was a thing that whites took for granted, and people who were white took for granted.  And speaking about this I point out that America was heaven for some people, some people consider it heaven, some people thought it was very workable, that there was nothing wrong with the system, that it wasn’t broken.  And for them the system wasn’t broken, so it’s cool, America was heaven for them.  But other people knew, in heaven there were some people catching hell, people of colour, and other people.  Poor people, not just black people but poor white people also, with the exception that many of them did not realize they were being, that if racism could not be perpetuated against them, you could bet one thing, that systemically, economically, they were living in economic desperation just as much as other people were, but they were content to believe that being white, that they had privilege.  Of course, during chattel, it was the same thing, you only had a few hundred people who owned slaves, and the other 12 or so million people were living mostly in poverty, but people accepted that... 
I was around during the civil rights era, I saw what Martin Luther King and all these others folks did, including one of the last organisations that really defined things for me, which was the Black Panther Party.  Of course a lot people demonized the Party, and the principles, but they didn’t know anything about the Party, about its philosophy. And the Ten Point Platform was equivalent to the Declaration of Independence, and it was something that was doable, it should have been applied. And the Black Panther Party (BPP), the members of BPP and the leaders of the BPP, wanted to make sure that these rules that everybody else took for granted, that they would be applied to people of colour as well. 
And so it was not extraordinary that I embraced the philosophy that said, we want freedom, we want the power to determine our own destiny, because our destiny had been determined by other people for so many years, so many generations, we want an end to police brutality against people of colour in the community.  Even when black people went to court, we wanted a jury of our peers, because the Constitution required that you have a jury of your peers, but a black person during the Civil Rights era probably never had a jury of their peers, if they were unfortunate enough having to face a trial, because [jurors] were mostly whites, and a white jury could never be a jury of their peers, even if they were poor, because they took privilege in skin colour, so they could never be actually peers.  The only time you’re peers is when you’re seeing someone as your equal.  So it was easy for me to embrace the principle that the quest was to make sure that, if there was food here, there was food here, to have the same rights regardless of who you were, you had that same right... 
In spite of that, the idealism that the Black Panther Party brought to our situation, in spite of that the system still failed, and it’s failing now. As of now, over 2 million people actively in prison. America has more of its citizens in prison than anywhere in the world... There is also data that points out that perhaps there are more than 7 million people who if not directly in prison, by proxy they are, because they’re under some rule of regulation, parole, probation, some type of supervision, as a result of coming into contact with the system.  So that’s still standing.  And people who go into prison in America rarely get out, the prison I eventually went to, it was Angola State Prison, I ended up with a 35 year sentence, and then a life sentence, and when you have life in Angola, you have life without the possibility of parole, probation or suspension of sentence, unless a intervening appellate court intervened on your behalf.  And there were rules and regulations that prevented you from even applying for clemency, people who were given life sentences in Louisiana, they can’t apply for clemency...
So there’s no remedy, for people who are given a life sentence in Louisiana or America proper, they do a life sentence, and if you don’t have a life sentence, in Angola, it being the biggest maximum security prison in a nation, when you’re sent to Angola, you’re sent to die, whether you got a natural life sentence or whether you got numbers.  Because very few people in Angola have a sentence of, say, 20 years, or less than 20 years.  A person who might go to Angola with 20 years, they may be fortunate, they might get out of prison... There are some people, young people who go to Angola, 17 years old, and have 250 or 400 years, and some of them, there is no good time on that amount of time, you can’t do the sentence, a person can’t do life, they can do death in prison. Whether you got a natural life sentence, or whether you got an incremental life sentence... if you come to Angola, you die in Angola, that’s basic.  And that is the course of almost all of the prisons within the States, and as I said the prisons within the States house more than 2 million people.
AS:   Solitary confinement played a really particular role in the way the Black Panthers were treated [in prison], and similarly today for Muslim prisoners, you can look at Communication Management Units or treatment inside Florence ADX.  What do you think the purpose of solitary confinement is, the purpose from the perspective of the prisons?
RK:  I think the prison administration sees solitary confinement, initially, it was a place where... the Quakers began solitary confinement.  The Quakers who found that, that if people were placed in solitary confinement, within 6 months if they were really isolated, and there was no contact, less contact, within 6 months an individual would have reconsidered their lifestyle.  They would actually become self-reformed, self-rehabilitated, and I think to a degree, they were correct... but I read reports, when they initially started putting people in solitary confinement, many of them hung themselves, they went crazy, they never were the same after they  got out, and that was only 6 months. But what America did was take it to another level... they revised what solitary confinement really meant. They would put you in a cell. Initially it was done for rule violations, they would place you in solitary confinement for a period of time, but you had an opportunity to get out.
