Healing Our Wounds: Restorative Justice Is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation –An Interview With Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell



(VIDEO: Prof. Bell interviewed by Sky News, following Judge Brady’s ruling to immediately release Albert Woodfox. A stay on his release was ordered later that day by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Also be sure to watch her June 12 appearance on MSNBC’s News Nation with Tamron Hall)



 
Healing Our Wounds: Restorative Justice Is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation
–An Interview With Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

By Angola 3 News

On Monday, June 8, 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled that the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox be both immediately released and barred from a retrial. The next day, at the request of the Louisiana Attorney General, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of release set to expire on Friday, June 12.

As the week intensified following Judge Brady’s ruling, both Albert Woodfox and his family, friends & supporters wondered if he would finally be released over 43 years after first being placed in solitary confinement. Amnesty International USA launched a petition calling on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to honor Judge Brady’s ruling.  

On June 9, US Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA-02) issued a statement declaring that “Attorney General Caldwell must respect the ruling of Judge Brady and grant Mr. Woodfox his release immediately…This is an obviously personal vendetta and has been a waste of tax payer dollars for decades. The state is making major cuts in education and healthcare but he has spent millions of dollars on this frivolous endeavor and the price tag is increasing by the day.” 

On June 11, eighteen members of the Louisiana House of Representatives voted unsuccessfully to pass a resolution (H.R. 208) urging Attorney General Caldwell to stop standing in the way of justice, withdraw his appeals, and let Judge Brady’s unconditional writ and release ruling stand.

However, on Friday, June 12, the Court responded by scheduling oral arguments for late August and extending the stay of release at least until the time that the Court issues its ruling later in the Fall.


Among those who communicated with Albert during that emotional week was Southern University Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell. In the days following Judge Brady’s ruling, she was a featured guest on several television and radio shows that focused on Albert’s case, including National Public Radio. In this interview with Angola 3 News, Prof. Bell discusses her new law journal article and reflects upon the latest developments in Albert’s fight for freedom. She argues that recent Angola 3-related media coverage in the US is becoming “more substantive,” and that this month “the media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.”

Literally hundreds of news websites around the world published articles about Judge Brady’s ruling. The New York Times, who in an earlier editorial from 2014 declared Albert’s four decades in solitary to be “barbaric beyond measure,” chose a headline for their June 10 article that cited Albert’s “Torturous Road to Freedom.” The next day, the NY Times reprinted an Associated Press article entitled “What Has Louisiana Got on the Last of the Angola Three?” Answering the question posed by the headline, the articles states: “Woodfox’s long-simmering story has been the subject of documentaries, Peabody Award winning journalism, United Nations human rights reviews and even a theatrical play. It’s a staggering tale of inconsistencies, witness recants, rigged jury pools, out-of-control prison violence, racial prejudice and political intrigue.”

Media coverage in the state of Louisiana itself also seems to be improving. For example, writer Emily Lane of the NOLA Times-Picayune responded to Brady’s ruling with a series of in-depth articles, focusing on the specifics of how and why Albert has been in solitary for over 40 years, as well as the physical and mental impact of such treatment. In another article, the Times-Picayune quoted extensively from a statement made by Teenie Rogers, the widow of slain prison guard Brent Miller. “I think it’s time the state stop acting like there is any evidence that Albert Woodfox killed Brent,” Rogers said. Meanwhile, Albert remains in solitary confinement, with Louisiana authorities “not letting up on” the “last of the ‘Angola3.'”

Our first interview with Prof. Bell, entitled Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Trial, followed the release of her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind.”
 
Our second interview, entitled Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party, examined her 2014 article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil.”
 
This new interview, now our third, is timed with the release of of Prof. Bell’s latest article, published by the University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review, entitled “A Prescription for Healing a National Wound: Two Doses of Executive Direct Action Equals a Portion of Justice and a Serving of Redress for America & the Black Panther Party.”
 
Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha TwoThe Black Panther Party and Revolutionary ArtDylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas“We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,”  Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy
 


Angola 3 News:      How does your new law journal article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, relate to and ultimately build upon your previous two articles, Perception Profiling and Activism Unshackled?

Angela A. Allen-Bell:      The three articles share a common thread and that is that the Angola 3 case was the inspiration for each of the articles. The Angola 3 case is a fusion of complexities, including race, justice, corrections practices, abuse of power, official misconduct and politics. Each of the three articles explores a different theme in the case.

The 2012 publication, Perception Profiling, explores the constitutional implications of long term solitary confinement. 

The 2014 publication, Activism Unshackled, exposes the harsh response of the government to the Black Panther Party (BPP) and declares the BPP to be victims of something akin to domestic terrorism. 

The 2015 publication, A Prescription, calls for redress and offers a solution for the nation and the BPP to heal from the traumas experienced during the historical period of the BPP’s existence.

A3N:      You write that “Redress is the aim because it is broader than justice. Redress is also the goal because, when delivered, it has the impact of bringing distant human rights aspirational goals to a local and identifiable place in our society.” For folks that have not yet read A Prescription, can you please explain what you mean by “redress?”

AB:      When I use the term redress, I simply mean “remedy.” In this section of the paper, I am calling people’s attention to the fact that the pursuit of justice is largely personal. It involves personal vindication. 

Contrarily, redress, through a restorative justice model, is much more expansive. Restorative justice not only considers the victim; it also considers the impact on society. It seeks to heal both simultaneously. 

We have never healed from many of the racial traumas that afflict this nation. The evidence of this is on display in the media consistently. Unaddressed traumas are the underlying explanation for some police feeling comfortable gunning down African American males in absence of a legitimate threat of bodily force. That psyche developed during the lynching era. 

Unaddressed traumas explain educational and discipline policies that fast track poor children and children of color from schools to prison. Long ago, it was decided that certain groups were intellectually inferior and, as such, could best serve as an underclass. 

Unaddressed traumas explain the decision to select an African American church as the setting for an act of domestic terrorism, as with the recent massacre in Charleston. That happened so many times during the Civil Rights Era, it almost became sport. We must recognize that patterns continue unless and until a conscious choice is made to stop them. That is why I advocate for redress through a restorative justice approach. It is my attempt to reconstruct the paradigm and pursue a path of healing.

A3N:      Why do you feel that redress is an appropriate response to the political repression faced by the BPP and other leftists groups during the era of the FBI’s COINTELPRO and beyond? What are the benefits of redress?

AB:      In my opinion, it is the only appropriate response because of the state we presently find ourselves in as a country. We excel at technology. We are masters at warfare. We are an international might. We have accomplished all these things, but we have yet to master the art of loving each other. I am not using the word love in a superficial way. I am using it as a verb. I mean love in a profound way. I mean love that blinds your view of the outside and affixes your eyes on the heart of your brother or sister. This is a terrible indictment on us collectively. This is the legacy that racism, subjugation, oppression and dehumanization left behind. 

We need collective healing from a number of social traumas, such as lynchings, racist medical, educational and criminal justice practices, all of the vestiges of slavery, and the neutralization of or attempts at neutralization where civil rights activists and organizers are concerned. These things have caused us not to be well. This article picks one social trauma to address and that involves what was done to the BPP. It serves as a template to addresses the others.

The article discusses several benefits to redress. They include: the timely ability to shape good policy; the achievement of accountability; the furtherance of human rights goals and objectives; and the prevention of history repeating itself. Redress in this instance will help society and the BPP. It will allow us to move pass this chapter onto the next chapter then the work must begin again and again until we have peeled away the many layers to this dysfunction that we are experiencing as a human family. 

A3N:      You write further that “the goal is to achieve restorative redress—for America in general and the BPP in particular—through executive direct action correcting official history by way of a proclamation and an executive order granting amnesty—with a focus on healing for the nation, victims and perpetrators (as opposed to focusing on the limiting notion of punishing the perpetrator).” Why do you focus on Executive Direct Action as the best means for redress?

AB:      Executive direct action is a presidential power that is highly effective because it can accomplish a goal without the paralyzing complication that a bureaucracy involves. It is used more than many people know and was chosen in this instance because of the expediency of the process and the complexities of this historical ordeal. It was also chosen because traditional methods have failed and/or will not work. 

In the article, I share detailed reasons why courts, hearings, legislation and executive action on the state level were all eliminated as possible forms of redress. 

A3N:      Over two years ago, on Feb. 26, 2013, Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time. However, today, even following last week’s ruling by Judge Brady, Albert remains behind bars and in solitary confinement! Reminiscent of fictional stories by George Orwell or Franz Kafka, how does something like this actually happen? What does it say about the legitimacy of the broader so-called criminal ‘justice’ system in the US?

AB:      Like the United States Constitution, our criminal justice system was born in sin and iniquity. Our modern criminal justice system has very little to do with dispensing justice or keeping citizens safe. It was designed as a tool to further a caste system that was started before slavery. It has become a lucrative enterprise for many. Many laws were written with these considerations in mind. This system is now a machine. Add the utter disdain that this country has had for African American men to this assembly line environment and you might be able to rationalize what Albert Woodfox is experiencing. 

The justice system has dealt an unjust hand to many people of color and poor people, but it has been particularly harsh when it comes to the BPP.  They were arrested regularly and locked up often, but, in most cases, charges were dropped or the BPP member won the case. The criminal justice system was intentionally used as tool to disrupt their political and social activities. That detail has largely been suppressed from the public.

This is not to suggest that we don’t need a justice system or jails. I feel both are needed. My only point is that there is a design defect. When that happens, demolition must follow. In my view, this is where we are in our criminal justice journey.  

A3N:      Any other thoughts on this month’s events?

AB:      Last week, I saw members of the international community intensify their response. That was beautiful and their support has been consistently present and helpful. That is greatly appreciated.

There were several welcomed, new developments at home. One was the more substantive media coverage that took place in the United States. The media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.  Much of the coverage explored the actual evidence (or lack thereof) in the case and many outlets courageously did a critical analysis of America’s solitary confinement practices. 

Most impactful of all is the fact that, last week, Americans reclaimed their power.  Grassroots activism and direct citizen participation is the key ingredient in any social change movement.  That happened last week.  Even more significant, a heightened interest took place in Louisiana, which is a very conservative, “tough on crime” kind of place. 

The new development is that Louisiana citizens who, in spirit, support locking folks up have become opposed to the State’s decision to spend well over six million taxpayer dollars on the criminal prosecution and the civil litigation in the Angola 3 case. Many more Louisiana citizens, after realizing this case was built on deals with criminals and false testimony and official misconduct, voiced their opposition to what State officials have done and continue to do in the case.

Others have begun to see that corruption has played a part in this case as contracts for legal work on the Angola 3 case have been awarded to associates who have a financial incentive to engage in dilatory tactics at the expense of Louisiana taxpayers.

Other citizens were called to act because the global reputation of the United States is being compromised as the world looks at us in judgment for this human rights abuse. The next step is to see this channeled and to see mobilization follow. 

A3N:    While it is important to examine how Albert and the Angola 3’s story represent much broader issues of injustice, we also do not want to forget that above all, Albert is a human being. Shifting to a more personal level, can you tell us about your visits with Albert? What have you learned from Albert?

