Interview With Dhoruba Bin Wahad
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Source: "The Shadow" via Mediafilter's WWW pages: http://Mediafilter.escape.com)