Many more await justice absent of a general amnesty
Baltimore Black Panther Party member Marshall Eddie Conway was released from 44 years of imprisonment on March 4. Conway had been a target of the FBI Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) which sought to destroy the revolutionary African American movement in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s.
Conway had maintained his innocence over the decades and while in prison had administered programs that assisted youth inmates coming into the system. His release has been welcomed by veterans of the Black Liberation Movement and younger activists.
The release of this former Panther organizer illustrates the injustice of the U.S. political and legal system but also draws attention to the fact that there are many other political prisoners detained inside a country which claims to be the citadel of democracy across the world. In addition to exposing the continued detention of hundreds of political leaders and activists, the release of Conway places in stark reality that the U.S. overall has the highest per capita prison population in the world.
After his release from prison Conway said that “I am filled with a lot of different emotions after nearly 44 years in prison. I want to thank my family, my friends, my lawyers and my supporters; many have suffered along with me.” (Truth-Out, March 5)
The circumstances surrounding Conway’s arrest and consequent conviction was described as follows: “On the night of April 21, 1970, two Baltimore police officers, Donald Sager and Stanley Sierakowski, were shot as they responded to a domestic disturbance call. Sierakowski was wounded seriously, and Sager died of his wounds. Two members of the Black Panther Party, Jack Ivory Johnson and Jackie Powell, were apprehended close to the scene soon after the shooting. Other police officers spotted a third African-American man and chased him for several blocks as the man fired back at them, finally escaping. A police officer later testified that the man he chased and who shot at him as he fled was Marshall Eddie Conway, a prominent Panther activist in the community.” (Truth-Out, March 5)
Due to the federal government hostility towards the Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Revolutionary movements of the period it was almost impossible for Conway and other leading Panthers and members of organizations such as the Republic of New Africa (RNA) to get fair trials. Hundreds of leading activists were framed in the courts and sentenced to long prison terms.
Many other members of the Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army (BLA) were assassinated between 1968 and 1973. Figures such as Bobby Hutton, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, John Huggins, Alprentice Bunchy Carter, Spurgeon Jake Winters, Malik Zayd Shakur and many more sacrificed their lives to the struggle.
Many more were driven into exile in Cuba, Algeria, China, Tanzania and other countries. People such as Robert Williams, Assata Shakur, Nehanda Abiodoun and Don Cox spent years in exile. Today other political prisoners such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sekou Odinga, Mutulu Shakur, Leonard Peltier, Oscar Lopez Rivera, the MOVE 9, the Cuban Five (now three), continue to remain imprisoned suffering torturous conditions.
Impact of the COINTELPRO Project on the African Liberation Struggle
Of course the targeted assassinations, unjust imprisonment, forced-exile and political neutralization of leading organizers and spokesperson within the African American Civil Rights, Black Power, Black Revolutionary and Pan-African movements would have a detrimental effect over the decades. A culture of resistance which was a continuation from the colonial and antebellum slave periods to the 1960s and 1970s came under assault both through the might of the state and the utilization of psychological warfare technics in the corporate media and the educational system.
This manifests itself in the current ideological struggle within the African American community. There should be a re-opening of a discussion on how to rejuvenate the movement to win a general amnesty for all political prisoners held captive by the U.S. government. Until justice is brought to these cases it will not be possible to rebuild the type of revolutionary movement needed in the 21st century to effectively challenge national oppression, capitalist exploitation and imperialist war.
The ruling class is waging an intensified class war against the oppressed and working people of the U.S. They, the ruling class, are themselves facing the worst economic and political crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
This crisis becomes political when the pundits for the Wall Street bankers have no solutions to the most burning and pressing issues of the day i.e., mass poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, quality housing, education, etc. They must recognize themselves that the capitalist and imperialist system is based solely on the oppression and exploitation of the vast majority of humanity around the world.
Nonetheless, the key to the historical advancement of the African American liberation struggle for self-determination, independent nationhood and full equality is the recognition that the current system is incapable of providing the necessary solutions. A system of self-organization, the equal distribution of wealth and the end to imperialist war is only alternative to the mad race to the bottom engendered by capitalism.
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire