(en) 1992 Interview With Geronimo Pratt

Lyn and Shawn (linjin@tao.ca)
Wed, 4 Jun 1997 06:03:54 pst

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Sun, 1 Jun 1997 18:48:18 -0700 (PDT) From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org> Subject: 1992 Interview With Geronimo Pratt

@@ Some of you know your history -- first they arrested the tree climbers, and the rest of us did nothing because we weren't involved ----. besides which they were making a noise and being disrespectful of authority, and they'd been in the trees so long they must have exposed themselves, more than once, .... Tree defense, as we all know, isn't political, is it?

Last week a retrial was ordered for Geronimo Pratt. Remember he was a young person who had leadership abilities, he was little over 20 when he was arrested on trumped up charges. Whatever else the Panthers were doing they were also into community education and self-help feeding projects, and that made them very dangerous. They were politically dangerous.

So here is an interview to read, to ponder and to act on.


================================================= 1992 Interview With Geronimo ji Jaga ________________________________________________________________ FREE GERONIMO NOW! FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS! _________________________________________________________________ By Tom Burghardt Editor, Antifa Info-Bulletin (SAN FRANCISCO) -- Without question last week's ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett W. Dickey granting a new trial to geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) is a significant defeat for the forces of state repression. For more than 26 years, geronimo has been imprisoned in California's gulags for a crime he did not commit. A travesty of justice? Certainly. But more to the point, geronimo's case is illustrative of the nature of the "justice" system in capitalist America. To paraphrase political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, "those who got the capital get the justice." You get the point. A target of the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO operations designed to destroy the Black Panther Party, geronimo's real "crime" has been his continued refusal to capitulate to a racist, neo-colonialist system whose _raison d'etre_ is the maintenance of economic/political power and white supremacy _by any means necessary_. Below is a 1992 interview with geronimo originally published in _Race and Class_. But before you read this important interview with geronimo, please, take a few moments to call or fax L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti demanding the immediate, unconditional release of geronimo ji Jaga. And please, send contributions to the addresses listed below. FREE GERONIMO NOW! FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS! ABOLISH THE RACIST DEATH PENALTY! * From: Mumia@aol.com Date: Sat, 31 May 1997 12:42:42 -0400 (EDT) Subject: Request from the Family of Geronimo Pratt ----- _________________________________________________________________ REQUEST FROM THE FAMILY OF GERONIMO PRATT _________________________________________________________________ The Family of Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt have asked that you support his release by faxing/calling or writing the office of: Gil Garcetti 210 West Temple Los Angeles. CA 90012 Phone: 213-974-3511 Fax 213-974-1484 Please be polite in your statement. Virginia Pratt would like people to say: Mr. Garcetti, do the right thing and release Geronimo. The release of Geronimo is a major victory and shows what the people can accomplish when they struggle for what is right. With the release of Geronimo all of us are a little more free. However, remember as Ginny Pratt said when we spoke to her, there are still so many others locked up. Ona MOVE * For more information on the case of geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), please call: 213-294-8320 The FREE GERONIMO COMMITTEE meets every Tuesday at 6:30 PM Faith United Methodist Church 1713 West 108th St., Los Angeles Funds are urgently needed, please send donations to: GERONIMO PRATT DEFENSE FUND P.O. Box 781328 Los Angeles, CA 90016 PARTISAN DEFENSE COMMITTEE (PDC) P.O. Box 77462 San Francisco, CA 94107 (510) 839-0852 * Send contributions for Geronimo's legal defense to: PRISONER LITIGATION TRUST FUND c/o Stuart Hanlon 214 Duboce Street San Francisco, CA 94103 ***** http://hamp.hampshire.edu/~cmnF93/geronimo.txt ----- _________________________________________________________________ INTERVIEW WITH GERONIMO JI-JAGA PRATT BY HEIKE KLEFFNER _________________________________________________________________ (from "The Black Panthers: Interviews with Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt and Mumia Abu-Jamal," Race and Class Magazine 35, 1, 1993) * Geronimo ji-jaga Pratt and Mumia Abu-Jamal were both members of the former Black Panther Party for Self-Defense which, from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s developed, in the ghettoes and inner cities of the US, a revolutionary black politics. The organization, with its combination of practical social action, political self-education and adoption of the constitutional right to bear arms, grew rapidly. It was finally broken apart by the extensive infiltration of its local chapters, together with the virtual elimination of its leadership, who were either railroaded into jail or killed in FBI-instigated shoot-outs. Many former Panthers are still in prison on charges arising from that period; Geronimo ji-jaga Pratt has so far served twenty-three years, and is still in maximum security. Mumia Abu-Jamal's imprisonment stems from his involvement, as a former Panther and a journalist, in reporting on the radical black nationalist organization, MOVE, one