Like I said, America took it to another level.  In the 1970s, they began blowing up the prison system, prisoners  in solitary confinement, enacting rules that allowed them, that gave them the power to keep you in solitary confinement, and solitary confinement is defined not by a prison warden, but by the courts in America.  Its defined by being in a cell 23 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the lack of normal exercise, and that in itself, if that goes on and on and on, the court has never ruled in America that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual [punishment].  And we do have a case in which I am a part of, in which the court has ruled that my stay, which was 29 years in solitary confinement, that, because of the length of time in which I was there, it constituted cruel and unusual punishment [see Robert King Wilkerson, et al v. Richard Stalder, et al]. And that case is pending, in the federal court, it may go to the Supreme Court, and if it does... if the Supreme Court or the Fifth Circuit rules, whenever they rule, it will be applicable to everyone else...
But you know, the Black Panthers, they weren’t the only people placed in solitary confinement.   America found a way to put people in solitary confinement and keep them for no reason... years later they extended [it], like I said it began in the ‘70s, but in the 80s, in the late ‘80s and the ‘90s, they began putting Black youngsters going to prison, if they thought you were a gang member, that was a reason to put you in solitary confinement and keep you there.  There is a movement, as well, just like there’s a movement around the world, there’s a movement in America as well against solitary confinement. As a matter of fact, just a few weeks ago there was a Congressional hearing... [Solitary confinement] is being scrutinized, it is being done because people around the world, are focusing on this issue, because it’s a major issue, it’s a violation of human rights. Any person, if they want to show any type of decency they have to consider what is going on in the gulags they call prison, especially in America.
AS:    I’m not sure if you’re aware, but right now there’s a case at the European Court of Human Rights, where several men are facing extradition to the States for War on Terror charges.  They tried to stop their extradition by bringing it to the ECHR, and arguing that if they had lifetime sentences at Florence, it would constitute the equivalent of cruel and unusual punishment under the European Convention of Human Rights.  But they lost their case [see Babar Ahmad and Others v. the United Kingdom]. If you could speak to the panel of judges at the European Court of Human Rights about their ruling, what would you say?
RK:   Laws and regulations and rules that are made.... they are not infallible.  People shouldn’t give them [laws] a godlike status... Legality runs the world.  People’s lives and systems and government are based on the operation of laws.  And many of these laws are very, very conflicting. These laws are seen as being omnipotent.  I think they lose something.  During slavery, it was legal to own slaves in America... What I’m trying to get to is people need to approach it differently.  Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s morally right.  It doesn’t mean they have to give up the fight to give up this legality.  If that had happened during chattel, slavery never would have been eliminated.  It was people perpetuating the concept that this was inhuman, people coming together, and as a result, people began to see that slavery, as it was then, was something that was reprehensible.  That needed to be overturned...
The world exists on legal precepts, and because of what happened with this case, people still need to challenge it.  [People] need to see it as equivalent or tantamount to slavery... that [that] was reprehensible... Just 1/16 of just Black blood and you would have been considered a slave for life, and this was part of the Constitution.  My point is, people got that changed. The Constitution was changed.  And just because the European Court may have ruled a certain way, doesn’t mean that people have to stop fighting to overturn this. 
It can be done, and it may not happen in this individual lifetime, hopefully it will, but you set the things in motion that can eliminate this happening in the future.
I say this, the European Court which has made that final decision.  I wouldn’t call that the final decision.  The final decision is left up to people...  In the States, we allegedly live in a system of democracy, and it is representative democracy, but people’s democracy does not abound, not in the States. You have politicians’ democracy, you have people who are in high places who run the system, they are the people who are the benefactors of democracy.  The majority of the system is not. And I think people in the United States have begun to recognize this, people around the world have begun to recognize this, what democracy means.  Democracy doesn’t mean politicians’ powers, democracy means people powers.  It’s a Greek word: Demos –means of the people - powers... It has been bastardized in America and around the world.  The concept of democracy, with regards to people has been bastardized and minimized to serve a very few, and the very few are the politicians and judges and what not.... but they are not the majority of the people.  The people who are the victim of this, the people who have to live in a system that operates like this, they can change it.
AS:  Do you consider yourself a prison abolitionist?