AB:    It is my personal feeling that the Angola 3 were anointed and called to do the courageous and significant work they have done both collectively and individually. It is a message I often speak to them. In my view, this is why they weren’t murdered or harmed behind bars by other inmates.

It is also my feeling that this is the source of grace that Albert displays. He has his vulnerable, grief-stricken moments, but he has many more days of peace. The suits the Angola 3 filed and the organizing they did has led to better conditions for many others.

Albert has taught me: how to speak mightily with a few words; how to be patient while never waiting; that freedom has more to do with liberation than it does location or station; that Christ, who was a carpenter himself, consistently uses the least valued people (in man’s terms)─people who the world could see little value in─to accomplish some of the most profound changes; how to fight evil without ever balling a fist or loading a weapon; how a liberated mind in the head of an African American man often results in a symbolic, social warning label; how to resist the urge to allow fear to serve as an excuse for lack of service; how to manifest the Biblical teaching that love is the greatest commandment of all; and, how to minister without preaching.

A3N:    How much physical contact, if any, has been allowed during visits? Based on your experience visiting Albert, how important is it for prisoners to be able to hug and express friendship through human touch with their visitors?

AB:    Louisiana officials have branded sixty-eight-year-old Albert Woodfox, who is afflicted with a litany of health problems, the most dangerous man in America, despite their own records documenting that he is and has been a model prisoner. 

In fulfillment of this marketing strategy and act of wordplay, Albert’s visits are restricted.  They are no contact, limited to an hour and are observed closely.  Even the Bible recognizes that man was not born to be alone.  Isolation violates biblical principles, as well as medical research, legal precedent and human rights principles. 

The practice of prolonged isolation even runs counter to the thinking of Pope Francis, US Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, certain doctors, academics, human rights advocates and architects, Human Rights Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez, the American Bar Association, the American Correctional Association, the National Defense Association and many other credible voices.  It especially makes no sense when a person is elderly and harmless as was the case with Herman Wallace and as is the case with Albert Woodfox.

Society is better off when inmates maintain humanity and also when they do not become totally institutionalized.  Innocent human touch and meaningful interaction are quintessential ways of preserving humanity. 

A3N:    Any further reflection on the personal impact of both your research & writing about the Angola 3 as well as your relationship with Albert?

AB:    These things have impacted me profoundly. They have made me keenly aware of our social regression in this country. The shift from us being somewhat of an interconnected unit during the 1960s and 1970s to a self-driven population has crippled progress where social gains are concerned. This is not meant as a judgment or an indictment. This is meant partially as a plea and partially as a call for introspection.

A3N:   Returning to your new article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, how does Albert’s case further illustrate the US government’s mistreatment of the BPP? Conversely, how do you feel that Albert’s release would contribute to the healing of our nation?

AB:  This case centers attention on the plight of the BPP at the hands of then FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI from 1924-1972 with unchecked authority and who ran the FBI without concern for the constitution or best practices. He ran the FBI as a personal enterprise to silence minorities, activists and anyone else who he could produce a reason not to like. Many times, his reasoning was not sound. He used his power to crush and silence people and he regularly violated the law in order to do so.

We, as a society, have never assessed the harm that flowed from this–the lives and careers that he wrongly destroyed; the current leaders who rode their way to the top doing what he groomed them to do and who have continued what he started; the impact that this had on activism and dissent in America; and the many people who lost their liberty as a result of his abuses of power. The Angola 3 case illuminates these concerns.

The Angola 3 case also brings attention to the growing problem of prosecutorial misconduct in this country and especially in Louisiana. Evidence was suppressed and testimony was induced. Inmates who initially denied knowledge of the murder changed testimony in exchange for favors. When asked about this under oath, state officials denied this, but proof now exists. Several courts have now concluded that grand jury discrimination was at play in Herman Wallace’s trial and also in Albert Woodfox’s trial. A grand juror who was married to a former Angola warden ended up serving on one of Albert’s grand juries and she actually brought a book she authored into deliberations, which contained negative overtures about the case.

Not only does this create a distrust for the judicial system, much of this created additional victims as some of the inmates whose testimony was “bought” were rewarded with freedom. Some of these criminals went on to commit additional crimes. The release of these criminals also re-victimized victims who were forced to live with the knowledge that the person who victimized them was back amongst them in society.

This case is a powerful educational tool for citizens who have thus far placed great faith in the words “convicted” or “a jury found him guilty.” Many people naively take these words at face value. For a large population of American citizens, convictions are obtained without any credible evidence. Many people, after seeing the “evidence” used against Albert Woodfox, now understand this point.

In Albert’s case, there was a bloody crime scene. It was one of the most ideal crime scenes imaginable because where else are fingerprints of every person on the property on file? None of the forensic evidence, including a bloody fingerprint found at the scene, matched Albert Woodfox or Herman Wallace.  (See Woodfox v. Cain, 609 F.3d 774, 810 (5th Cir. La.), Jun 21, 2010). The authorities’ outrageous refusal to check this fingerprint against their own database of inmates’ fingerprints continues to this day. In 2008, NPR asked Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell why the state refuses to test the print. “A fingerprint can come from anywhere,” Caldwell explained. “We’re not going to be fooled by that.”

Albert even passed a polygraph test. In absence of any physical evidence, what was used against him was “bought” testimony from dangerous criminals, such as a legally blind man who, under oath, swore he saw things on the day of the murder, a robbery convict who was released in exchange for his testimony and then committed more robberies. This was done, not once, but twice. In Louisiana, state appellate courts signed off on this, not because of a conspiracy, but because of their design. When a criminal case is appealed, the court can’t revisit all the facts and evidence and act as a de facto jury. They must use standards of review and they are only allowed a narrow window into the case. 

When insufficiency of evidence is raised in a criminal case, the state appellate court in Louisiana can only consider, in the light most favorable to the prosecution, if the record suggests any reasonable juror could have found the defendant guilty. Under this standard, it is rare to see a criminal case reversed on appeal. The state appellate process is much like a sniff test. They take a quick sniff then move on to the next one in line.

In Albert’s second trial, then Warden Henderson, while under oath, swore no incentives had been offered to the serial rapist, Hezekiah Brown, who they used to testify against Albert. The prosecutor stood before the court and praised this lying rapist. Specifically, he said he was proud of the lying rapist and he remarked that the lying rapist was courageous. This issue was brought up in an appeal before the federal court. That court agreed that this conduct was troubling, but no official action has ever been undertaken to address it.

This sets the stage for the next unsuspecting defendant to walk into the grips of the same cast of characters and the show begins all over again. Under a system that dispenses justice in this fashion, any one of us could be Albert Woodfox. That lesson is finally resonating.

Albert’s release could also highlight an ugly chapter in our history where the BPP is concerned. It could show the type of selfless work they did and the type of harm that came to many of them as a result. It could also aid in bringing an end to this era of social purgatory they have lived in and under since the 1960s.

In each of these contrasting ways, people will become informed then empathy and dialog will follow.  These things lead to societal healing.

 –Angola 3 News is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com, where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Additionally we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.

Healing Our Wounds: Restorative Justice Is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation –An Interview With Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell



(VIDEO: Prof. Bell interviewed by Sky News, following Judge Brady’s ruling to immediately release Albert Woodfox. A stay on his release was ordered later that day by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Also be sure to watch her June 12 appearance on MSNBC’s News Nation with Tamron Hall)



 
Healing Our Wounds: Restorative Justice Is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation
–An Interview With Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

By Angola 3 News

On Monday, June 8, 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled that the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox be both immediately released and barred from a retrial. The next day, at the request of the Louisiana Attorney General, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of release set to expire on Friday, June 12.

As the week intensified following Judge Brady’s ruling, both Albert Woodfox and his family, friends & supporters wondered if he would finally be released over 43 years after first being placed in solitary confinement. Amnesty International USA launched a petition calling on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to honor Judge Brady’s ruling.  

On June 9, US Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA-02) issued a statement declaring that “Attorney General Caldwell must respect the ruling of Judge Brady and grant Mr. Woodfox his release immediately…This is an obviously personal vendetta and has been a waste of tax payer dollars for decades. The state is making major cuts in education and healthcare but he has spent millions of dollars on this frivolous endeavor and the price tag is increasing by the day.” 

On June 11, eighteen members of the Louisiana House of Representatives voted unsuccessfully to pass a resolution (H.R. 208) urging Attorney General Caldwell to stop standing in the way of justice, withdraw his appeals, and let Judge Brady’s unconditional writ and release ruling stand.

However, on Friday, June 12, the Court responded by scheduling oral arguments for late August and extending the stay of release at least until the time that the Court issues its ruling later in the Fall.


Among those who communicated with Albert during that emotional week was Southern University Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell. In the days following Judge Brady’s ruling, she was a featured guest on several television and radio shows that focused on Albert’s case, including National Public Radio. In this interview with Angola 3 News, Prof. Bell discusses her new law journal article and reflects upon the latest developments in Albert’s fight for freedom. She argues that recent Angola 3-related media coverage in the US is becoming “more substantive,” and that this month “the media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.”

Literally hundreds of news websites around the world published articles about Judge Brady’s ruling. The New York Times, who in an earlier editorial from 2014 declared Albert’s four decades in solitary to be “barbaric beyond measure,” chose a headline for their June 10 article that cited Albert’s “Torturous Road to Freedom.” The next day, the NY Times reprinted an Associated Press article entitled “What Has Louisiana Got on the Last of the Angola Three?” Answering the question posed by the headline, the articles states: “Woodfox’s long-simmering story has been the subject of documentaries, Peabody Award winning journalism, United Nations human rights reviews and even a theatrical play. It’s a staggering tale of inconsistencies, witness recants, rigged jury pools, out-of-control prison violence, racial prejudice and political intrigue.”

Media coverage in the state of Louisiana itself also seems to be improving. For example, writer Emily Lane of the NOLA Times-Picayune responded to Brady’s ruling with a series of in-depth articles, focusing on the specifics of how and why Albert has been in solitary for over 40 years, as well as the physical and mental impact of such treatment. In another article, the Times-Picayune quoted extensively from a statement made by Teenie Rogers, the widow of slain prison guard Brent Miller. “I think it’s time the state stop acting like there is any evidence that Albert Woodfox killed Brent,” Rogers said. Meanwhile, Albert remains in solitary confinement, with Louisiana authorities “not letting up on” the “last of the ‘Angola3.'”

Our first interview with Prof. Bell, entitled Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Trial, followed the release of her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind.”
 
Our second interview, entitled Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party, examined her 2014 article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil.”
 
This new interview, now our third, is timed with the release of of Prof. Bell’s latest article, published by the University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review, entitled “A Prescription for Healing a National Wound: Two Doses of Executive Direct Action Equals a Portion of Justice and a Serving of Redress for America & the Black Panther Party.”
 
Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha TwoThe Black Panther Party and Revolutionary ArtDylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas“We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,”  Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy
 


Angola 3 News:      How does your new law journal article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, relate to and ultimately build upon your previous two articles, Perception Profiling and Activism Unshackled?