of whose communal houses was besieged by Philadelphia police for over a year, in 1978. (Some years later, in May 1985, Philadelphia police besieged and bombed another such house, killing eleven people - see Margot Harry's account in Race & Class, Spring 1987. ) Abu- Jamal is currently on death row for the alleged killing, in December 1981, of a police officer. The interviews were conducted in October 1992. ----- Heike Kleffner: How did you get involved with the Black Panther Party (BPP) and what did you do before that? Geronimo ji-jaga Pratt: I am from a small town in Louisiana, part of the national territory we feel should be liberated, and I grew up in a segregated situation. It was very much like you probably imagine a Black nation to be. The situation was pretty racist, on the one hand; on the other, it was full of integrity and dignity and the pride of being a part of this community. So, I grew up witnessing lynchings and other activities that you have probably heard about, that the Ku-Klux-Klan performed. There was an atmosphere of fear like that, but, too, of a close-knit family - the values, the work ethic, very respectful to everyone. Eventually, I joined the US army and ended up in Vietnam. This was during the '60s when a lot of change was taking place in the country. That change was interpreted to us down South in a different kind of way because there, you grew up fighting; there was a constant state of warfare, because of the racial polarization. Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement, etc., was not that popular there, because we were raised on the self-defense principle of fighting and defending our people from those kinds of racist attacks. That stayed with me all my life through the service and back out and eventually in the BPP. HK: When did you first get introduced to the BPP? GP: When I got out of the US army, I enrolled at UCLA and I was befriended by a brother who was the Deputy Defense Minister of the Southern California chapter, named Bunchy Carter. In fact, we ended up being room-mates. We were both taking the same classes at UCLA and, as a result, I became very familiar with the BPP and the movement as a whole. Being fresh from Vietnam, plus being from the South, opened my eyes to a lot of things. At that time, I was not a member, I was just a friend of Bunchy's; everybody thought that I was a member, because I was always with Bunchy. I had attended some meetings of the BPP with Bunchy - the national meetings in Oakland - and helped implement a lot of student programs in conjunction with the BPP. But I had not joined. When Bunchy was killed in January 1968, he left a recording that resulted subsequently in my helping to rebuild their Ministry of Defense. So, when you say 'joining the BPP', there was never really a formal joining. It was a coming together of different forces under the auspices the banner of the BPP - it was not as cut- and-dried as people may think. HK: What did Bunchy's recording say? GP: That if anything happened to him, he recommended that I take his place. It was a shock to me. I was blown away. I had already heard that he was dead and then, when I heard this. . . He had never asked me to join, he knew my position on things. It was like a coming together of two different worlds, two different sectors of a field of struggle and I wasn't so eager to join anything. I had grown up in an organization that was based on the principles of liberation that the BPP were struggling to comprise. So, when he was killed and he left that recording, and Bobby and Kathleen and all heard it, and then asked me, would I do this - it kind of threw me off. After a while, I decided to help build the Ministry of Defense - the Party was made up of different ministries, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture led by Emerald Douglass - and it became incumbent on me to take this task on. HK: What did your job entail? GP: I assumed the role of the Minister of Defense because Huey [Newton], who was the nominal Minister of Defense, was incarcerated. And I became a member of the first cadre of the Central Committee, the highest decision-making body of the BPP. I had to go to various locations and organize classes on defense - self-defense - and things of that nature. Also, we worked on technical defense and theoretical defense. Theoretical defense was comprised of more intellectual dialogue between individuals, so that you could understand the basics of warfare; the technical was the actual implementation of defense techniques, defending our offices, etc. HK: Can you tell us a bit about the community programmes of the BPP? GP: That commitment was ongoing. You had to contribute a certain amount of hours to the breakfast program, to the clothing give-away program, to the medical programs. It was a constant thing, 24 hours, a full-time job. You had to maintain the political education classes, because those classes were primary, before anything we had to maintain political education. So, it was quite a busy time. HK: When did you first learn about COINTELPRO and when did you first become one of its targets? GP: We began to feel the effects of COlNTELPRO-type operations from the start. Even before I had gotten out here to California, those kind of things were being felt throughout the country, throughout the movement. But it became more intense at the end of 1968 and the beginning of 1969, shortly after J. Edgar Hoover issued his infamous proclamation that we were the greatest threat to their national security. HK: Can you describe when and how you felt the effects personally? GP: When I was shot at in my bed, four days after the assassination of Fred Hampton in 1969. A very similar thing happened when a sister and I were in bed. They came and shot at the bed and they missed. Buck-shots and an