RK:  I consider myself favouring prison abolition.  My quest at this time, though, is to focus on how it operates. And in doing this, I think it will have some impact on the abolition of prison.  I think collectively, if people continue to focus on atrocities that occur as a result of prison, because if we don’t put it out there, if people don’t put their dissent, the system goes on, the beat goes on.  What I’m doing, what other people are doing, all of this will have an impact on the abolition of prison.  But I think that the system itself is not going to abolish itself, just like slavery didn’t abolish itself. People abolished these institutions...  People make them, and collectively, people can break them.
AS: When I listen to you describe what it was like to be in solitary, it’s impossible for me to imagine how someone could see it as not being torture.  I’m wondering, what do you think it is that makes it so impossible for people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes?  Do you think its racism?
RK:  A lot of time, people’s concepts about something, it may seem appalling, but if this is constantly done, incrementally, people are constantly seeing it, they become desensitized. They can accept what’s going on because they have been desensitized, that this is legitimate.   In order to first put a person in prison, and to keep a person in prison, they first have to come up with ways of convincing people that prisons are necessary, that “we’re doing this for your safety” and that “if we don’t do it, this is what’s going to happen to you”, which is pretty wild.  There should be law and order... there have to be laws governing people’s actions and so forth...  But the way that the system perpetuates lies about needing to put people away for life, put fear in the hearts and the minds, that if we did not do this, this is what would occur...
I could give you a better example too. In order for many people around the world and whites to accept the institution of slavery, you know what they had to do first?  They had to demonize and convince people that the people who were enslaved, were worthy of enslavement. That they were simple, that they needed to be enslaved, that God had given certain folks the right to enslave people, and people were convinced, that if you did not look like “the master race”, then by right, by God’s decree, and by the law of the land, you were a slave.  So people lived for a couple of hundred years, it wasn’t until people said, hold up, something is wrong with this, this is reprehensible. It was then that people began to say, well you know, there is some truth. People had probably believed that the master race should enslave people started to think, there’s something is wrong with this.
So, I think the same thing has to take place with prisons, again today.  And I’ve always said this, if you’re in prison, in Louisiana or in anywhere else in the prison or the United States, or anywhere in the world, in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, they know you didn’t commit, they put you in solitary confinement... if you got a life sentence for a crime you didn’t commit, you will never get out of prison, what can be more terrorizing than this?  You’re in a cell 23 hours a day, a 6x9x12 cell, so terror has always been a part of imprisonment. I have always seen it as terror.  So I can see how people around the world can say that being in prison, what’s going on in prison, is tantamount to terrorism.  And it is. And it’s nothing new.  It didn’t start with Guantanamo Bay, not to minimize, the same people who ran Guantanamo Bay, they started in America. It began there, and it expanded out.  And that’s why it’s so important that people in America people around the world, need to get on board with what’s going on, and people around the world...
To the question, of course. I was in prison and I definitely saw it as being a form of terror.  Some people say justice delayed is justice denied, I agree with that 100%.  But I go further than that, say not only is justice delayed is justice denied, but justice delayed is terrorism.
AS:  Something you mentioned is the way that Guantanamo [Bay] actually drew on practices that had been happening in American prisons or in slavery for centuries.  If you look at the way that Black men have been depicted in the US for centuries, and I think now increasingly if you look at the way that Muslim men are thought about or depicted, there are so many parallels. Muslim men are this new site of racial fear and terror.  Do you think enough is being done to build bridges between Muslim communities and African American communities who are doing work around prison or solitary confinement, or even issues like jury discrimination?
RK:  I believe people who are effectively struggling, I don’t care where you are or what persuasion or religion you are, I think people who are collectively working together, they will work somewhere the middle...  The parallels are so great... People around the world are coming together for the same cause.  I think we will at some point meet in the middle. It probably won’t happen right away, not that it shouldn’t, it’s long overdue.  But I wouldn’t write it off... This is what we’re doing.  We’re paving the way... We have to be consistent and persistent. If we see prison as being terror, if we want to eliminate these types of human rights violations, I think people who are interested in justice, I think they need to come together... And I do believe that this is happening.
AS:  You talked about the Black Panthers being falsely portrayed, and I think a lot of that was around the role of self defence, and the way the Black Panthers talked about self defence.  And I think today, the way that jihad is talked about or self defence in the context of jihad, there are so many parallels.  What do you think the role of violence or resistance is in movements for social justice – violence of course, in however you want to define it?
RK:  I believe that violence begets violence. We live in a violent system, that is perpetuated by violence, and at some point it will beget violence.  So whether I agree with it or not, the grounds are laid for it...  It’s a matter of survival, people have the instinct to survive, and if it takes violence to survive, people will do that.  The system you’re trying to eliminate, they will, without any qualms, come at you violently.  So I am saying this, that violence begets violence... justified violence, whatever you want to call it, sometimes violence is justified.
But I do believe this, that collectively, people can come together and eliminate a system. People operate on certain levels, some people throw small pebbles in the pond, some people throw bigger pebbles in the pond, some people throw even larger pebbles in the pond.  If people all focus on one main issue, I think it will have an impact.  The system itself doesn’t have a monopoly on initiating violence.  The system [is violent] but [it] doesn’t control [violence]. What controls people’s emotions and so forth, is their desire to do better in life. And whatever it takes to do better, people will do this.  Some will do one thing, some will through a little pebble in the pond, some will through a big pebble in the pond, and some might throw a rock in the pond.  I’m saying, though, collectively this will have an impact.   I really wish that, all people could throw a rock in the pond. 
But when I say a rock in the pond, I do believe this, that all the pebbles are working together. And I don’t have a problem with people throwing rocks in the pond, and if that implies violence, so be it.  These are things that occur.  Whether I like it or not, this is a result of [systemic violence], people will not tolerate indecency and dehumanizing conditions. Whatever it takes... It happens and there’s nothing that I can do or anyone else can do... people sometimes come together and eliminate things through means other than violence, that could happen. But I do believe this, that of course, in the process of trying to change and eliminate things, there will be violence, people will die, there will be collateral damages, and so forth, and something the system can’t stop and I can’t stop. It follows suit, these are things that happen, they occur, and it’s not that I advocate it – and I don’t advocate it. I am just simply saying that this is what takes place, whether I like it, whether the system likes it, or whether anybody else likes it, this is what happens. 
People will react, and some react in different manners and in different ways.  Nobody has a monopoly, of course... There are some people willing to make sacrifices.  Other people, they make sacrifices, but everyone doesn’t make sacrifices in the same way... There are people of all walks of live, people who really love to see justice rendered worldwide, they approach it differently, and I don’t have a problem with whatever because I think all forms of struggle are relevant.
AS:  When you first got involved with the Black Panthers, and even today, Islam has always played a role in African American identity, especially during the time of the civil rights movement.  What are your thoughts on the role of Islam in the Civil Rights movement and today, in African American communities?
RK:  In the States, there was a group of Black men who followed Elijah Mohammad, they became Muslim and of course the system denigrated them, considered them being just a sect, not truly Muslim, whatever that might mean... To those people, to me they were true, regardless of what the system said, what they adopted. Malcolm X came up through them, he did great work, he was able to focus on it as a Muslim, as his background, as his stage. This is where he became well known, as you know, through Islam, what they call “Black Muslims”.
And he went to visit Mecca, he was embraced by brothers of all colours, people with the bluest eyes, he began to call them brothers.  It was to totally different. Islam has had an impact, a great impact, on Blacks in America, and people generally.  Even though Elijah Mohammed started, Malcolm X popularized Islam inside the US, it exists still to this today, they’re still struggling...
[Muslims] aren’t the single mechanism through which human rights can be achieved.  People may have felt that at that time, but the consolidation of all those forces together would be better...  This is why I use the term spiritual. We are all connected spiritually, regardless of what we believe in, whatever religion it is, and that spiritually has to connect.  To me, that is more important, and I don’t mean to denigrate [Islam], but to me that spirituality and that connection is much more important, for people coming together and consolidating their efforts, than a religion... Spirituality that exists in people, that connective spirit, that desire to make sure that people are treated humanely, regardless of where they are in the world, regardless of their station in life, I think this is the quest.
AS:  How did your time in solitary confinement impact or shape your spirituality?
RK: I think it did because I had a lot of time to reflect, ruminate, I should like to think. I had time to think, I had learned some things, I had read some things, because I only had an eight grade education but I learned some things along the way, in the process of becoming involved with the Black Panther Party...  I became interested in some things.  Don’t get me wrong - I had read the Bible, “the Holy Bible”, I had read that at least 3 or 4 times, through the whole six books. I was raised in a religious family and I considered myself at one time a Christian.
And I’m glad that I went through that, I think it was an evolving door for me to go further.  Because I don’t see religion and spirituality as being quite the same, I’m sorry, but many people do think that they’re synonymous, but I really don’t think they are synonymous with each other, because religion does not generally mean that you’re spiritually connected with a force, and it doesn’t mean something metaphysical, I’m talking about that force that binds people together, that decency that exists in people together that allows them to communicate, that allows them to be decent to each other, and this is the type of spirituality that I speak of. That spirituality that brings people together and that they can really see that, what impacts one individual, also impacts himself or herself as well, and others.  We have to see it that way, because it does, whatever happens in America, it impacts this place, what happens here impacts America.  So I think people need to become spiritually tuned to what is taking place.  And this is, you don’t have to be of any persuasion or any ideology in order to see this, all you have to do is be human.
