Interview With Dhoruba Bin Wahad
Interview by Bill Weinberg

Veteran Black Panther and 19-year political prisoner Dhoruba Bin Wahad (formerly Richard Moore) won his freedom in 1990 after a New York State judge found that the FBI had suppressed evidence that could have helped clear him of his 1971 attempted double-cop murder charge.
Since his release, he has returned to outspoken political activism, and has been particularly vocal against the War on Drugs. With his newly-organized "Black Coalition on Drugs", he advocates decriminalization and "harm reduction" strategies.
After 19 years in prison - seven of them in solitary confinement - Dhoruba Bin Wahad has no apologies and no regrets. He spoke to us a week after speaking at the Cures Not Wars rally against the Drug War in New York's Washington Square Park on May 6. Photographer John Penley also participated in the interview.

BW: Have you seen the flick Panther? What do you think of it?

DBW: Yeah, I saw Panther. I mean, everybody hates the movie who has some political consciousness. I see this movie in the context of my own experience, rather than in the context of where we're at now in 1995 in terms of the consciousness of African American people and people in general about radical alternatives. One of the things that people don't realize is how effectively radical analysis has been removed from the debate around issues that affect people's lives. There are very few radical or revolutionary alternatives presented in debates around issues.

This is a direct consequence, of course, of the Counter-Intelligence Program. The FBI's Counter-Intelligence Program effectively changed the political landscape of this society. It delegitimized militancy, it delegitimized revolutionary consciousness. And the way it delegitimized that was by criminalizing revolutionaries and criminalizing the movement. And the criminalization process is continuing today in the African American community.

For instance, you can talk about the War on Drugs. The face of the War on Drugs in America is the face of African people, its the face of Latinos. Its the face of people of color - that's the face of the quote-unquote "criminals" who are the targets of this War on Drugs. And this image, this illusion, is perpetrated by the mass media, which plays upon people's emotions to gain support for the War on Drugs. For instance, we have this new term "narcoterrorist", which combines fear of a drug-ridden society with the image of people who hate America and just want to kill Americans. And the face of "terrorism" is usually Islamic fundamentalists, or foreign revolutionaries. And of course the ability of the state - and I think this is the bottom line - to control the democratization of technology is directly contingent upon its capacity to get the masses to subsidize and support their own repression through the creation of foreign or domestic enemies.

BW: What do you mean by the "democratization of technology"?

DBW: Because of the giant strides of technology, especially in the realm of organizing information through computers and electronic media, this technology is readily accessible to anyone. You can buy a PC and CD ROM system and tune in to some of the most sophisticated levels of organized information in the world. You can tap into mainframe information banks. This was unheard of as little as 20 years ago. As young people come up in a society that's increasingly dependent upon information, if they have this kind of access they could influence debates, they could begin to think for themselves, they could begin to search out other like-minded folks.

This you see in its most bizarre form in the right wing's use of the Internet. They were building bombs on the Internet! but this same technology means that people all over the world can exchange information and have access to the same type of information. Information is intelligence, the ability to make intelligent decisions.

BW: What has all this to do with movie Panther?

DBW: The movie Panther - even though it is not an accurate portrayal of the Black Panther Party - shows how the police were very brutal and racist and functioned in a way that was above the law because they had a mandate to terrorize the African American community. And it shows that the way that we dealt with that was to organize in our communities around those issues that related to people's lives. And we showed that we were ready to stand fast against that type of repression, and indeed, if necessary, kill in our defense of these ideals. And three, that drugs - hard drugs, heroin - were introduced into the African American community for political reasons, to control, to misdirect and ultimately to defuse the development of revolutionary consciousness. These three messages come across clear in the movie. And it is for those reasons that I appreciate the movie.

What it didn't show was that the consequence of developing a revolutionary consciousness would inevitably mean that you were going to become the targets of the state. And once you became the targets of the state, there were no holds barred. And the way they went about doing that, of course, was to first demonize the Black Panther Party in the minds of white people, so the police would be seen as having a difficult time at best, and therefore you couldn't be too critical of how they act. And that plays, of course, off of the racist mentality that underlies this society, especially among white males, in relationship to black people and black males.
For instance, when we something like Rodney King happen, the jury can come back and acquit these individuals because they rationalize, "Well, this was a big, black dude, you know, he just wouldn't lay down, they had a hard job, so they had to do what they did, how else were they gonna survive in that ghetto, so what?" So once you realize that we are going to struggle against these conditions by any means necessary, that means that there are going to be those of you who are going to be framed, who are going to be murdered, who are going to be forced into exile.