Angela A. Allen-Bell:      The three articles share a common thread and that is that the Angola 3 case was the inspiration for each of the articles. The Angola 3 case is a fusion of complexities, including race, justice, corrections practices, abuse of power, official misconduct and politics. Each of the three articles explores a different theme in the case.

The 2012 publication, Perception Profiling, explores the constitutional implications of long term solitary confinement. 

The 2014 publication, Activism Unshackled, exposes the harsh response of the government to the Black Panther Party (BPP) and declares the BPP to be victims of something akin to domestic terrorism. 

The 2015 publication, A Prescription, calls for redress and offers a solution for the nation and the BPP to heal from the traumas experienced during the historical period of the BPP’s existence.

A3N:      You write that “Redress is the aim because it is broader than justice. Redress is also the goal because, when delivered, it has the impact of bringing distant human rights aspirational goals to a local and identifiable place in our society.” For folks that have not yet read A Prescription, can you please explain what you mean by “redress?”

AB:      When I use the term redress, I simply mean “remedy.” In this section of the paper, I am calling people’s attention to the fact that the pursuit of justice is largely personal. It involves personal vindication. 

Contrarily, redress, through a restorative justice model, is much more expansive. Restorative justice not only considers the victim; it also considers the impact on society. It seeks to heal both simultaneously. 

We have never healed from many of the racial traumas that afflict this nation. The evidence of this is on display in the media consistently. Unaddressed traumas are the underlying explanation for some police feeling comfortable gunning down African American males in absence of a legitimate threat of bodily force. That psyche developed during the lynching era. 

Unaddressed traumas explain educational and discipline policies that fast track poor children and children of color from schools to prison. Long ago, it was decided that certain groups were intellectually inferior and, as such, could best serve as an underclass. 

Unaddressed traumas explain the decision to select an African American church as the setting for an act of domestic terrorism, as with the recent massacre in Charleston. That happened so many times during the Civil Rights Era, it almost became sport. We must recognize that patterns continue unless and until a conscious choice is made to stop them. That is why I advocate for redress through a restorative justice approach. It is my attempt to reconstruct the paradigm and pursue a path of healing.

A3N:      Why do you feel that redress is an appropriate response to the political repression faced by the BPP and other leftists groups during the era of the FBI’s COINTELPRO and beyond? What are the benefits of redress?

AB:      In my opinion, it is the only appropriate response because of the state we presently find ourselves in as a country. We excel at technology. We are masters at warfare. We are an international might. We have accomplished all these things, but we have yet to master the art of loving each other. I am not using the word love in a superficial way. I am using it as a verb. I mean love in a profound way. I mean love that blinds your view of the outside and affixes your eyes on the heart of your brother or sister. This is a terrible indictment on us collectively. This is the legacy that racism, subjugation, oppression and dehumanization left behind. 

We need collective healing from a number of social traumas, such as lynchings, racist medical, educational and criminal justice practices, all of the vestiges of slavery, and the neutralization of or attempts at neutralization where civil rights activists and organizers are concerned. These things have caused us not to be well. This article picks one social trauma to address and that involves what was done to the BPP. It serves as a template to addresses the others.

The article discusses several benefits to redress. They include: the timely ability to shape good policy; the achievement of accountability; the furtherance of human rights goals and objectives; and the prevention of history repeating itself. Redress in this instance will help society and the BPP. It will allow us to move pass this chapter onto the next chapter then the work must begin again and again until we have peeled away the many layers to this dysfunction that we are experiencing as a human family. 

A3N:      You write further that “the goal is to achieve restorative redress—for America in general and the BPP in particular—through executive direct action correcting official history by way of a proclamation and an executive order granting amnesty—with a focus on healing for the nation, victims and perpetrators (as opposed to focusing on the limiting notion of punishing the perpetrator).” Why do you focus on Executive Direct Action as the best means for redress?

AB:      Executive direct action is a presidential power that is highly effective because it can accomplish a goal without the paralyzing complication that a bureaucracy involves. It is used more than many people know and was chosen in this instance because of the expediency of the process and the complexities of this historical ordeal. It was also chosen because traditional methods have failed and/or will not work. 

In the article, I share detailed reasons why courts, hearings, legislation and executive action on the state level were all eliminated as possible forms of redress. 

A3N:      Over two years ago, on Feb. 26, 2013, Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time. However, today, even following last week’s ruling by Judge Brady, Albert remains behind bars and in solitary confinement! Reminiscent of fictional stories by George Orwell or Franz Kafka, how does something like this actually happen? What does it say about the legitimacy of the broader so-called criminal ‘justice’ system in the US?

AB:      Like the United States Constitution, our criminal justice system was born in sin and iniquity. Our modern criminal justice system has very little to do with dispensing justice or keeping citizens safe. It was designed as a tool to further a caste system that was started before slavery. It has become a lucrative enterprise for many. Many laws were written with these considerations in mind. This system is now a machine. Add the utter disdain that this country has had for African American men to this assembly line environment and you might be able to rationalize what Albert Woodfox is experiencing. 

The justice system has dealt an unjust hand to many people of color and poor people, but it has been particularly harsh when it comes to the BPP.  They were arrested regularly and locked up often, but, in most cases, charges were dropped or the BPP member won the case. The criminal justice system was intentionally used as tool to disrupt their political and social activities. That detail has largely been suppressed from the public.

This is not to suggest that we don’t need a justice system or jails. I feel both are needed. My only point is that there is a design defect. When that happens, demolition must follow. In my view, this is where we are in our criminal justice journey.  

A3N:      Any other thoughts on this month’s events?

AB:      Last week, I saw members of the international community intensify their response. That was beautiful and their support has been consistently present and helpful. That is greatly appreciated.

There were several welcomed, new developments at home. One was the more substantive media coverage that took place in the United States. The media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.  Much of the coverage explored the actual evidence (or lack thereof) in the case and many outlets courageously did a critical analysis of America’s solitary confinement practices. 

Most impactful of all is the fact that, last week, Americans reclaimed their power.  Grassroots activism and direct citizen participation is the key ingredient in any social change movement.  That happened last week.  Even more significant, a heightened interest took place in Louisiana, which is a very conservative, “tough on crime” kind of place. 

The new development is that Louisiana citizens who, in spirit, support locking folks up have become opposed to the State’s decision to spend well over six million taxpayer dollars on the criminal prosecution and the civil litigation in the Angola 3 case. Many more Louisiana citizens, after realizing this case was built on deals with criminals and false testimony and official misconduct, voiced their opposition to what State officials have done and continue to do in the case.

Others have begun to see that corruption has played a part in this case as contracts for legal work on the Angola 3 case have been awarded to associates who have a financial incentive to engage in dilatory tactics at the expense of Louisiana taxpayers.

Other citizens were called to act because the global reputation of the United States is being compromised as the world looks at us in judgment for this human rights abuse. The next step is to see this channeled and to see mobilization follow. 

A3N:    While it is important to examine how Albert and the Angola 3’s story represent much broader issues of injustice, we also do not want to forget that above all, Albert is a human being. Shifting to a more personal level, can you tell us about your visits with Albert? What have you learned from Albert?

AB:    It is my personal feeling that the Angola 3 were anointed and called to do the courageous and significant work they have done both collectively and individually. It is a message I often speak to them. In my view, this is why they weren’t murdered or harmed behind bars by other inmates.

It is also my feeling that this is the source of grace that Albert displays. He has his vulnerable, grief-stricken moments, but he has many more days of peace. The suits the Angola 3 filed and the organizing they did has led to better conditions for many others.

Albert has taught me: how to speak mightily with a few words; how to be patient while never waiting; that freedom has more to do with liberation than it does location or station; that Christ, who was a carpenter himself, consistently uses the least valued people (in man’s terms)─people who the world could see little value in─to accomplish some of the most profound changes; how to fight evil without ever balling a fist or loading a weapon; how a liberated mind in the head of an African American man often results in a symbolic, social warning label; how to resist the urge to allow fear to serve as an excuse for lack of service; how to manifest the Biblical teaching that love is the greatest commandment of all; and, how to minister without preaching.

A3N:    How much physical contact, if any, has been allowed during visits? Based on your experience visiting Albert, how important is it for prisoners to be able to hug and express friendship through human touch with their visitors?

AB:    Louisiana officials have branded sixty-eight-year-old Albert Woodfox, who is afflicted with a litany of health problems, the most dangerous man in America, despite their own records documenting that he is and has been a model prisoner. 

In fulfillment of this marketing strategy and act of wordplay, Albert’s visits are restricted.  They are no contact, limited to an hour and are observed closely.  Even the Bible recognizes that man was not born to be alone.  Isolation violates biblical principles, as well as medical research, legal precedent and human rights principles. 

The practice of prolonged isolation even runs counter to the thinking of Pope Francis, US Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, certain doctors, academics, human rights advocates and architects, Human Rights Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez, the American Bar Association, the American Correctional Association, the National Defense Association and many other credible voices.  It especially makes no sense when a person is elderly and harmless as was the case with Herman Wallace and as is the case with Albert Woodfox.

Society is better off when inmates maintain humanity and also when they do not become totally institutionalized.  Innocent human touch and meaningful interaction are quintessential ways of preserving humanity. 

A3N:    Any further reflection on the personal impact of both your research & writing about the Angola 3 as well as your relationship with Albert?

AB:    These things have impacted me profoundly. They have made me keenly aware of our social regression in this country. The shift from us being somewhat of an interconnected unit during the 1960s and 1970s to a self-driven population has crippled progress where social gains are concerned. This is not meant as a judgment or an indictment. This is meant partially as a plea and partially as a call for introspection.

A3N:   Returning to your new article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, how does Albert’s case further illustrate the US government’s mistreatment of the BPP? Conversely, how do you feel that Albert’s release would contribute to the healing of our nation?

AB:  This case centers attention on the plight of the BPP at the hands of then FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI from 1924-1972 with unchecked authority and who ran the FBI without concern for the constitution or best practices. He ran the FBI as a personal enterprise to silence minorities, activists and anyone else who he could produce a reason not to like. Many times, his reasoning was not sound. He used his power to crush and silence people and he regularly violated the law in order to do so.

We, as a society, have never assessed the harm that flowed from this–the lives and careers that he wrongly destroyed; the current leaders who rode their way to the top doing what he groomed them to do and who have continued what he started; the impact that this had on activism and dissent in America; and the many people who lost their liberty as a result of his abuses of power. The Angola 3 case illuminates these concerns.

The Angola 3 case also brings attention to the growing problem of prosecutorial misconduct in this country and especially in Louisiana. Evidence was suppressed and testimony was induced. Inmates who initially denied knowledge of the murder changed testimony in exchange for favors. When asked about this under oath, state officials denied this, but proof now exists. Several courts have now concluded that grand jury discrimination was at play in Herman Wallace’s trial and also in Albert Woodfox’s trial. A grand juror who was married to a former Angola warden ended up serving on one of Albert’s grand juries and she actually brought a book she authored into deliberations, which contained negative overtures about the case.

Not only does this create a distrust for the judicial system, much of this created additional victims as some of the inmates whose testimony was “bought” were rewarded with freedom. Some of these criminals went on to commit additional crimes. The release of these criminals also re-victimized victims who were forced to live with the knowledge that the person who victimized them was back amongst them in society.