AS: After spending so much time in solitary, when you still have moments, that spark of still appreciating being out, what are some of the things that you appreciate the most?
RK: I appreciate the fact that being out, that I could shed some light. Those 31 years that I was in prison. You know when I left prison I said that, even though I was free of Angola, Angola would never be free of me.  And I think that time has been going on, it’s been 11 years going on, or 12.  I’ve been in quite a few places, and it has been my quest to shed light on human rights violations, not just in America, but, subsequently around the world. I see that there’s a connecting force that binds evil, but there’s also a connecting force that binds people of the opposite of what evil might entail.  And I think that I opt for that.  I had an opportunity to do a lot of thinking when I was in prison.  And I think I made an assessment of what the system actually was and what it is.  And I’ve been fortunate because I’ve had other people who quite obviously feel the same way I feel, because they’re doing things, and we have never met, but our approach, and the things we’re doing, are basically having the same effect, we’re focusing our energy on eliminating an ill that can impact everybody, and all of us. 
You know, being in solitary confinement, that time, while I don’t want to minimize the impact of solitary confinement and what it can do to people. It is dehumanizing, it is demoralizing, it kills the soul, the soul cries.  There’s no doubt about it. And I don’t want to minimize the impact of solitary confinement, but I think I used my stay in solitary confinement, it allowed me – and again, I don’t want to minimize solitary confinement, because I agonized each day.  But there was never a day in solitary confinement that I didn’t think about trying to get out of solitary confinement, and trying to make things better while I was there. Not that I was trying to make things better, that I could forever exist in that type of environment, I was trying to make things more conducive, for me to be able to affect some changes.  While I was in solitary confinement, I wasn’t just laying dormant.  There were some things that needed to be changed.  They did not allow us to have law books, we utilized the courts, we utilized what was given to us, what the US Constitution said we could have, we didn’t know this, we had no law practice, but you learned through rote.  And we learned this, and we kind of improved it, but the main quest has always been for me, and for Herman and Albert, because we were victims of a frame-up.  And the system knows this.  Our quest has always been, to make things conducive, to where we lived it, where they kept us, in solitary confinement, so we can affect changes ourselves, and we used the courts, we utilized the courts, to make some changes. There were things that they did not allow us to do, and we understood that we had a constitutional right, regardless, that we had certain constitutional rights, that was our way of fighting back.
There are many methods of struggle, and we were so limited, and what we did, we utilized what was given to us, and we affected some changes, and subsequently, I was released.  After filing my own writ, after 31 years, 29 years in solitary confinement of course, I was appointed a lawyer, and I released.
AS: I do other prison activism, letter writing and that sort of thing.  And something I always spend a lot of time thinking about, it what is the best way for people on the outside to give support to people on the inside, but also make sure that the struggle is led by people on the inside.  So I guess I’m wondering, as someone who spent a lot of time on the inside, but is now on the outside doing prison work, what you think about that. What kind of support meant the most to you when you were on the inside?  How do you think about your work now?
RK:  When we were on the inside, we did some things to affect some changes, we did some outreaching.  And then a guy named Malik Rahim, a former member of the Black Panther Party, he recognized that... some 20 years later he saw something that we were still in prison.  And what he did was got some former members of the BPP, got some former activists together.  And they formed a support group. So my point is this - even though prisoners can impact or should be the main impact of how people operate, there are certain things they don’t have, outside, that people have access to outside, so they have to rely more on people outside. But by the same token, they have to set things in motion. And in setting things in motion, that is their control, in a sense.  But for all practical reasons, Herman and Albert, even though they have all this support, and people support them, there’s people outside, Herman and Albert don’t really control [the movement]... While people who you’re working for can have all the input in the world with regards to how they should, how the situation they face should be dealt with, by the same token, I do believe this, that the people on the outside who have access and means and resources that they don’t have, they’re the people who they have to rely on.  Herman and Albert, they don’t second guess what we do, because we know what we’re dong is in their interests... Overall, it’s the people who are giving support to prisoners, it should be left up to them to not dictate, but to control the movement, because there’s no way in the world that people in Guantanamo can control the movement that you may be trying to affect, they can’t control it, they can have some input, and so that’s the way it is with Herman and Albert.
I think the people on the outside have to be the ones to continue, because they have the resources, they have to work with prisoners. And working together, a consolidated effort. It’s good, Herman and Albert are satisfied...  And know this, they realize that and know this, that people on the outside, they do have their best interests at heart, because it’s a labour of love.

Click here to learn more about the Angola 3 and their struggle for justice

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Far too few people know the story of Peter Norman, the other guy, the white guy, the Australian on the medals stand at the 1968 Olympics with sprinters Tommy Smith and John Carlos...and that is a shame.

Norman was on the stand to receive a Silver Medal for his performance and stood in abject support of Smith and Carlos and they raised clenched fist salutes during the playing of the American national anthem.  Norman, wore a button of the “Olympic Project for Human Rights”—a civil rights protest movement set up by black athlete Harry Edwards before the Games—in support of his two fellow athletes.

Norman told reporters at Mexico: “I believe in civil rights. Every man is born equal and should be treated that way.”

Dave Zirn wrote: 

Only those who see the film footage notice that he never throws a furtive glance back at fellow medal winners as they raise their fists. He never registers surprise or alarm. At a moment that epitomized the electric shock of rebellion, his gaze is cool, implacable, his back ramrod straight, a fellow soldier proud to stand with his brothers.

Only those who go beyond official history will learn about the true motivations of all three of these men.

They wanted the apartheid countries of South Africa and Rhodesia to be disallowed from the Olympics. They wanted more coaches of African descent. They wanted the world to know that their success did not mean racism was now a relic of history. The silver medalist with the white skin stood with Smith and Carlos on every question and it was agreed before the race, that if the three, as expected, were the ones on the dais, they would stand together: three young anti-racists standing together in struggle.

In an article following his death in 2006, the Guardian wrote:

Norman last saw Smith and Carlos last year, when San Jose State University, California, unveiled a statue, based on the photo, of its two alumni. Typically, he downplayed his involvement. "People don't realise that they sacrificed their lives for a cause they believed in, and it was peaceful and non-violent," he said. "I was glad I was with them." Both men eulogised their friend. Smith called him "a man of solid beliefs, a humanitarian". Carlos, to whom Norman was closer, said simply, "Peter Norman was my brother

Carlos and Smith were the lead pallbearers at Norman's funeral.

Like Smith and Carlos, Norman suffered for the support he showed and his opposition to racism and white supremacy.  Zirn writes:

The backlash endured by Smith and Carlos is well documented. Less known are Norman's own travails. He was a pariah in the Australian Olympic world, despite being a five-time national champion in the 200 metres. He desired to coach the highest levels, yet worked as a physical education teacher, the victim of a Down Under blacklist. As Carlos said, "At least me and Tommie had each other when we came home. When Peter went home, he had to deal with a nation by himself. He never wavered, never denied that he was up there with us for a purpose and he never said 'I'm sorry' for his involvement. That's indicative of who the man was."

The following piece written by my friend Bill Berkowitz is taken from Smirking Chimp.

Peter Norman and the Slow Turning Wheels of Justice
Bill Berkowitz's picture
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by Bill Berkowitz | August 29, 2012 - 9:37am

Norman, an Australian Olympic silver medalist and human rights supporter finally receives official state apology

When U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the gold and bronze medalists in the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, went to collect their medals at the podium, they were shoeless, wore black socks to represent black poverty, and ultimately, during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, bowed their heads and each raised a black-gloved fist in a black power salute to protest racial inequality at home.

