African-American, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans Suffered US "Justice"
On Friday March 13, 2015 former Black Panther and political prisoner Kazi Toure celebrated his 65th birthday in a cozy gathering at First Church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. He looked very sharp wearing a silky black jacket with a red Chinese dragon on the back and a leather top hat over his long dreadlocks. Many young children of activists were in attendance at the event, as well as some old timers related to the struggle for liberation including Jimmy Barrett. The walls were covered with posters of liberation icons like Ramona Africa.
The gathering began with an African celebration called a “libation.” A young woman poured water from a glass into a dish below, while mentioning the names of ancestors and role models whose spiritual energy they wanted to invite into this gathering. People around the room also invoked names such as Harriet Tubman and Leonard Peltier. This set the mood for a very meaningful evening.
The first speaker was Eddie Cortez, a Puerto Rican former political prisoner who spent many years in the penitentiary for “seditious conspiracy.” He spoke about Oscar Lopez Rivera, the longest serving Puerto Rican political prisoner, who has served 35 years. Obama freed the Cuban 5. Why won’t he free Oscar Lopez Rivera? On December 14, 2014, for the first time, the Puerto Rican governor came to visit Rivera in Terre Haute. But nothing further has happened. No US Congress has ever addressed the issue of Puerto Rico as a Commonwealth vs. as a free country, even though every Puerto Rican church and political party supports freedom.
He mentioned Leonard Peltier, who has served 36 years, Sundiata Acoli, who has been in prison for 40 years, and Jaan Laaman, Kazi Toure’s co-defendant. In 1979 he and Kazi Toure helped to organize the Amandla Festival of Unity to support an end to apartheid in Southern Africa, which featured musician Bob Marley. Laaman was sentenced to 53 years in 1984 for bombing government buildings.
“How much punishment is enough?” Cortez asked. He then told a cute story about how prisoners managed to smuggle in birthday cakes by organizing a group to distract the guards.
“We need to change the face of America,” he said. “We need our own system, not socialism or communism. What we need is creativity in the face of oppression.”
Next, Palestinian activist Dr. Lana Habash spoke about the need for clarity against Zionist hasbara within current political activist movements. “It’s not complicated, it’s just wrong.”
She spoke about Amer Jibran, who was very active locally in Boston against Zionism against US wars of aggression. He led a high profile confrontation against the yearly Israeli Independence Day celebration, which used to draw 10,000 people. He was deported in 2004 but remained politically active in Jordan. In 2014 the Mukhabarat, Jordanian intelligence, used ropes to enter his home and kidnap him. He was held for two months without charge. Then in August 2014 the Jordanian State Security Court charged him with a list of terror offenses related to Hezbollah, which basically amounted to speech and were based on forced confessions.
“Amer’s writings were never against Jordan but against Israel and US wars,” Lana said. “We must reject definitions of terrorism. The political prisoner is our oxygen. They represent who we are, who we must be, and the task ahead. We must carry on the struggles they went to prison for.”
Next spoke Ray Levasseure, another of Kazi’s co-defendants. He said he met Kazi when our country was at war with South America and there was the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Both of them were “packing,” he said. They meant serious business. He said he was surprised to be here today, especially looking at 65 in the rear view mirror. He was underground sometime already when Kazi started getting his feet wet. He spent 20 years in ADX prison for activities related to the United Freedom Front (UFF). 13 of those years were spent in solitary.
Governor Deval Patrick denounced UMass for letting Ray give a talk. The police lobbied against him and prevented his speech about Black Panther Party related political prisoners in America.
Born of French-Canadian immigrants, Ray was imprisoned for an anti-apartheid bombing of a South African office in New York City. Nobody was hurt because that was not the intention. He noted that the government is more concerned about property destruction against military installations than they are about bloodshed.
Ray mentioned Tom Manning, another of their co-defendants, who is still in prison for bombing US military installations for UFF. He also knew Oscar Lopez Riveras from prison. Tom is having a lot of medical problems and as a result cannot walk. Medical problems are devastating to anyone, but when experienced in the Supermax segregation unit, the suffering is incomparable. Tom has had many surgeries. He needs to use a walker but could not do so because of problems with his shoulders. Dr. Lana Habash led a campaign for him to get shoulder replacement surgery, which happened 2 months ago. He is now in the early steps of rehab. If all heals well, he will be out of his wheelchair and onto crutches for the first time in six years. Tom suffered many brutal beatings in prison. Ray talked about how important it is to send a letter, make a phone call, especially for professionals like Dr. Habash to step in and do something.
He mentioned a long-time prisoner, who has been forgotten. He just needed a couple magazine subscriptions. He is now serving time with Imam Jamil al-Amin. Ray met him during his pre-trial detention decades ago. They were given one hour a day out of their cages to walk up and down the tier. The prisoners began to befriend each other. It was an amazing time because so many revolutionary movements were going on. During these tier walks, Ray met members of the Irish Republican Army, Palestinian and Mexican groups, Puerto Rican, Black Panthers, etc. Kazi has told me similar prison friendship stories.
There are so many disparate groups, each with their own little defense committee. Everybody knows about Mumia but they don’t know about Kojo Bomani or Grayling Brown. Inside of the prison, these political prisoners bonded and watched each others’ back, but on the street supporters can’t get along because of too many different agendas. Filiberto, who was murdered by the FBI in his home in Puerto Rico, issued a call for a conference for all political prisoners but Freedom Now collapsed and the Jericho Movement has not achieved what Filiberto had in mind. We need to work for a larger sense of unity, Ray concluded.
Musical entertainment from a rapper called Optimist then ensued, with a band called Foundation Movement.