As dates reflect and refract memories even before and after the arrival of an anniversary, or the knowledge of the memory, I want to remind us about the history of political prisoners in the United States—specifically, Dhoruba Bin Wahad, and ask what you may know about the 20th-century history of using prisons to silence political dissent against the status quo.
On March 15, 1990, Dhoruba Bin Wahad was released after serving nineteen years on federal and state charges targeting his political activities in pursuing Black liberation. Bin Wahad's release was the first person in a series of high-profile cases from the 1970s concerning political activists to be released due to the illegal activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Counter Intelligence Program known as COINTELPRO. Bin Wahad was one of the hundreds of political activists and revolutionaries targeted by COINTELPRO operations that included collusion and collaboration with local law enforcement, as was the case with the assassination of Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton.
To the court on Thursday, March 15, 1990, Bin Wahad began his statement, "For every waking hour for the last 19 years, I have had to live with the inhuman consequences of the governments Counterintelligence Program which targeted the African-American community. The mean-spirited and racist Manhattan District Attorney's office* has done everything in its power to keep me in prison for the rest of my life. They have suborned perjury, destroyed evidence, suppressed statements which would have undermined their prosecution, shrewdly manipulated the biases of the judiciary, vilified me in the media and kept all these actions from the public for 19 years. It is abundantly clear that had there existed a death penalty, the Manhattan District Attorney would have framed me and buried their misconduct with my body. White middle America would not have batted an eye."
You can read bin Wahad's complete statement at his 1990 hearing here.
The reversal of the original conviction by the New York Supreme Court was upheld despite Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau's appeal that a lower court rejected. Bin Wahad won two civil lawsuits against the FBI and the NYPD and moved to Ghana to continue his work around Pan-African liberation. Two projects directed his time in Accra before returning to NYC, where he lives today: the Campaign to Free Black and New African Political Prisoners and the Institute for the Development of Pan-African policy in Ghana.
In 2017, the FBI invented a new category to target, Black Identity Extremists, despite their own internal findings that white supremacist and nationalist terrorists are the most vicious threat to democracy.
For more on the targeting of political movements to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" them, check out Still Black, Still Strong: Survivors of the U.S. War Against Black Revolutionaries, featuring interviews with Dhoruba bin Wahad, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Assata Shakur.
For an interview with Bin Wahad by Jared A. Ball from Black Power Media, click here.
"Black Power Media (BPM) is a Black-radical independent media project: We seek to challenge the narrative about Black politics and the Black condition. Renegade Culture [podcast], The RemiX Morning Show, and future programming will deliver the news and information our community and others need to break through today's mainstream propaganda machine."
The book Black Against Empire is a valuable and eye-opening historical monograph, the "first comprehensive overview and analysis of the history and politics of the Black Panther Party."
For a stunning documentary film by Lee Lew-Lee about the Black Panther Party, check outAll Power To The People.
Click here for a documentary focusing on Fred Hampton Jr., the Illinois Chapters of the BPP, and his assassination by a joint federal and local COINTELPRO operation.
Freedom Archives has produced this overview of the illegal FBI program targeting the anti-war movement, the Chicano movement, and the American Indian Movement, COINTELPRO 101.
Christopher Finan's "From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act traces the fight for free speech from the turn of the nineteenth century through the War on Terror."
*Yes, this is the same Manhattan DA office involved in the former president's criminal case.