The third man on the podium was silver medalist Peter Norman, an apprentice butcher from Melbourne, Australia, who proudly wore the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the medal ceremony.

As the BBC’s Caroline Frost pointed out in 2008, “The photograph of the two men with their heads bowed, each of them with an arm raised in the air and a fist clothed in a black leather glove, is one of the most striking images of the 20th Century.”

Smith and Carlos were booed by the crowd, chastised by many in the U.S. press, and, at the instigation of International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage, expelled from the Games and sent home by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Brundage, who had no problems with the 1936 Olympic Games being held in Nazi Germany, termed the incident "the nasty demonstration against the American flag by negroes."
Back home, long before they were honored in recent years, Smith and Carlos received death threats and suffered greatly.

“It was Norman who,” the BBC’s Frost reported, “when John Carlos found he'd forgotten his black gloves, suggested the two runners shared Smith's pair, wearing one each on the podium.”
For wearing the OPHR badge, Norman was ostracized by the Australian Olympic Committee and was punished for decades.

Last week, Norman, who died in 2008, finally received an official apology from the Australian government.

Years after the Olympics, Norman said: “I couldn’t see why a black man wasn’t allowed to drink out of the same water fountain, or sit in the same bus or go to the same schools as a white guy.”

Norman "always stood behind his competitor's stance," Bruce Jenkins recently reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Norman's conviction earned him a ban from running in ... Australia, then bound to racial exclusion laws, and he was harassed and tormented for years."

The BBC’s Frost pointed out that Norman suffered immediate “repercussions”: “Seen as a trouble-maker who had lent a hand to those desecrators of the Olympic flag, he was ostracized by the Australian establishment. Despite qualifying 13 times over and being ranked fifth in the world, he was not sent to the following Munich games, where Australia had no sprinter for the first time in the Olympics. Norman retired soon afterwards without winning another title.”

According to the Associated Press, last week, “federal lawmakers in Canberra [Australia] praised the ‘heroism and humility’ of [Norman] … for standing in solidarity with … Smith and … Carlos on the podium following the 200-meter race at Mexico City. Norman was later chastised at home for his stand, and reports suggested that he was shunned from future Olympic selection.”

The House of Parliament "issued an official apology -- ridiculously late, and particularly in Norman case" since he died in 2006,” the Chronicle’s Jenkins pointed out.

Carlos told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio Tuesday that the disrespect, "I think, mortally wounded him."

"I don't think he was as bitter as he was hurt ... and I don't think he ever recovered," Carlos said.
“It was thought Norman was punished for his involvement by being banned by Olympic officials for the 1972 Munich Games,” AP reported. “However, a spokesman for the Australian Olympic Committee said Norman wasn't nominated for the Munich Games ‘due to lack of form,’ which Norman had apparently acknowledged at the time. Norman later quit athletics in protest over his treatment.”

Both Carlos and Smith were pallbearers at Norman's funeral. "Peter didn't have to take that button [badge], Peter wasn't from the United States, Peter was not a black man, Peter didn't have to feel what I felt, but he was a man," says Carlos.

Carlos “said there was no one in Australia who should be ‘honored, recognized, appreciated’ more. He cited his humanitarian concerns, character, strength, and his willingness to be ‘a sacrificial lamb for justice.’"

Lawmaker Andrew Leigh “told federal parliament … that Norman was punished for standing in solidarity on the podium with Smith and Carlos.

‘It was a moment of heroism and humility that advanced international awareness for racial inequality,’ Leigh said in presenting his motion for an apology,” AP reported.

“Another parliamentarian, John Alexander, said Norman was ostracized by the Australian media and athletics officials. ‘The simple gesture to wear this badge on the dais as Smith and Carlos raised their fist in protest condemned Norman to never represent Australia again,’ he said.”

In 2008, the Sydney Film Festival featured a documentary titled “Salute,” a film about the protest, written, directed and produced by Matt Norman, an Australian actor and filmmaker, and Peter Norman's nephew.

In a 2011 speech at Canada’s University of Guelph, Akaash Maharaj, a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee and head of Canada's Olympic Equestrian team, said, "In that moment, Tommie Smith, Peter Norman, and John Carlos became the living embodiments of Olympic idealism. Ever since, they have been inspirations to generations of athletes like myself, who can only aspire to their example of putting principle before personal interest. It was their misfortune to be far greater human beings than the leaders of the IOC of the day."