BW: That's what happened to you.

DBW: That's what happened to me, and that's what happened to Mumia Abu Jamal. That's why Mumia Abu Jamal is on death row. Which of course brings us to another issue - the death penalty in this country. And if we really deal with the death penalty in this country, and its administration and its purpose, we can only conclude that the death penalty does not protect its citizens. In fact, it legalizes the murder of citizens under the guise of protection and law enforcement. In those states which have the death penalty, homicide is not appreciably deteriorated. But the new Omnibus Criminal statute significantly increases the crimes that are punishable by death. And they make struggle by the oppressed - when defined as terrorism - punishable by death as a means of intimidating those who would stand up against tyranny. This is what happens, you get electrocuted, you get a lethal injection.

BW: You did 19 years in prison for attempted murder of two New York City police. And in the interim, new evidence came to light indicating that you had been framed. How did that new evidence come to light, and what is your current legal status?

DBW: It came to light as a consequence of a long struggle to prove my innocence. In 1975, four years after I was captured. I filed a suit in federal court, in the Southern District in New York. At that time they had the Church Committee hearings on government excess as a consequence of Watergate and all that stuff, and it was revealed that the FBI had carried out this massive Counter-Intelligence Program in the African American community and especially against the Black Panther Party. So when I heard this - knowing that I was innocent, of course - I knew that the FBI must have information about my case and I filed my suit. They danced around for five years, and then in 1980, the federal judge ordered the FBI to turn over all of their documents that they had on me and the Black Panther Party in New York. And they turned over 300,000 pages. And when we went over these documents we found material that indicated that they were working with the New York City Police Department every step of the way and that at major junctures in the investigation into the shooting, they had been present, and that they had taken in the same information. But, unlike the New York City Police Department, they didn't make like they had lost theirs. Because they needed their information to be accurate. So I got some of these documents. They were heavily excised, heavily deleted. But after fighting over each deletion, we got enough evidence to go back into state court and overturn my conviction. That was another three-year process.
So in 1990, I was released as a consequence of this. I was the first and only member of the Black Panther Party leadership to overturn a conviction based on evidence received from the Counter-Intelligence Program.

BW: Is there going to be a retrial?

DBW: No, they surrendered.

BW: How's your case going? Are you still suing the FBI and the New York State prison service?

DBW: Well, yes. They're starting to surrender too.

BW: You think they're going to settle?

DBW: Yes, I do.

BW: How did you survive 19 years in prison?

DBW: Shawshank Redemption! [Laughs]

BW: I didn't see that one.

DBW: Its actually quite a good movie. How did I survive? Doing chin-ups, man. "Drink plenty of water and walk slow" - that's what they say inside. Don't let it get you. I survived by focussing my attention on the struggle, on the outside.

BW: There's a scene in Panther where the Panthers raid a heroin warehouse. You were involved in similar incidents.

DBW: Yeah, there was a place that the police let operate in Harlem; it operated with their knowledge, and their pay-offs. We, the Black Liberation Army, the underground in the black community, had a policy of anti-heroin interdiction. A lot of these guys who I grew up with in the South Bronx who were selling heroin - they knew that what they were doing was having a debilitating effect on the black community. They knew it wasn't right, but they were just in it for the money. So the only way that you could deal with these individuals was to deal with them on a level that they could understand. They understood violence. They understood intimidation. They understood controlling territory. So we had to wage that type of struggle with them. Of course, they had the police on their side.
So we would try to identify where they hung out, where their processing places were, and we would knock them off. The most heinous drug dealers, of course, we would have to try to make an example out of. I can't go into that.
But the police used the drug dealers as their network against the black underground. They would tell them, look, you're not dealing any drugs here unless you give us what we want. So they would use their network of drug dealers and informants in order to get information on the Black Liberation Army.
This is not inconsistent with the government's relationship to hard drugs and to heroin historically. We can look at the Vietnam war, look at the secret wars in Cambodia and Laos, where the U.S. subsidized the northern war lords, many of whom were renegades from the Koumintang who were run out of China. They brought their opium to the processing labs in Hong Kong and trans-shipped that heroin to the United States and the African community. And this was subsequent to the initial contacts with Lucky Luciano and the Italian Mafia in World War II, in which Luciano, in exchange for his freedom and carte blanche to reorganize the Sicilian Mafia, promised the U.S. they would have no labor problems with the longshoremen and that they would have in place an underground network when they invaded Italy and Sicily. And after the war, of course we all know that the mob got lots of war surplus goods, they got fat off the Marshall Plan in Italy, just like the old Nazi-collaborationist industrialists did in Germany, the Krupps and the Farbens. So its not inconsistent that the police worked hand-in-hand in the black community with the heroin dealers.