This case is a powerful educational tool for citizens who have thus far placed great faith in the words “convicted” or “a jury found him guilty.” Many people naively take these words at face value. For a large population of American citizens, convictions are obtained without any credible evidence. Many people, after seeing the “evidence” used against Albert Woodfox, now understand this point.

In Albert’s case, there was a bloody crime scene. It was one of the most ideal crime scenes imaginable because where else are fingerprints of every person on the property on file? None of the forensic evidence, including a bloody fingerprint found at the scene, matched Albert Woodfox or Herman Wallace.  (See Woodfox v. Cain, 609 F.3d 774, 810 (5th Cir. La.), Jun 21, 2010). The authorities’ outrageous refusal to check this fingerprint against their own database of inmates’ fingerprints continues to this day. In 2008, NPR asked Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell why the state refuses to test the print. “A fingerprint can come from anywhere,” Caldwell explained. “We’re not going to be fooled by that.”

Albert even passed a polygraph test. In absence of any physical evidence, what was used against him was “bought” testimony from dangerous criminals, such as a legally blind man who, under oath, swore he saw things on the day of the murder, a robbery convict who was released in exchange for his testimony and then committed more robberies. This was done, not once, but twice. In Louisiana, state appellate courts signed off on this, not because of a conspiracy, but because of their design. When a criminal case is appealed, the court can’t revisit all the facts and evidence and act as a de facto jury. They must use standards of review and they are only allowed a narrow window into the case. 

When insufficiency of evidence is raised in a criminal case, the state appellate court in Louisiana can only consider, in the light most favorable to the prosecution, if the record suggests any reasonable juror could have found the defendant guilty. Under this standard, it is rare to see a criminal case reversed on appeal. The state appellate process is much like a sniff test. They take a quick sniff then move on to the next one in line.

In Albert’s second trial, then Warden Henderson, while under oath, swore no incentives had been offered to the serial rapist, Hezekiah Brown, who they used to testify against Albert. The prosecutor stood before the court and praised this lying rapist. Specifically, he said he was proud of the lying rapist and he remarked that the lying rapist was courageous. This issue was brought up in an appeal before the federal court. That court agreed that this conduct was troubling, but no official action has ever been undertaken to address it.

This sets the stage for the next unsuspecting defendant to walk into the grips of the same cast of characters and the show begins all over again. Under a system that dispenses justice in this fashion, any one of us could be Albert Woodfox. That lesson is finally resonating.

Albert’s release could also highlight an ugly chapter in our history where the BPP is concerned. It could show the type of selfless work they did and the type of harm that came to many of them as a result. It could also aid in bringing an end to this era of social purgatory they have lived in and under since the 1960s.

In each of these contrasting ways, people will become informed then empathy and dialog will follow.  These things lead to societal healing.

 –Angola 3 News is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com, where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Additionally we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.

Healing Our Wounds: Restorative Justice Is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation –An Interview With Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell



(VIDEO: Prof. Bell interviewed by Sky News, following Judge Brady’s ruling to immediately release Albert Woodfox. A stay on his release was ordered later that day by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Also be sure to watch her June 12 appearance on MSNBC’s News Nation with Tamron Hall)



 
Healing Our Wounds: Restorative Justice Is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation
–An Interview With Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

By Angola 3 News

On Monday, June 8, 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled that the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox be both immediately released and barred from a retrial. The next day, at the request of the Louisiana Attorney General, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of release set to expire on Friday, June 12.

As the week intensified following Judge Brady’s ruling, both Albert Woodfox and his family, friends & supporters wondered if he would finally be released over 43 years after first being placed in solitary confinement. Amnesty International USA launched a petition calling on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to honor Judge Brady’s ruling.  

On June 9, US Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA-02) issued a statement declaring that “Attorney General Caldwell must respect the ruling of Judge Brady and grant Mr. Woodfox his release immediately…This is an obviously personal vendetta and has been a waste of tax payer dollars for decades. The state is making major cuts in education and healthcare but he has spent millions of dollars on this frivolous endeavor and the price tag is increasing by the day.” 

On June 11, eighteen members of the Louisiana House of Representatives voted unsuccessfully to pass a resolution (H.R. 208) urging Attorney General Caldwell to stop standing in the way of justice, withdraw his appeals, and let Judge Brady’s unconditional writ and release ruling stand.

However, on Friday, June 12, the Court responded by scheduling oral arguments for late August and extending the stay of release at least until the time that the Court issues its ruling later in the Fall.


Among those who communicated with Albert during that emotional week was Southern University Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell. In the days following Judge Brady’s ruling, she was a featured guest on several television and radio shows that focused on Albert’s case, including National Public Radio. In this interview with Angola 3 News, Prof. Bell discusses her new law journal article and reflects upon the latest developments in Albert’s fight for freedom. She argues that recent Angola 3-related media coverage in the US is becoming “more substantive,” and that this month “the media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.”

Literally hundreds of news websites around the world published articles about Judge Brady’s ruling. The New York Times, who in an earlier editorial from 2014 declared Albert’s four decades in solitary to be “barbaric beyond measure,” chose a headline for their June 10 article that cited Albert’s “Torturous Road to Freedom.” The next day, the NY Times reprinted an Associated Press article entitled “What Has Louisiana Got on the Last of the Angola Three?” Answering the question posed by the headline, the articles states: “Woodfox’s long-simmering story has been the subject of documentaries, Peabody Award winning journalism, United Nations human rights reviews and even a theatrical play. It’s a staggering tale of inconsistencies, witness recants, rigged jury pools, out-of-control prison violence, racial prejudice and political intrigue.”

Media coverage in the state of Louisiana itself also seems to be improving. For example, writer Emily Lane of the NOLA Times-Picayune responded to Brady’s ruling with a series of in-depth articles, focusing on the specifics of how and why Albert has been in solitary for over 40 years, as well as the physical and mental impact of such treatment. In another article, the Times-Picayune quoted extensively from a statement made by Teenie Rogers, the widow of slain prison guard Brent Miller. “I think it’s time the state stop acting like there is any evidence that Albert Woodfox killed Brent,” Rogers said. Meanwhile, Albert remains in solitary confinement, with Louisiana authorities “not letting up on” the “last of the ‘Angola3.'”

Our first interview with Prof. Bell, entitled Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Trial, followed the release of her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind.”
 
Our second interview, entitled Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party, examined her 2014 article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil.”
 
This new interview, now our third, is timed with the release of of Prof. Bell’s latest article, published by the University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review, entitled “A Prescription for Healing a National Wound: Two Doses of Executive Direct Action Equals a Portion of Justice and a Serving of Redress for America & the Black Panther Party.”
 
Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha TwoThe Black Panther Party and Revolutionary ArtDylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas“We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,”  Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy
 


Angola 3 News:      How does your new law journal article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, relate to and ultimately build upon your previous two articles, Perception Profiling and Activism Unshackled?

Angela A. Allen-Bell:      The three articles share a common thread and that is that the Angola 3 case was the inspiration for each of the articles. The Angola 3 case is a fusion of complexities, including race, justice, corrections practices, abuse of power, official misconduct and politics. Each of the three articles explores a different theme in the case.

The 2012 publication, Perception Profiling, explores the constitutional implications of long term solitary confinement. 

The 2014 publication, Activism Unshackled, exposes the harsh response of the government to the Black Panther Party (BPP) and declares the BPP to be victims of something akin to domestic terrorism. 

The 2015 publication, A Prescription, calls for redress and offers a solution for the nation and the BPP to heal from the traumas experienced during the historical period of the BPP’s existence.

A3N:      You write that “Redress is the aim because it is broader than justice. Redress is also the goal because, when delivered, it has the impact of bringing distant human rights aspirational goals to a local and identifiable place in our society.” For folks that have not yet read A Prescription, can you please explain what you mean by “redress?”

AB:      When I use the term redress, I simply mean “remedy.” In this section of the paper, I am calling people’s attention to the fact that the pursuit of justice is largely personal. It involves personal vindication. 

Contrarily, redress, through a restorative justice model, is much more expansive. Restorative justice not only considers the victim; it also considers the impact on society. It seeks to heal both simultaneously. 

We have never healed from many of the racial traumas that afflict this nation. The evidence of this is on display in the media consistently. Unaddressed traumas are the underlying explanation for some police feeling comfortable gunning down African American males in absence of a legitimate threat of bodily force. That psyche developed during the lynching era. 

Unaddressed traumas explain educational and discipline policies that fast track poor children and children of color from schools to prison. Long ago, it was decided that certain groups were intellectually inferior and, as such, could best serve as an underclass. 

Unaddressed traumas explain the decision to select an African American church as the setting for an act of domestic terrorism, as with the recent massacre in Charleston. That happened so many times during the Civil Rights Era, it almost became sport. We must recognize that patterns continue unless and until a conscious choice is made to stop them. That is why I advocate for redress through a restorative justice approach. It is my attempt to reconstruct the paradigm and pursue a path of healing.

A3N:      Why do you feel that redress is an appropriate response to the political repression faced by the BPP and other leftists groups during the era of the FBI’s COINTELPRO and beyond? What are the benefits of redress?

AB:      In my opinion, it is the only appropriate response because of the state we presently find ourselves in as a country. We excel at technology. We are masters at warfare. We are an international might. We have accomplished all these things, but we have yet to master the art of loving each other. I am not using the word love in a superficial way. I am using it as a verb. I mean love in a profound way. I mean love that blinds your view of the outside and affixes your eyes on the heart of your brother or sister. This is a terrible indictment on us collectively. This is the legacy that racism, subjugation, oppression and dehumanization left behind. 

We need collective healing from a number of social traumas, such as lynchings, racist medical, educational and criminal justice practices, all of the vestiges of slavery, and the neutralization of or attempts at neutralization where civil rights activists and organizers are concerned. These things have caused us not to be well. This article picks one social trauma to address and that involves what was done to the BPP. It serves as a template to addresses the others.

The article discusses several benefits to redress. They include: the timely ability to shape good policy; the achievement of accountability; the furtherance of human rights goals and objectives; and the prevention of history repeating itself. Redress in this instance will help society and the BPP. It will allow us to move pass this chapter onto the next chapter then the work must begin again and again until we have peeled away the many layers to this dysfunction that we are experiencing as a human family. 

A3N:      You write further that “the goal is to achieve restorative redress—for America in general and the BPP in particular—through executive direct action correcting official history by way of a proclamation and an executive order granting amnesty—with a focus on healing for the nation, victims and perpetrators (as opposed to focusing on the limiting notion of punishing the perpetrator).” Why do you focus on Executive Direct Action as the best means for redress?

AB:      Executive direct action is a presidential power that is highly effective because it can accomplish a goal without the paralyzing complication that a bureaucracy involves. It is used more than many people know and was chosen in this instance because of the expediency of the process and the complexities of this historical ordeal. It was also chosen because traditional methods have failed and/or will not work. 

In the article, I share detailed reasons why courts, hearings, legislation and executive action on the state level were all eliminated as possible forms of redress. 