At the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia, Norman was “the only Australian Olympian to be excluded from making a VIP lap of honour at the Games, despite his status as one of the best sprinters in the home country's history,” the BBC’s Frost noted. “But the US athletics team were not going to ignore this omission. They invited Norman to stay at their own lodgings during the games, and welcomed him as one of their own. In an extraordinary turn of events, it was hurdling legend Ed Moses who greeted him at the door, and that year's 200m champion Michael Johnson who hugged him, saying: ‘You are my hero.’"

AP pointed out that when Norman, the five-time Australian 200 meter champion, finished second in 1968, he set an Australian record “that still stands.”


ABOUT AUTHORBill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


If it walks like a nazi and acts like a nazi, well, damn, maybe it is a nazi

For those of you who like to call those of us who oppose the current Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad lackeys of imperialism and the like, I would like to now return the favor.

As the article below demonstrates many western fascists, nazis, racists and other assorted trogolytes are supporting the regime of Mr. al-Assad.  

Probably not surprising that fascists and their ilk would support the Ba'athists.  After all, as we all know one of the principal founder of the Party was a fellow by the name of Zaki al-Arsuzi.  This founder and theoretician said, that both fascism and Nazism were a great influence on him.  An associate of al-Arsuzi wrote: "We were racists. We admired the Nazis. We were immersed in reading Nazi literature and books that were the source of the Nazi spirit...We were the first who thought of a translation  of Mein Kampf.  Another founder of the Party, Michel Aflaq was also an admirer of Hitler.  He admired Hitler ,for the same reason many of Assad's supporters on the "left" admire him, because he stood up to the USA and Britain.

You are all apparently allies of racists, fascists, and neo nazis.  I mean since you are lineing up behind regime that thinks it is okay to hob nob and seek support from such, and which appears to have been founded on principles like those of the German National Socialists, well, "so"s your old man."

Of course, I don't really think you all are a pack of nazi lovers, not really, but I do grow weary of being called a zionist and an imperialist every time I open my mouth in opposition to some brutal thug somewhere that likes to pretend opposition to the USA and likes to pretend to be some heroic defender of "the people" while usually killing and oppressing "the people," and likes to pretend to be anti imperialist and anti-capitalist while stomping on legitimate communists and other anti-capitalists at home, and offering up some version of capitalism or state capitalism as an economic model.  What a laugh?

So back off...

The following is from

Syrian embassy invites Polish Fascists to demonstrate solidarity with Al.-Assad

Syrian embassy invites Polish Fascists to demonstrate solidarity with Al.-Assad

Short news about protest which changed into Fascist event.

26th of August in front of the Syrian embassy two demonstrations took place. The first one was organized by Syrian embassy and its goal was to record it and show in pro-Syrian government that whole world supports Al-Assad. That is why Syrians who live in Warsaw prepared second demonstration to drown the first one.

At twelve o’clock there were only ten pro-government Syrians and fifty anti-government supported by their Polish and Kurdish friends. Polish section of SWP and some anarchists also came.

Suddenly at 1st P.M. on the pro-Syrian side appeard people from All Polish Youth. Only local activists without any leader. This group although known as Neonazi gang nowadays is group of catholic bigots which try to enter mainstream. Last time they started declarating support to Iran government.

A few minutes some strange guy started giving maoist leaflets to Syrians trying to explain that people who were killed in last two days were imperialist agents. Second far right group who supported Al-Assad was Niklot. This is not political group, just association of culture led by Slavic Pagan Neonazis. It is difficult to say why did they join.

But the main role in this spectacle was played by Falanga and their leader Bartosz Bekier (on the picture). Bartosz Bekier is former leader of Mazovian National Radical Camp who was kicked out with all his group because of their strange political views. Although Bekier used to be against all kinds of Communism now he cooperates with Maoists and National Bolshevics. That is why Falanga was officially banned on National Radical Camp actions and was not active in Warsaw for a few years.

This time they came. Bekier had his own megaphone and shouted slogans to people who opposes as “rats go home” and “yankees go home”. Because of this many people whose relatives are persecuted in Syria could not stand it and decided to go.

Only the most militant people stayed. Somebody shouted “Bartosz Bekier, bitch of Al-Assad”. Although Syrian embassy organized Fascist event there was no comments about that in mass medias.