assassination attempt. A few months prior to that I had been shot at on the streets by unknown assailants - there were three whites in a car, in the ghetto on the East Side of LA. I was going through Memphis, doing some work there and was shot at. I had been shot at quite a bit in Vietnam, and when the bullets are close, they make a cracking sound. These were very close. I was just lucky that they didn't hit me. HK: Did you foresee then the split that was going to happen in the BPP? GP: We had signs of it - not a split that actually occurred, but there were always some infiltrators, some agents provocateurs, who were just omnipresent, who you had to try to weed out and identify, and who were constantly trying to provoke this kind of separation within the ranks. It would come from various directions. It might be played out through fratricidal warfare between other organizations and the Panthers, or the Peacetoll Nation and the Panthers in Chicago. Then you had the anti-Castro Cubans, who were known as the Guzanos and who were used pretty much against the Panthers; you had the Minutemen, and, of course, the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society. There was always someone, some kind of force coming at you like this and it wasn't so clear during this period that it was coming directly from the FBI or the CIA. But it became a serious topic of our political education classes and studies. Quite a lot of the findings that came out of those studies were presented to the central committee. A few times they were laughed at, because a lot of the leaders didn't think that we were that important; that the US would waste time using the CIA and the FBI. HK: Did you work with any white organizations and how did you feel about those alliances? GP: We had good relations with some white organizations throughout that period. In effect, we were criticized quite a bit by a more narrow nationalist black organization for even working with organizations such as SDS, the Weathermen, the communist New Left, the youth alliances, the labor parties - all the way to the Communist Party. There were problems. We had to find ways of working with various forces moving in the same direction. And we understood that our entire struggle was really based on a class struggle, and that our adversaries would try to use the race factor to manipulate and to divide and conquer when all along those people of other nations, other ethnic backgrounds, are in fact our allies and our friends. We enjoyed good relations with white people, brown people, red people and encouraged a united front at all times. In fact, we had a couple of united front conferences that were pretty successful - back in 1969. HK: At what point was the BPP split up nationally? GP: We were growing like wildfire, so fast that the leadership really had to slow down and try to see who was coming up. It was growing so fast, it went national, then international when Eldridge Cleaver went overseas. We had chapters in Havana and Algiers and Copenhagen. It just spread all over. It wasn't that easy to try to provide the kind of leadership needed to try to function properly. HK: Do you think that such an organization needed a hierarchical structure? GP: That's a good question. I often brought that up for a topic of discussion during that period and I was accused of being too militaristic, of thinking too militaristically. But it was Amilcar Cabral who gave us a lot of insight into vertical structures as opposed to more horizontal structures. And that was discussed quite a bit - a lot of the formulas were actually put into practice in certain areas and worked pretty good. But there was still the matter of hooking it all together, because sometimes you would hook it together - say we hooked up the Boston chapter and the chapter in Jamaica, NY - the link that you would use would actually be an agent and you wouldn't know. That was the worst thing, being linked up through an agent, who was directly working for J. Edgar Hoover (FBI director at the time). So we had problems in security screening which became harder because we were naive; agents would actually come and advocate blowing up buildings, shooting police, doing things radically, going out and shooting somebody. And you would say, 'Oh, this guy, he is just crazy, but he is not an agent, just because he did some stuff like this'. Yet they were the ones provoking it all. A lot of the local leaders were suckered because of that. HK: Did you think it was necessary to have hierarchical structures in order to control the organization or to make sure that it stayed together? GP: What we called vertical structures were more popular, and I was one of the ones who dissented from that. I thought that, since we were widespread, we needed a horizontal structure, based more on a cell system, that empowered the local leadership. But, because of the fear and the paranoia so prevalent among the national leadership, they would opt for the vertical. Their strong advocacy of this though was continually opposed by the actual practices of the police, who were constantly arresting and removing the national leadership. So, you had to reverse and revise and develop other forms of organizational control. HK: What about the role of women in the BPP? It struck me in talking to different former Black Panthers and women, that sexism was right in there in the organization. What is your perception of it in retrospect? GP: When I became a member of the central committee, I was always in support of women's liberation issues, but we didn't have to be in support of anything, because the sisters would make sure that you respected them and that their points got across and were adhered to. One of the first sisters who comes to mind is sister Afeni Shakur and, of course, the sister they called my