A3N:      Over two years ago, on Feb. 26, 2013, Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time. However, today, even following last week’s ruling by Judge Brady, Albert remains behind bars and in solitary confinement! Reminiscent of fictional stories by George Orwell or Franz Kafka, how does something like this actually happen? What does it say about the legitimacy of the broader so-called criminal ‘justice’ system in the US?

AB:      Like the United States Constitution, our criminal justice system was born in sin and iniquity. Our modern criminal justice system has very little to do with dispensing justice or keeping citizens safe. It was designed as a tool to further a caste system that was started before slavery. It has become a lucrative enterprise for many. Many laws were written with these considerations in mind. This system is now a machine. Add the utter disdain that this country has had for African American men to this assembly line environment and you might be able to rationalize what Albert Woodfox is experiencing. 

The justice system has dealt an unjust hand to many people of color and poor people, but it has been particularly harsh when it comes to the BPP.  They were arrested regularly and locked up often, but, in most cases, charges were dropped or the BPP member won the case. The criminal justice system was intentionally used as tool to disrupt their political and social activities. That detail has largely been suppressed from the public.

This is not to suggest that we don’t need a justice system or jails. I feel both are needed. My only point is that there is a design defect. When that happens, demolition must follow. In my view, this is where we are in our criminal justice journey.  

A3N:      Any other thoughts on this month’s events?

AB:      Last week, I saw members of the international community intensify their response. That was beautiful and their support has been consistently present and helpful. That is greatly appreciated.

There were several welcomed, new developments at home. One was the more substantive media coverage that took place in the United States. The media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.  Much of the coverage explored the actual evidence (or lack thereof) in the case and many outlets courageously did a critical analysis of America’s solitary confinement practices. 

Most impactful of all is the fact that, last week, Americans reclaimed their power.  Grassroots activism and direct citizen participation is the key ingredient in any social change movement.  That happened last week.  Even more significant, a heightened interest took place in Louisiana, which is a very conservative, “tough on crime” kind of place. 

The new development is that Louisiana citizens who, in spirit, support locking folks up have become opposed to the State’s decision to spend well over six million taxpayer dollars on the criminal prosecution and the civil litigation in the Angola 3 case. Many more Louisiana citizens, after realizing this case was built on deals with criminals and false testimony and official misconduct, voiced their opposition to what State officials have done and continue to do in the case.

Others have begun to see that corruption has played a part in this case as contracts for legal work on the Angola 3 case have been awarded to associates who have a financial incentive to engage in dilatory tactics at the expense of Louisiana taxpayers.

Other citizens were called to act because the global reputation of the United States is being compromised as the world looks at us in judgment for this human rights abuse. The next step is to see this channeled and to see mobilization follow. 

A3N:    While it is important to examine how Albert and the Angola 3’s story represent much broader issues of injustice, we also do not want to forget that above all, Albert is a human being. Shifting to a more personal level, can you tell us about your visits with Albert? What have you learned from Albert?

AB:    It is my personal feeling that the Angola 3 were anointed and called to do the courageous and significant work they have done both collectively and individually. It is a message I often speak to them. In my view, this is why they weren’t murdered or harmed behind bars by other inmates.

It is also my feeling that this is the source of grace that Albert displays. He has his vulnerable, grief-stricken moments, but he has many more days of peace. The suits the Angola 3 filed and the organizing they did has led to better conditions for many others.

Albert has taught me: how to speak mightily with a few words; how to be patient while never waiting; that freedom has more to do with liberation than it does location or station; that Christ, who was a carpenter himself, consistently uses the least valued people (in man’s terms)─people who the world could see little value in─to accomplish some of the most profound changes; how to fight evil without ever balling a fist or loading a weapon; how a liberated mind in the head of an African American man often results in a symbolic, social warning label; how to resist the urge to allow fear to serve as an excuse for lack of service; how to manifest the Biblical teaching that love is the greatest commandment of all; and, how to minister without preaching.

A3N:    How much physical contact, if any, has been allowed during visits? Based on your experience visiting Albert, how important is it for prisoners to be able to hug and express friendship through human touch with their visitors?

AB:    Louisiana officials have branded sixty-eight-year-old Albert Woodfox, who is afflicted with a litany of health problems, the most dangerous man in America, despite their own records documenting that he is and has been a model prisoner. 

In fulfillment of this marketing strategy and act of wordplay, Albert’s visits are restricted.  They are no contact, limited to an hour and are observed closely.  Even the Bible recognizes that man was not born to be alone.  Isolation violates biblical principles, as well as medical research, legal precedent and human rights principles. 

The practice of prolonged isolation even runs counter to the thinking of Pope Francis, US Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, certain doctors, academics, human rights advocates and architects, Human Rights Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez, the American Bar Association, the American Correctional Association, the National Defense Association and many other credible voices.  It especially makes no sense when a person is elderly and harmless as was the case with Herman Wallace and as is the case with Albert Woodfox.

Society is better off when inmates maintain humanity and also when they do not become totally institutionalized.  Innocent human touch and meaningful interaction are quintessential ways of preserving humanity. 

A3N:    Any further reflection on the personal impact of both your research & writing about the Angola 3 as well as your relationship with Albert?

AB:    These things have impacted me profoundly. They have made me keenly aware of our social regression in this country. The shift from us being somewhat of an interconnected unit during the 1960s and 1970s to a self-driven population has crippled progress where social gains are concerned. This is not meant as a judgment or an indictment. This is meant partially as a plea and partially as a call for introspection.

A3N:   Returning to your new article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, how does Albert’s case further illustrate the US government’s mistreatment of the BPP? Conversely, how do you feel that Albert’s release would contribute to the healing of our nation?

AB:  This case centers attention on the plight of the BPP at the hands of then FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI from 1924-1972 with unchecked authority and who ran the FBI without concern for the constitution or best practices. He ran the FBI as a personal enterprise to silence minorities, activists and anyone else who he could produce a reason not to like. Many times, his reasoning was not sound. He used his power to crush and silence people and he regularly violated the law in order to do so.

We, as a society, have never assessed the harm that flowed from this–the lives and careers that he wrongly destroyed; the current leaders who rode their way to the top doing what he groomed them to do and who have continued what he started; the impact that this had on activism and dissent in America; and the many people who lost their liberty as a result of his abuses of power. The Angola 3 case illuminates these concerns.

The Angola 3 case also brings attention to the growing problem of prosecutorial misconduct in this country and especially in Louisiana. Evidence was suppressed and testimony was induced. Inmates who initially denied knowledge of the murder changed testimony in exchange for favors. When asked about this under oath, state officials denied this, but proof now exists. Several courts have now concluded that grand jury discrimination was at play in Herman Wallace’s trial and also in Albert Woodfox’s trial. A grand juror who was married to a former Angola warden ended up serving on one of Albert’s grand juries and she actually brought a book she authored into deliberations, which contained negative overtures about the case.

Not only does this create a distrust for the judicial system, much of this created additional victims as some of the inmates whose testimony was “bought” were rewarded with freedom. Some of these criminals went on to commit additional crimes. The release of these criminals also re-victimized victims who were forced to live with the knowledge that the person who victimized them was back amongst them in society.

This case is a powerful educational tool for citizens who have thus far placed great faith in the words “convicted” or “a jury found him guilty.” Many people naively take these words at face value. For a large population of American citizens, convictions are obtained without any credible evidence. Many people, after seeing the “evidence” used against Albert Woodfox, now understand this point.

In Albert’s case, there was a bloody crime scene. It was one of the most ideal crime scenes imaginable because where else are fingerprints of every person on the property on file? None of the forensic evidence, including a bloody fingerprint found at the scene, matched Albert Woodfox or Herman Wallace.  (See Woodfox v. Cain, 609 F.3d 774, 810 (5th Cir. La.), Jun 21, 2010). The authorities’ outrageous refusal to check this fingerprint against their own database of inmates’ fingerprints continues to this day. In 2008, NPR asked Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell why the state refuses to test the print. “A fingerprint can come from anywhere,” Caldwell explained. “We’re not going to be fooled by that.”

Albert even passed a polygraph test. In absence of any physical evidence, what was used against him was “bought” testimony from dangerous criminals, such as a legally blind man who, under oath, swore he saw things on the day of the murder, a robbery convict who was released in exchange for his testimony and then committed more robberies. This was done, not once, but twice. In Louisiana, state appellate courts signed off on this, not because of a conspiracy, but because of their design. When a criminal case is appealed, the court can’t revisit all the facts and evidence and act as a de facto jury. They must use standards of review and they are only allowed a narrow window into the case. 

When insufficiency of evidence is raised in a criminal case, the state appellate court in Louisiana can only consider, in the light most favorable to the prosecution, if the record suggests any reasonable juror could have found the defendant guilty. Under this standard, it is rare to see a criminal case reversed on appeal. The state appellate process is much like a sniff test. They take a quick sniff then move on to the next one in line.

In Albert’s second trial, then Warden Henderson, while under oath, swore no incentives had been offered to the serial rapist, Hezekiah Brown, who they used to testify against Albert. The prosecutor stood before the court and praised this lying rapist. Specifically, he said he was proud of the lying rapist and he remarked that the lying rapist was courageous. This issue was brought up in an appeal before the federal court. That court agreed that this conduct was troubling, but no official action has ever been undertaken to address it.

This sets the stage for the next unsuspecting defendant to walk into the grips of the same cast of characters and the show begins all over again. Under a system that dispenses justice in this fashion, any one of us could be Albert Woodfox. That lesson is finally resonating.

Albert’s release could also highlight an ugly chapter in our history where the BPP is concerned. It could show the type of selfless work they did and the type of harm that came to many of them as a result. It could also aid in bringing an end to this era of social purgatory they have lived in and under since the 1960s.

In each of these contrasting ways, people will become informed then empathy and dialog will follow.  These things lead to societal healing.

 –Angola 3 News is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com, where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Additionally we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.

Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party –An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell



(PHOTO:  Angela A. Allen-Bell joins Amnesty International in support of the Angola 3 outside of the Louisiana State Capitol on April 17, 2012.)

Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party
–An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell
By Angola 3 News
This past July, students from Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project visited the infamous Louisiana State Prison known as Angola. While there, students landed an impromptu interview with Warden Burl Cain, where they asked him about an inmate at Angola named Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, who has now been in solitary confinement for 28 consecutive years. This important interview was cited afterwards by Time Magazine in an article examining the impact of solitary confinement on prisoners’ health.
Zulu Whitmore is a member of the Angola Prison chapter of the Black Panther Party(BPP) that was first started in the early 1970s by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3. In reply to the students’ question about Whitmore, Cain cited his affiliation with the Angola BPP and expressed concern that Whitmore could spread his beliefs in the prison, sparking violence among inmates. “The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism—I’m not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism,” Cain said. At the time of publication, Whitmore remains in solitary confinement.

Burl Cain’s characterization of the BPP as “advocating violence and racism” is reminiscent of a deposition he gave on October 22, 2008, following Albert Woodfox’s second overturned conviction, where Cain cited Woodfox’s affiliation with the BPP as a primary reason for not removing him from solitary confinement. Asked what gave him “such concern” about Woodfox, Cain stated: “He wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant.” Cain then stated that even if Woodfox were innocent of the murder, he would want to keep him in solitary, because “I still know he has a propensity for violence…he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates.”

(PHOTO: Albert Woodfox, left, with Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, right, in 2009.)

The remarks by Burl Cain in 2008 and 2014 are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to misrepresenting the Black Panther Party. “Until history is accurately told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a result of it,” argues Southern University Law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell in the interview featured below. Her new article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil,” turns the tables on the anti-BPP rhetoric by asking if what the BPP sustained at the hands of government officials is itself akin to domestic terrorism.
In “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained,” Prof. Bell concludes that the US government’s multi-faceted response to the BPP, primarily within the framework of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO, was indeed the very definition of terrorism. Bell writes that “the magnitude of the unwarranted harm done to the BPP has not yet been explored in an appropriate fashion. Much like a fugitive, it has eluded justice.” As a result, “the FBI’s full-scale assault on the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s remains an open wound for the nation itself. This is more than a national tragedy; this is a human wrong.”
 
Several pages of Bell’s new article examine the case of the Angola 3 in the context of the broader government repression faced by the Black Panthers. Bell is no stranger to the Angola 3 case. Her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind,” used the Angola 3 case as a springboard for examining the broader use of solitary confinement in US prisons.
We interviewed Bell previously, following the release of her 2012 law journal article. Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha Two, The Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Art, Dylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas, “We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,” Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy.  

(PHOTO: Billy X Jennings of It’s About Time BPP at the first BPP office in Oakland, CA.)
 
Angola 3 News:         Let’s begin by examining the word ‘terrorist.’ How is this defined?
Angela A. Allen-Bell:            For my article, I accept the view that a terrorist commits atrocities in an attempt to influence the behavior of the general population and the government. Their intended victims are not those they kill or harm, but rather are the government and the millions of people they hope to terrorize into some desired change of behavior. 
The US government’s definition of terrorism is not uniform and varies among different branches of the police, military, and US government. Some suggest that even the best intentions would result in an unclear definition, given the fact that any number of acts could constitute an act of terrorism, including offenses not yet conceived. 

Others suggest the lack of a specific definition is deliberate. In their book, Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror, authors Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. and Aziz Z. Huq suggest terrorism to be nothing more than a “political communications strategy” and a “preexisting neoconservative blueprint for a more interventionist American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.” 

Regardless of the reason for the current difficulty in adopting a uniform understanding of what is meant by ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist,’ the lack of a reliable definition comes at a price. In his article entitled, “A Human Rights Approach to Counter-Terrorism,” Mark D. Kielsgard writes: “On a larger scale, the lack of a definition diminishes the word’s use to a watered-down expression that can mean virtually anything. Allegorically speaking, the terrorist is the new nameless enemy, which to some may include all foreigners, immigrants, welfare recipients, or democrats, to name only a few. Terrorist has become the twenty-first century equivalent of communist, a generic term of derision whether the target perpetrates violence or just maintains a different point of view. It has entered the lexicon as a propaganda tool to label competing ideologies and promote fear and bigotry.”
With this understanding, consumers of information must listen with a discerning ear when these amorphous labels are assigned to the BPP or to other individuals and groups.

A3N:          In your new article you directly confront the mainstream portrayal of the BPP as being a ‘terrorist’ group. Since you conclude that they were not in fact ‘terrorists,’ can you please explain how and why you reached this conclusion?
AB:            From the outset, I wish to note that my responses apply to the Black Panther Party (BPP), not the New Black Panther Party. 
There are several competing reasons in support of my conclusion that the BPP was not a terrorist organization, the first of which involves two official reports issued by bodies acting on behalf of the government. Both reports were based on thorough investigations that included extensive witness testimony.
The Church Committee Report of 1976 established that they were victims of government excesses and the 1971 Report by the Committee on International Security, House of Representatives, entitled “Gun-Barrel Politics,” while having almost nothing positive to say about the BPP, did not find that they had an agenda to kill or harm solely for the purpose of making a political statement and also did not find that they had the means to accomplish this even if such an agenda existed.  Therefore, my first reason for reaching the conclusion that the BPP was not a terrorist organization is the absence of any credible, official findings establishing that they were.
My second reason involves the extensive surveillance used by the government against the BPP. I have reviewed volumes of these declassified documents and have found nothing to support a conclusion that the organization was out to kill or harm in order to make a political point. 
My last reason involves my extensive research on the topic. I have read countless court cases, books, documents, interviews and articles. I have even discussed the topic with BPP members and key figures. In all of this, no credible plot to kill or harm in order to make a political point has ever emerged.  
  
A3N:   If, as you argue, the BPP was not in fact a ‘terrorist group,’ what do you think it was about the BPP that the government actually did feel threatened by? Why did they choose to undertake the well-documented campaign of repression undertaken by the FBI as part of COINTELPRO?
AB:     I once read a book written by a man who inspires others to live life without boundaries or limitations. In this book entitled, Solitary Refinement, Christopher Coleman makes a profound inquiry. He asks: when was the most dangerous time in the life of a slave?
One might think the correct response to be when the slave was caught attempting an escape or when he talked back or disobeyed. However, Mr. Coleman forces us to see past the superficial and argues that the most dangerous time is when the slave actually accepts the fact that he is a slave because, at that very moment, bondage becomes self-inflicted and the slave becomes his own slave master. The slave no longer hopes to or attempts to change his condition. The slave simply decides to be a slave and wishes for nothing greater. 
A liberated mind was really slavery’s greatest enemy and it was ultimately the BPP’s mindset that made the government so uneasy. In my article, I explained: “The BPP did not believe in pleading, begging, praying or patiently waiting for equal rights to be conferred. They felt equality was a birthright, demanding it was a duty, having it delayed was an insult and compromise was tantamount to social and political suicide.” 

They refused to accept inequality and injustice. If they had succeeded in awakening the inner slave in marginalized Americans, there would have been important political change in the US. COINTELPRO was undertaken to prevent these positive changes, to therefore “neutralize” the BPP and to quell their ability to awaken the populace from a self-inflicted state of bondage.

(PHOTO: Important book on COINTELPRO)
A3N:   This leads us to the next core argument of your article: that the US government’s response to the growth of the BPP, largely associated with COINTELPRO, was itself ‘terrorist.’ Can you please explain how and why you reached this conclusion?
AB:     I reach the following conclusion in my article:  “If a domestic terrorist engages in acts that are dangerous to human life and does so on American soil for the purpose of intimidating people or coercing people through mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping, then there is an argument to be made that the BPP is a victim of something akin to domestic terrorism—and perhaps more—and there has been no official accountability.” 
As mentioned in the article, The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism. The first part of the definition requires the existence of an activity occurring primarily within the US. As for establishing an ‘activity,’ the FBI had declared ‘war’ on the BPP. In an effort to establish that the activity occurred primarily within the US, the article mentions that all COINTELPRO activity was first approved by high ranking, executive level officials who were acting under the badge of official authority and as arms of the US government.
The second part of the definition involves acts dangerous to human life. The article documents how every aspect of the government’s covert operations against the BPP was dangerous to human life, including both the lives of the Panthers and the many innocent people who suffered collateral damage. The baseless raids where officers were over armed (such as the raid on the NewOrleans Panthers), the pretextual stops used to justify illegal arrests or to incite violence, and the periods of unjust incarceration were all extremely dangerous to human life. 
The third part of the definition involves a violation of the criminal laws of the United States. The article chronicles a number of official actions that were in violation of criminal laws, such as assassinating individuals who are in no way posing a physical threat, engaging in torture, and manufacturing criminal cases.
The final part of the definition requires that the act appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce civilians, influence government policy by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. Then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover demanded that the FBI “destroy what the [BPP] [stood] for and “eradicate its serve the people programs.” 

My article details the numerous ways this dictate was implemented then found that there “are but a few explanations for the stated techniques and that is to intimidate people into conforming to a single belief system, to influence government policy, by intimidation or coercion, so as to eliminate alternative approaches or to affect the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”


(PHOTO: Important film about COINTELPRO)

A3N:   Along with the story of the NOLA Panthers, you also examine the case of the Angola 3 and the Angola Prison BPP chapter started by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox (Robert King joined the BPP chapter upon arrival at Angola in 1972). Given that the Angola BPP organized non-violent work and hunger strikes, as well as multiethnic and collective self-defense against the widespread rape epidemic, how do these activities contrast with or resemble ‘terrorism?’
AB:     As noted, one aspect of the definition of domestic terrorism is the violation of the criminal laws of the US. The Angola 3 case was used in the article as an illustration of a possible violation of the criminal laws of the US committed by official actors in their terrorism against the BPP. 
The Angola 3’s BPP organizing was behind the walls of Louisiana State Penitentiary (commonly referred to as, “Angola.”). Beginning in the 1960s, at this former slave plantation, select inmates were provided arms and used as guards to oversee inmates working the fields. These inmates were given authority to shoot anyone who stepped outside of an imaginary boundary. 

In addition to this, Angola was segregated in the early 1970s and was the subject of regular litigation. Multiple courts found that state and federal constitutional violations were rampant and violence was comparable to that found in a warring territory.

Instead of engaging in predatory behavior, the Angola 3 courageously chose to teach their newly discovered Panther awareness to fellow inmates. They did this in an attempt to change the culture from one of violence, corruption and predatory behavior to one of mutual respect. They hoped to create a sense of community amongst the men and they hoped to hold the administration to a standard.
They wanted an institution that was safe and one that afforded inmates all the rights promised to them under state, federal and international law. They actively organized against inmate-on-inmate violence and rape. They successfully litigated many favorable changes for prisoners. I have observed many parents thank them for various transforming acts of service done on behalf of other inmates. Their intentions were noble, their efforts were heroic and their accomplishments were far-reaching. In essence, they did for no pay what state officials were paid to do: better conditions behind bars.
The only thing that resembles terrorism in this case is the conduct of some of the government’s official actors, such as the prosecutors who have engaged in years of documented misconduct and those who have engaged in and defended the use of torture.

