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Notes from the Unrepenitentiary

GERONIMO IS FREE! Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), his family, the Black community, New Afrikan Independence Movement, and thousands of activists, radicals, and revolutionaries have waited 27 years to say those joyful words. Women here at FCI Dublin (California) celebrated Geronimo's release and exclaimed over the years of suffering and struggle the u.s. government forced him to endure, even long after his innocence had been clearly established. Every woman I spoke to on the compound expressed the hope that Geronimo would be allowed to recover, rest and rejoin his family and community, and that D.A. Garcetti would finally admit defeat and drop the charges.

Geronimo himself began his life outside by stating his determination to work for the freedom of the rest of the 150 or more political prisoners held in u.s. prisons. His immediate expression of solidarity didn't surprise any of us, because Geronimo has always exemplified constancy in the struggle and love and support for all comrades. While Geronimo's case doesn't spell any guarantee of success for other political prisoners in our fight for release, it does (like the Attica Brothers' verdict in NY State Court) show what can be achieved with hard work and unwavering commitment to a campaign for justice over the years. Through the enormous difficulties of Geronimo's case, we're all fortunate that he had dedicated, determined family and friends -- and lawyers who stuck by him and fought for him for all those years, like Stuart Hanlon: a real people's lawyer, along with all the others who've toiled for Geronimo's release. I name Stuart because I think the names of many of Geronimo's other lawyers and supporters are better known than his.

There are particular ways Geronimo's case's success can fuel the attempts to free all political prisoners and POWs. One, clearly, is that a major leader of the Black liberation struggle is now free from prison. Since the education system and mass media are controlled by the government, corporations, and law enforcement, we need people like Geronimo to teach about what the Black Panther Party was, and what the Struggle for liberation is. This, of course, is exactly why the government fought so hard for 27 years to keep Geronimo locked up, isolated and criminalized.

Another way Geronimo's release can advance us towards the freeing of political prisoners and POWs is by drawing attention to the government program that engineered his frame-up: COINTELPRO. The FBI's COunter-INTELligence PROgram functioned for years with the purpose of destroying the Black liberation movement, Puerto Rican Independence Movement, Native American sovereignty struggle and anti-imperialist solidarity movement. COINTELPRO focused in a particularly lethal way on the Black movement -- the Panthers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Geronimo, and hundreds of other Black and New Afrikan leaders, organizations, and the communities they drew support from, spoke for, served and represented. COINTELPRO was multi-faceted, with tactics ranging from fake letters and phone calls to informants, provocateurs, and assassinations.

I'm not saying that every Black/New Afrikan POW or political prisoner is in prison as a result of a frame-up, or is completely 'innocent' of the charges. But it is the rule rather than the exception that COINTELPRO tactics have played some role in the cases of Black POWs -- whether that's the discovery (8 years after trial) that the prosecution hid witnesses who could have corroborated Mutulu Shakur's defense, or the "law enforcement community's" role in ensuring that Black POWs never get parole. In order to understand the case of any Black or New Afrikan POW, you have to understand COINTELPRO.

There's a broader reason why this is so, too: you have to understand COINTELPRO in order to understand the political conditions which gave rise to the cases of Black/New Afrikan POWs. COINTELPRO was a war program by the u.s. government. It was not "law enforcement," it was counter-insurgency. It had a lot more in common with u.s. military plans for fighting the people's insurgencies in Viet Nam and Africa than it did with any u.s. legal codes. It was designed to prevent and suppress a people's fight for democracy. COINTELPRO created a state of covert warfare between the government and all progressive Black activists and communities. It made the use of extra-legal, clandestine measures necessary for those seeking to build the Black liberation movement.

COINTELPRO and the u.s. government politics and policies that produced it help explain why the greatest number of u.s.-held Political prisoners are Black/New Afrikan POWs, why the government is so loathe to let any of them out of prison and why we need increased political exposure and mobilization in addition to legal strategies in order to free the rest of the political prisoners and POWs.

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