wife, known as Sandra Pratt. She was killed. Or Kathleen Cleaver - you are talking about some strong sisters, sisters you may not have heard about - like Amantelaba - but who were very beautiful, who you would listen to. We had to face our sexism and our machoism because of them. They would educate us - Joan Bird, Assata Shakur - and you would respect and love them, because they made you look into yourself; you became a better person because of them. So, the credit starts with them, because they took the initiative to educate us, to teach us. I wish I could sit here and name all of them. HK: Can you describe how you ended up in prison, how you were framed and what the situation was over that? GP: I was arrested on December 8th, 1970, in Dallas, Texas, on a warrant run out of what's known as the shoot-out in Los Angeles in 1969. I was extradited back to California a couple of months later to stand trial for those charges. At that time I was indicted for a murder - I was indicted for quite a few things and one of them was the murder that I am convicted of right now. At the time that I was indicted, it was just another charge that they threw in to maintain a no-bail situation. It wasn't taken too seriously, because they had done this before. Eventually, it became more and more obvious to us that the murder charge was something that they were really going to try and press. HK: Looking at the rebellions in LA and speaking with young Black kids, it seems to me that they are mostly concerned with the everyday struggle for survival. How do you reach out to them, or do you see any force at this point that is organizing these kids? GP: There are quite a few forces out there that are organizing them - conscious organizers like, in some situations, 'Educated Fools from Uneducated Schools', educating and organizing them to lean right back on the system. Most of those children have stated very clearly that they are tired of being always in the position of 'we gotta ask him for a job; we gotta ask him for welfare; we gotta ask him for health care'. It is almost innate for them to speak of autonomy, and, although they don't even really understand what sovereignty and independence mean, their deepest desire is to be on their own, to work for themselves. They are tired of asking the government. That is the strongest argument in favor of nationalism, national independence. Just listen to them, from the rappers to the ones that go to church every day. They want to have their own presidents or prime ministers, their own supreme courts, their own police forces, thcir OWN educational institutions. That is what I have been hearing evcry day. I get a lot of lcttcrs from them, and that is what they are looking for someone who could help them build this vast nation of ours. There is kind of a rough, unrefined understanding that I sense from them, based on: they want theirs, not so much from the system, as from the hundreds and hundreds of years' wealth that was accumulated from slavery. I think there are a lot of ways that they can be organized and are being organized, whether we like it or not. HK: How do you perceive the support for yourself and other political prisoners and prisoners-of-war from the Black liberation movement? A lot of young kids especially don't know about your case, or the cases of other Panthers. GP: I think there is a conscious and systematic attempt on the part of the government to oppose any support that may be developing for us. The solution, I think, has to be based on our national efforts for liberation that we are soldiers who fought for the liberation of our nation and our nation fights for the liberation of us. But if our nation does not realize it is a nation, then it's gonna constantly be victim of this kind of manipulation by our enemies. I don't now advocate so much 'Free Geronimo' as 'Free our Nation'; that our prisoners and our protectors and soldiers of that nation be provided for. The important thing is the freedom of our people. We were always sacrificial lambs for that, we understood that we were going to be killed, put in prison, or ostracized, because it is not a popular thing among those you fight against to fight for freedom and independence. And, in the process, support will come for Mumia Abu-Jamal and all other political prisoners and prisoners- of-war. One of the things that the white superstructure is afraid of is the coming together of various national forces such as the Native movement, the Chicano movement, what is called the white North American anti-imperialist movement, which are all based on the same principles, the principles of our independence. That is something I always try to make people aware of. We could talk about this a long time, but I know we don't have a lot of time. HK: Do you feel that the support for yourself has got stronger in the last few years? GP: Yes, it is constantly growing. But, if I could, I would take every ounce of support that I have for me and give it to Mumia and other prisoners of war. Mumia is a very beautiful brother. He was framed, his life is in imminent danger and we can ill afford to execute Mumia. HK: Can you talk a bit about your prison conditions? GP: My prison conditions are harsh. I am in maximum security imprisonment, and, after twenty-two years in prison, it is not common to be maintained in what is called a level-four prison. The conditions are very punitive and repressive, ranging from the food conditions to the violence of seeing a person arguing and the guards shooting him from a tower, killing him. There are constant lies and manipulations. Just think of a COINTELPRO on a microcosmic scale. In fact, we found in some of the files the existence of an operation called PRISAC program; it is directed against prison activists and ranges over spreading rumors, falsely labeling you, taking your letters, poison-pen letters. It is a constant state of warfare. HK: What about the Black elected officials - do they support the demand of freedom for Black political prisoners at all? GP: They like to individualize prisoners, because, by and large, they buy into the system's propaganda, that there are no political prisoners. You have to understand that in the New Afrikan nation you have a class situation. Within this class structure, we have what we call the black bourgeoisie. Malcolm X would make the analogy that they were the house Negroes as opposed to the field Negroes. A field Negro lives in the field, hoping that something bad will happen to the master, whereas the house Negro is hoping that master lives for ever, because he lives in his house, eats of his table, etc. The house Negroes do all they can to try to preserve the very system that we try to get away from. The Black bourgeoisie individualize a lot - they might take an Angela Davis because it is fashionable to get behind Angela Davis to help her get out of prison and then they feel as though they have contributed; but they turned away from Ruchell Magee, who was actually shot and almost killed. So, a few may get behind Geronimo jijaga, because he knows Danny Glover or he has been to Vietnam, but they might oppose Sundiata Acoli, who is a very beautiful brother who should be supported a thousand per cent and should be freed. They might get behind Dhoruba bin-Wahad and Mutulu Shakur and ignore Marilyn Buck and Laura Whitehorn. It is a matter of us trying to educate them to the reality, what is happening - so they could broaden their support and base their decisions on principles as opposed to personalities. HK: How about your parole hearings? Do they ask you to disavow your political beliefs? GP: Ordinarily, you wouldn't find a person being kept in prison as long as I have because of what they say they are keeping me in prison for. To me, the parole hearing is only a formality. They have, by law, to review your case a certain number of times every few years. Since I have been in prison, I have known prisoners who have come in for heinous murders who have gotten out three times - not just once, but for three different murders and have gotten out. It is all a political machine comprised of ex-law enforcement individuals who are manipulated by their bosses. Every now and then you might run across one or two who seem to show a more humanistic understanding, but they are a minority. It was a political situation that landed me in here, and it will be a political situation that releases me. And, after so many years, you cease to think so much about you yourself being released. Sure, I would love it, I love freedom, to be out of these places. But you don't dwell on that too much, you would go crazy. It is more broad; you think more about the liberation of society and your people, rather than this little, insignificant person who consciously joined a movement to struggle for liberation. HK: What do you think about the explosion of the prison population in the last twenty to fifteen years? GP: It was predicted. Huey Newton gave a lecture on that one time and we had foreseen that this was gonna happen. After the leadership of the BPP was attacked at the end of the '60s and the early '70s, throughout the Black and other oppressed communities, the role models for the up-coming generations became the pimps, the drug dealers, etc. This is what the government wanted to happen. The next result was that the gangs were being formed, coming together with a gangster mentality, as opposed to the revolutionary progressive mentality we would have given them. So, by eliminating or driving the progressive leadership - the correct role models underground, killing them and putting them into prison eliminating them - all of these younger generations were left prey to whatever the government wanted to put them into. It is another form of genocide, of killing off populations of Third World and progressive people who pose a threat to their system. And this is one of the reasons why people like me are kept in prison. They don't want me out there, because people like me will go out there and struggle to bring home the truth to those youngsters. They know those youngsters have a lot of respect for us, because we haven't betrayed anything, because we have stayed firm to our principles. Like I said, it is not just me, it is people like us who adhere to the basic principles of liberation and basic humanism for all people - for the Mexican people, for Indian people, for all the struggling peoples. We have the biggest prison population anywhere in the world and the next one is in South Africa. Of course, there is racism involved. Here, in California, you have a lot of Mexicano and Brown people in prison. It's just so pathetic. They are being railroaded into prison, a lot of them don't speak English, and when they come to prison they are just branded either you're in this or that gang - and, basically, they don't even know what they are talking about. Then they end up shooting themselves. We have been struggling for years to get the Crips and the Bloods together in prison. We were successful in that a few years ago; it spilled out on to the streets and we are happy about that. Now, since the state and the government can't get the Crips and the Bloods to fight each other, what you see is them trying to get Mexicans and Blacks against each other. It is all being manipulated from above, designed to keep that death factor high. The best way is to have them kill each other off. It is presenting again what existed when I first came in, which George Jackson and others struggled against, by trying to get the prisoners together across racial lines. *

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