(Herman Wallace, left, with Albert Woodfox, right)

A3N:   The Angola 3 and supporters have always argued that the convictions of Herman and Albert for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller, were a frame-up orchestrated in retaliation for Herman and Albert’s political activities as BPP organizers. Do you consider this to be a credible argument? Do you consider their convictions and placement in solitary confinement to be politically motivated?
AB:     Yes to both.  One should not overlook the timing of the government’s plot to neutralize the BPP and the timing of the (post-incarceration) convictions of Robert King, Albert Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace. They were openly acting as BPP members at a time when the government was on a mission to neutralize the BPP. 
Years removed, we have learned of many BPP members who were framed for crimes they did not commit and who were subsequently submitted to prolonged solitary confinement while in prison. Some of these are referenced in the article. False convictions were used as a means of neutralization and solitary confinement was used to break their wills and end their activism. This is no longer speculation. This is now a documented fact.
When one looks at the lack of credible evidence in the Angola 3 case and couples it with the public statements of official actors, which cement (not suggest) the belief that the Angola 3 have been treated as inhumanely as they have because of their BPP involvement, one can’t help but entertain the thought that there is more at work than the murder of an innocent guard who was met with a fate he absolutely did not deserve.
(PHOTO: BPP collage by Its About Time BPP.)
A3N:   On a personal level, after researching the BPP and writing your article, what do you find most inspiring about the BPP legacy? What lessons do you think today’s activists can learn from studying BPP history?
AB:     The late Derrick Bell is one of my favorite authors. He teaches that courage can’t be gauged until the act that we think is courageous is viewed in context. Putting the actions of the BPP in its proper social context makes a case for how courageous they were.
They watched Martin Luther King attempt change through nonviolent means. They had seen the emergence of the Deacons for Defense. They had witnessed the Freedom Riders, who were young and innocent children harmed as well as many other protesters who were savagely beaten, killed and/or jailed for doing nothing more than attempting to make America a just place (and doing so in a nonviolent way and without being armed). They knew that law enforcement often acted to uphold segregationist laws and policies. Police regularly treated activists, protestors and those practicing civil disobedience as common criminals and many dished out violence in generous portions at civil rights events. Not intimidated by this, the Panthers still took center stage. They teach us penetrating lessons in courage.
Most of the Panthers were very young. They had nothing more than a thirst for change, a will to work hard in service to others and a commitment to studying other change agents in an effort to craft a strategy for change in this country. They illuminate the point that, to make meaningful and eternal change, one does not have to be a certain age and one does not have to have titles or credentials. They also teach us that world changers can’t be impulsive, reactionary or emotional people. Instead, they must be visionaries and wise strategists who are measured in their reactions and deliberate in their actions. The Panthers were proponents of (legitimate) education and everything they did was done after much study and deliberation. This should not be overlooked.
Most inspiring is their selflessness and genuineness. They served the people out of love. They did not seek payment or votes. They did not come with an agenda. They teach us a lot about our current leaders who will often do nothing without the promise of pay, glory or promotion.     
A3N:   Based upon your research and examination of the topic, why do you think Cain and others like him continue to misrepresent what the BPP was about?
AB:     There is an explanation for why the misrepresentation of the BPP has continued all these years, but it is complex. 
The initial reason for the perception of the BPP being violent and racist is the government itself.  The declassified documents verify that a part of its neutralization strategy was to discredit them in the public’s eye. This was done in an attempt to stop people from joining, following or supporting the party. The article lists the myriad of ways this plan was brought to fruition. One way was to use infiltrators and informants to join the party then have these individuals behave badly and violently so it would appear that the BPP was nothing more than a group of thugs and outlaws. Another way the government contributed to the negative perception of the Panthers is in the way they often responded with exaggerated force where the Panthers were concerned and often initiated violent encounters and when violence erupted, sole fault was assigned to the Panthers. Mainstream history will have you believe they always directed violence towards the police who were always innocent and honorable in their interactions with the Panthers. Evidence simply does not bear this out.
A second reason for the negative image was the media. The declassified documents also establish that certain members of the media worked with the government to publicize only negative images and adverse press about the BPP. It is a known fact that repetition is one of the most effective advertising tools. And so certain media outlets went to work in reporting as much bad as it could and made certain not to air anything positive about the BPP. The impact of this is generations of people who have no idea that the BPP was a service organization that laid the groundwork for many social programs that we currently enjoy, such as community policing, health care for the poor, sickle-cell anemia treatment and testing, free meals in school and food distribution to poor families. Their acts of service to the community was quite extensive—they served as watchdogs over the police, escorts to the elderly, community organizers and a host of other things that are discussed in detail in my article.
The third reason for the misrepresentation is the sanitized history that we are taught in schools.  History has never been presented honestly where the Panthers are concerned. As a result, many people perceive them as an anti-government, violent, gun-toting militia group. The practical impact of this is that anything associated with the BPP is still vilified. We saw this recently in the instances of BPP member Joanne Deborah Chesimard (also known as Assata Shakur) being placed on the terrorist watch list and Debo Patrick Adegbile, a respected lawyer who was never a Black Panther, but he recently suffered the same ostracizing that they have.  As head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he acted on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Panther whose death sentence was recently overturned after spending nearly 30 years in solitary confinement on death row. Senators blocked President Obama’s nomination of Mr. Adegbile to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division because of this.
Until history is accurately told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a result of it. This is exactly why I wrote the article and it is why I am working so passionately on this topic.
(PHOTO: Herman Wallace’s memorial service on Oct. 12, 2013. Image by Ann Harkness)
A3N:   Any closing thoughts?
AB:     Yes, a few brief points.
At the memorial service for the late Herman Wallace, BPP member Malik Rahim commented that we would not see black-on-black crime as we do today if the Panthers were allowed to do the work they started in the community. I would add the same to be true when it comes to many other social ills. Along these same lines, it is quite intriguing that the Panthers started in response to police violence. They often followed police to ensure the public was safe in their interactions with the police. Years removed, we still find ourselves in need of such intermediaries. If their work had not been cut short, would we find ourselves better off?
Redress is broader than justice. I strongly believe redress is in order and I believe we have reached the appointed time. I do not advocate for a monetary payout. I advocate for amnesty, release of BPP members who remain in custody as a result of their BPP involvement, and for the correction and memorializing of history where the BPP is concerned.
I would be honored if folks would read the article in its entirety. I end with this excerpt from the conclusion of my article:
“Of course, this article is written with all the benefits that accompany hindsight. It is only fair to recognize that the government, at the time of the BPPs activism, was littered with competing forces, interests and pressures and the advent of new demands being placed upon it. Not only were these things taxing, but the situation intensified because there were no breaks in tensions. They came simultaneously and in close proximity so as not to allow time for rational thought to take command and there was no precedent to serve as a blueprint. Add to this gumbo mixture, a government being confronted with the likes of the BPP for the first time in history. When one comes to terms with the complexities of the situation and can appreciate how they were magnified by the setting within which these developments unfolded, one is forced to bear a degree of understanding for how such a tragedy was set in motion. While these things must be taken into account if the discussion is to remain honest and impartial, they must not serve as exit points or escape routes for those seeking a way out of this conversation vis-a-via the path of least resistance.”
–Angola 3 News is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com, where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Additionally we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.
(Poster by artist César Maxit)
 

Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party –An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell



(PHOTO:  Angela A. Allen-Bell joins Amnesty International in support of the Angola 3 outside of the Louisiana State Capitol on April 17, 2012.)

Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party
–An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell
By Angola 3 News
This past July, students from Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project visited the infamous Louisiana State Prison known as Angola. While there, students landed an impromptu interview with Warden Burl Cain, where they asked him about an inmate at Angola named Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, who has now been in solitary confinement for 28 consecutive years. This important interview was cited afterwards by Time Magazine in an article examining the impact of solitary confinement on prisoners’ health.
Zulu Whitmore is a member of the Angola Prison chapter of the Black Panther Party(BPP) that was first started in the early 1970s by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3. In reply to the students’ question about Whitmore, Cain cited his affiliation with the Angola BPP and expressed concern that Whitmore could spread his beliefs in the prison, sparking violence among inmates. “The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism—I’m not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism,” Cain said. At the time of publication, Whitmore remains in solitary confinement.

Burl Cain’s characterization of the BPP as “advocating violence and racism” is reminiscent of a deposition he gave on October 22, 2008, following Albert Woodfox’s second overturned conviction, where Cain cited Woodfox’s affiliation with the BPP as a primary reason for not removing him from solitary confinement. Asked what gave him “such concern” about Woodfox, Cain stated: “He wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant.” Cain then stated that even if Woodfox were innocent of the murder, he would want to keep him in solitary, because “I still know he has a propensity for violence…he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates.”

(PHOTO: Albert Woodfox, left, with Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, right, in 2009.)

The remarks by Burl Cain in 2008 and 2014 are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to misrepresenting the Black Panther Party. “Until history is accurately told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a result of it,” argues Southern University Law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell in the interview featured below. Her new article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil,” turns the tables on the anti-BPP rhetoric by asking if what the BPP sustained at the hands of government officials is itself akin to domestic terrorism.
In “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained,” Prof. Bell concludes that the US government’s multi-faceted response to the BPP, primarily within the framework of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO, was indeed the very definition of terrorism. Bell writes that “the magnitude of the unwarranted harm done to the BPP has not yet been explored in an appropriate fashion. Much like a fugitive, it has eluded justice.” As a result, “the FBI’s full-scale assault on the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s remains an open wound for the nation itself. This is more than a national tragedy; this is a human wrong.”
 
Several pages of Bell’s new article examine the case of the Angola 3 in the context of the broader government repression faced by the Black Panthers. Bell is no stranger to the Angola 3 case. Her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind,” used the Angola 3 case as a springboard for examining the broader use of solitary confinement in US prisons.
We interviewed Bell previously, following the release of her 2012 law journal article. Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha Two, The Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Art, Dylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas, “We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,” Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy.  

(PHOTO: Billy X Jennings of It’s About Time BPP at the first BPP office in Oakland, CA.)
 
Angola 3 News:         Let’s begin by examining the word ‘terrorist.’ How is this defined?
Angela A. Allen-Bell:            For my article, I accept the view that a terrorist commits atrocities in an attempt to influence the behavior of the general population and the government. Their intended victims are not those they kill or harm, but rather are the government and the millions of people they hope to terrorize into some desired change of behavior. 
The US government’s definition of terrorism is not uniform and varies among different branches of the police, military, and US government. Some suggest that even the best intentions would result in an unclear definition, given the fact that any number of acts could constitute an act of terrorism, including offenses not yet conceived. 

Others suggest the lack of a specific definition is deliberate. In their book, Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror, authors Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. and Aziz Z. Huq suggest terrorism to be nothing more than a “political communications strategy” and a “preexisting neoconservative blueprint for a more interventionist American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.” 

Regardless of the reason for the current difficulty in adopting a uniform understanding of what is meant by ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist,’ the lack of a reliable definition comes at a price. In his article entitled, “A Human Rights Approach to Counter-Terrorism,” Mark D. Kielsgard writes: “On a larger scale, the lack of a definition diminishes the word’s use to a watered-down expression that can mean virtually anything. Allegorically speaking, the terrorist is the new nameless enemy, which to some may include all foreigners, immigrants, welfare recipients, or democrats, to name only a few. Terrorist has become the twenty-first century equivalent of communist, a generic term of derision whether the target perpetrates violence or just maintains a different point of view. It has entered the lexicon as a propaganda tool to label competing ideologies and promote fear and bigotry.”
With this understanding, consumers of information must listen with a discerning ear when these amorphous labels are assigned to the BPP or to other individuals and groups.