BW: So these actions against heroin dealers were carried out in 1971 by the Black Liberation Army. Did the BLA develop from elements within the Black Panther Party here in New York City?

DBW: This is true. It developed that way as a consequence of a split within the Black Panther Party. It was an ideological split, but it was also a split that was manufactured by the Counter-Intelligence Program, and in certain respects by the cocaine addiction of people like Huey Newton and David Hilliard. The Counter-Intelligence Program was able to focus in on these weaknesses in the leadership, and that led to a split in the Party which, absent the government's involvement and absent a certain amount of paranoia on the part of the leadership, could have been resolved. But because these forces were there to make sure these contradictions were never resolved, the Party was split. And then the government really went after the most militant faction, the so-called Eldridge Cleaver faction which was mainly in the eastern United States. And this was the beginning of the Black Liberation Army.
On the other hand, the West Coast faction of the party went more into electoral politics and, not ironically, into gangsterism. When they went into straight electoral politics without the revolutionary nationalist perspective that we had on the East Coast, they resorted to gangsterism. Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown ran for office, and that really set the stage for the first election of a black mayor in Oakland. I'm not saying that their involvement in electoral politics in the Bay Area didn't have a significant empowering impact on the black community there. I don't think that was ever the criticism. But its not coincidental that at the same time that they did that, they were into gangsterism. The Party lost all relationship to the organization that I had joined - politically, ideologically, morally.

BW: Tell us about the work you're currently doing in Africa.

DBW: I'm trying to set up a Database Institute for the Development of Pan-African Policy. Which basically hopes to embody Kwame Nkrumah's axiom that before Africa could achieve economic unity it first must achieve political unity. And I think that one of the keys to organizing the African American community here is to organize Africans everywhere, internationally, around a common vision and a common perception of the African condition. So I'm trying to set up an institute that will develop policies, programs, and ideas, and bring together people from the African diaspora around the world.
We have NGO status in Africa. We are trying to train Africans in the diaspora and Africans on the continent into a common language and a common organizational network, and organizing information through the Internet. It'll be a database institute much like the RAND Institute, much like any other institution that studies problems and presents solutions and analyses to heads of governments and people in positions to make these policies into viable programs. For instance, we have a center that studies the contemporary political, social and geographical problems of Africa, and presents its findings to the various governments in the Organization of African Unity.

BW: Tell us about your current work here in the U.S..

DBW: I work with the Campaign to Free Black and New Afrikan Political Prisoners in the U.S.. One of the things we are doing now is raising petitions for Mumia. Right now we have about 2,000 signatures. We're going to present those names not only to the governor of Pennsylvania, but also to the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who we have a relationship with, and hopefully encourage him to speak out against the death penalty in general and against Mumia's execution in particular.

We also are currently starting to develop a mobilization of young people around an independent political movement in this city. Its still in its infant stages at this point. But there's a considerable amount of potential. We think the time is right in this city for an independent black political party. At the same time, we feel the time is right for a coalition in this city that transcends class and caste and gender. People in this city are sorely oppressed, whether they're black, white, male, female, gay, straight. We are all subjected to the Giuliani and Pataki economic program, which is subsidies for the rich and subjection for the poor. So I think that this city is ripe for a grassroots political movement, ripe for an insurgency within rank-and-file of organized labor. I think that all of these potentialities are here, but many of us who claim to be activists are not willing to come together and deal with them in any type of coherent fashion.

BW: What would be the stance of this party towards the left wing of the Democratic machine, Dennis Rivera, Ruth Messinger, et etcera?

DBW: Well, of course an independent political tendency in this city would have to see the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as part-and-parcel of the same thing. However, we realize that there are progressive people in the Democratic Party who are black, and who are white and who are Latino. And there may be progressive people who have gotten into the Republican Party as a means of organizing from within. That may well be. But we think that if they are truly progressive, that they will support within their own party the same kind of agenda that we support. So the presence of an independent political party can only strengthen their hand inside the Democratic or Republican party, it can only enhance their position. So we don't see them as being mutually exclusive.
I think that black folks and poor people want results. And they can't get results inside an institution that's ultimately controlled by people like Stanley Hill and other opportunists who pull $100,000 salaries, who have no relationship to the masses of people. I don't think that the communities want that kind of political representation anymore.

(Source: "The Shadow" via Mediafilter's WWW pages: