By ‘little Red ~
Where do we begin to capture the raw human gravity pervading the air at the ‘17th Annual Dinner Tribute to Black Political Prisoners’ hosted by the Malcolm X Commemoration Committee last week at the MLK 1199 Labor Center in New York City?
Do we begin with the obvious room full of emotion for men and women who are now virtually unknown to the communities they sacrificed their lives for?
Or the haunting litany of the time-served for most of the longest held political prisoners captured on the evening’s program, a list approaching 900 years!… 900 years!
Let’s give this some specifics.
If we look at the time served for the political prisoners who were represented by their families at this dinner alone, Sundiata Acoli in his 40th year, Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz in his 37th year, Robert ‘Seth ’Hayes in his 40th year, Sekou Odinga, in his 32nd year, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, the beloved stepdad of the late hiphop icon Tupac Shakur, in 32nd year, Abdul Majied in his 32 year, Mumia Abu-Jamal in his 32 year, and the surviving 8 of the Move 9 victims, each having served 35 years or 280 years between them!…If we just looked at these, and this is a short list, we are talking more than 500 years of served prison time!…More than 500 years!….
Perhaps Dequi Sadiki, the evening’s moderator, the organization’s leader and wife of political prisoner Sekou Odinga, said it best when she said emotionally,
“For these families, with the loss of fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, sons and daughters, who were guilty of nothing more than standing up for our people, all this time we are talking about here, for them, this is all too real and all real personal.”
Make no mistake about it…The Malcolm X Commemoration Committee does a heartwrenching monumental job of bringing together much deserved love and appreciation for America’s political prisoners, primarily Black men and women who have been targeted by the FBI Cointelpro Operations and by local and state police forces obsessed with crippling the black liberation movement.
For all of the emotional gravity in the room, the night was incredibly uplifting and the energy amazingly uptempo.
Pittsburgh based progressive emcee Jasiri X may have had a lot to do with that. His performance of ‘his’ antiracist and anti-police brutality classics…Trayvon, Do We Have To Start A Riot? I Am Troy Davis,…got the intergenerational audience on its feet.
Scholar-activist Johanna Fernandez’ presentation brought the motion of the evening together with her presentation. Explaining the factors that linked the repression facing the political prisoners to what is now being called mass incarceration, Fernandez looked at some of the legal tools put in place sometime ago to create this current condition.
She pointed to an underappreciated federal law, The Omnibus Crime Bill of 1968, which essentially exempted the police, as a national institution, from the due process accountability that came with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With this exemption, police agencies across the country began a steady push of excessive force and criminalizing the black community.
“She hit the nail on the head,” said Zayid Muhammad, the Committee’s longtime press officer.
“Combine that with their angrily embarrassing loss of the Panther 21 case here in New York from which sprang Operation NewKill, a wider wage of covert actions aimed just against the Black Panther Party in this area, and you will understand plainly why we here today,” he finished emphatically.
Although professorial in tone, Fernandez was definitely telling the audience to seize the time when she said that “we need to look at these next four years,” referring to President Obama’s second term, the way the Puerto Rican Independence Movement looked at the last four years of the Clinton Administration. They pulled out all stops and were able to secure the release of the majority of their freedom fighters through clemency, but only after a long, steady, lobbying and protest strategy. The same thing needs to be done now for these freedom fighters.
She finished daring to say that “creating a movement to free political prisoners is the moral imperative of this time.