A3N:          In your new article you directly confront the mainstream portrayal of the BPP as being a ‘terrorist’ group. Since you conclude that they were not in fact ‘terrorists,’ can you please explain how and why you reached this conclusion?
AB:            From the outset, I wish to note that my responses apply to the Black Panther Party (BPP), not the New Black Panther Party. 
There are several competing reasons in support of my conclusion that the BPP was not a terrorist organization, the first of which involves two official reports issued by bodies acting on behalf of the government. Both reports were based on thorough investigations that included extensive witness testimony.
The Church Committee Report of 1976 established that they were victims of government excesses and the 1971 Report by the Committee on International Security, House of Representatives, entitled “Gun-Barrel Politics,” while having almost nothing positive to say about the BPP, did not find that they had an agenda to kill or harm solely for the purpose of making a political statement and also did not find that they had the means to accomplish this even if such an agenda existed.  Therefore, my first reason for reaching the conclusion that the BPP was not a terrorist organization is the absence of any credible, official findings establishing that they were.
My second reason involves the extensive surveillance used by the government against the BPP. I have reviewed volumes of these declassified documents and have found nothing to support a conclusion that the organization was out to kill or harm in order to make a political point. 
My last reason involves my extensive research on the topic. I have read countless court cases, books, documents, interviews and articles. I have even discussed the topic with BPP members and key figures. In all of this, no credible plot to kill or harm in order to make a political point has ever emerged.  
  
A3N:   If, as you argue, the BPP was not in fact a ‘terrorist group,’ what do you think it was about the BPP that the government actually did feel threatened by? Why did they choose to undertake the well-documented campaign of repression undertaken by the FBI as part of COINTELPRO?
AB:     I once read a book written by a man who inspires others to live life without boundaries or limitations. In this book entitled, Solitary Refinement, Christopher Coleman makes a profound inquiry. He asks: when was the most dangerous time in the life of a slave?
One might think the correct response to be when the slave was caught attempting an escape or when he talked back or disobeyed. However, Mr. Coleman forces us to see past the superficial and argues that the most dangerous time is when the slave actually accepts the fact that he is a slave because, at that very moment, bondage becomes self-inflicted and the slave becomes his own slave master. The slave no longer hopes to or attempts to change his condition. The slave simply decides to be a slave and wishes for nothing greater. 
A liberated mind was really slavery’s greatest enemy and it was ultimately the BPP’s mindset that made the government so uneasy. In my article, I explained: “The BPP did not believe in pleading, begging, praying or patiently waiting for equal rights to be conferred. They felt equality was a birthright, demanding it was a duty, having it delayed was an insult and compromise was tantamount to social and political suicide.” 

They refused to accept inequality and injustice. If they had succeeded in awakening the inner slave in marginalized Americans, there would have been important political change in the US. COINTELPRO was undertaken to prevent these positive changes, to therefore “neutralize” the BPP and to quell their ability to awaken the populace from a self-inflicted state of bondage.

(PHOTO: Important book on COINTELPRO)
A3N:   This leads us to the next core argument of your article: that the US government’s response to the growth of the BPP, largely associated with COINTELPRO, was itself ‘terrorist.’ Can you please explain how and why you reached this conclusion?
AB:     I reach the following conclusion in my article:  “If a domestic terrorist engages in acts that are dangerous to human life and does so on American soil for the purpose of intimidating people or coercing people through mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping, then there is an argument to be made that the BPP is a victim of something akin to domestic terrorism—and perhaps more—and there has been no official accountability.” 
As mentioned in the article, The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism. The first part of the definition requires the existence of an activity occurring primarily within the US. As for establishing an ‘activity,’ the FBI had declared ‘war’ on the BPP. In an effort to establish that the activity occurred primarily within the US, the article mentions that all COINTELPRO activity was first approved by high ranking, executive level officials who were acting under the badge of official authority and as arms of the US government.
The second part of the definition involves acts dangerous to human life. The article documents how every aspect of the government’s covert operations against the BPP was dangerous to human life, including both the lives of the Panthers and the many innocent people who suffered collateral damage. The baseless raids where officers were over armed (such as the raid on the NewOrleans Panthers), the pretextual stops used to justify illegal arrests or to incite violence, and the periods of unjust incarceration were all extremely dangerous to human life. 
The third part of the definition involves a violation of the criminal laws of the United States. The article chronicles a number of official actions that were in violation of criminal laws, such as assassinating individuals who are in no way posing a physical threat, engaging in torture, and manufacturing criminal cases.
The final part of the definition requires that the act appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce civilians, influence government policy by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. Then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover demanded that the FBI “destroy what the [BPP] [stood] for and “eradicate its serve the people programs.” 

My article details the numerous ways this dictate was implemented then found that there “are but a few explanations for the stated techniques and that is to intimidate people into conforming to a single belief system, to influence government policy, by intimidation or coercion, so as to eliminate alternative approaches or to affect the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”


(PHOTO: Important film about COINTELPRO)

A3N:   Along with the story of the NOLA Panthers, you also examine the case of the Angola 3 and the Angola Prison BPP chapter started by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox (Robert King joined the BPP chapter upon arrival at Angola in 1972). Given that the Angola BPP organized non-violent work and hunger strikes, as well as multiethnic and collective self-defense against the widespread rape epidemic, how do these activities contrast with or resemble ‘terrorism?’
AB:     As noted, one aspect of the definition of domestic terrorism is the violation of the criminal laws of the US. The Angola 3 case was used in the article as an illustration of a possible violation of the criminal laws of the US committed by official actors in their terrorism against the BPP. 
The Angola 3’s BPP organizing was behind the walls of Louisiana State Penitentiary (commonly referred to as, “Angola.”). Beginning in the 1960s, at this former slave plantation, select inmates were provided arms and used as guards to oversee inmates working the fields. These inmates were given authority to shoot anyone who stepped outside of an imaginary boundary. 

In addition to this, Angola was segregated in the early 1970s and was the subject of regular litigation. Multiple courts found that state and federal constitutional violations were rampant and violence was comparable to that found in a warring territory.

Instead of engaging in predatory behavior, the Angola 3 courageously chose to teach their newly discovered Panther awareness to fellow inmates. They did this in an attempt to change the culture from one of violence, corruption and predatory behavior to one of mutual respect. They hoped to create a sense of community amongst the men and they hoped to hold the administration to a standard.
They wanted an institution that was safe and one that afforded inmates all the rights promised to them under state, federal and international law. They actively organized against inmate-on-inmate violence and rape. They successfully litigated many favorable changes for prisoners. I have observed many parents thank them for various transforming acts of service done on behalf of other inmates. Their intentions were noble, their efforts were heroic and their accomplishments were far-reaching. In essence, they did for no pay what state officials were paid to do: better conditions behind bars.
The only thing that resembles terrorism in this case is the conduct of some of the government’s official actors, such as the prosecutors who have engaged in years of documented misconduct and those who have engaged in and defended the use of torture.

(Herman Wallace, left, with Albert Woodfox, right)

A3N:   The Angola 3 and supporters have always argued that the convictions of Herman and Albert for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller, were a frame-up orchestrated in retaliation for Herman and Albert’s political activities as BPP organizers. Do you consider this to be a credible argument? Do you consider their convictions and placement in solitary confinement to be politically motivated?
AB:     Yes to both.  One should not overlook the timing of the government’s plot to neutralize the BPP and the timing of the (post-incarceration) convictions of Robert King, Albert Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace. They were openly acting as BPP members at a time when the government was on a mission to neutralize the BPP. 
Years removed, we have learned of many BPP members who were framed for crimes they did not commit and who were subsequently submitted to prolonged solitary confinement while in prison. Some of these are referenced in the article. False convictions were used as a means of neutralization and solitary confinement was used to break their wills and end their activism. This is no longer speculation. This is now a documented fact.
When one looks at the lack of credible evidence in the Angola 3 case and couples it with the public statements of official actors, which cement (not suggest) the belief that the Angola 3 have been treated as inhumanely as they have because of their BPP involvement, one can’t help but entertain the thought that there is more at work than the murder of an innocent guard who was met with a fate he absolutely did not deserve.
(PHOTO: BPP collage by Its About Time BPP.)
A3N:   On a personal level, after researching the BPP and writing your article, what do you find most inspiring about the BPP legacy? What lessons do you think today’s activists can learn from studying BPP history?
AB:     The late Derrick Bell is one of my favorite authors. He teaches that courage can’t be gauged until the act that we think is courageous is viewed in context. Putting the actions of the BPP in its proper social context makes a case for how courageous they were.
They watched Martin Luther King attempt change through nonviolent means. They had seen the emergence of the Deacons for Defense. They had witnessed the Freedom Riders, who were young and innocent children harmed as well as many other protesters who were savagely beaten, killed and/or jailed for doing nothing more than attempting to make America a just place (and doing so in a nonviolent way and without being armed). They knew that law enforcement often acted to uphold segregationist laws and policies. Police regularly treated activists, protestors and those practicing civil disobedience as common criminals and many dished out violence in generous portions at civil rights events. Not intimidated by this, the Panthers still took center stage. They teach us penetrating lessons in courage.
Most of the Panthers were very young. They had nothing more than a thirst for change, a will to work hard in service to others and a commitment to studying other change agents in an effort to craft a strategy for change in this country. They illuminate the point that, to make meaningful and eternal change, one does not have to be a certain age and one does not have to have titles or credentials. They also teach us that world changers can’t be impulsive, reactionary or emotional people. Instead, they must be visionaries and wise strategists who are measured in their reactions and deliberate in their actions. The Panthers were proponents of (legitimate) education and everything they did was done after much study and deliberation. This should not be overlooked.
Most inspiring is their selflessness and genuineness. They served the people out of love. They did not seek payment or votes. They did not come with an agenda. They teach us a lot about our current leaders who will often do nothing without the promise of pay, glory or promotion.     
A3N:   Based upon your research and examination of the topic, why do you think Cain and others like him continue to misrepresent what the BPP was about?
AB:     There is an explanation for why the misrepresentation of the BPP has continued all these years, but it is complex. 
The initial reason for the perception of the BPP being violent and racist is the government itself.  The declassified documents verify that a part of its neutralization strategy was to discredit them in the public’s eye. This was done in an attempt to stop people from joining, following or supporting the party. The article lists the myriad of ways this plan was brought to fruition. One way was to use infiltrators and informants to join the party then have these individuals behave badly and violently so it would appear that the BPP was nothing more than a group of thugs and outlaws. Another way the government contributed to the negative perception of the Panthers is in the way they often responded with exaggerated force where the Panthers were concerned and often initiated violent encounters and when violence erupted, sole fault was assigned to the Panthers. Mainstream history will have you believe they always directed violence towards the police who were always innocent and honorable in their interactions with the Panthers. Evidence simply does not bear this out.
A second reason for the negative image was the media. The declassified documents also establish that certain members of the media worked with the government to publicize only negative images and adverse press about the BPP. It is a known fact that repetition is one of the most effective advertising tools. And so certain media outlets went to work in reporting as much bad as it could and made certain not to air anything positive about the BPP. The impact of this is generations of people who have no idea that the BPP was a service organization that laid the groundwork for many social programs that we currently enjoy, such as community policing, health care for the poor, sickle-cell anemia treatment and testing, free meals in school and food distribution to poor families. Their acts of service to the community was quite extensive—they served as watchdogs over the police, escorts to the elderly, community organizers and a host of other things that are discussed in detail in my article.
The third reason for the misrepresentation is the sanitized history that we are taught in schools.  History has never been presented honestly where the Panthers are concerned. As a result, many people perceive them as an anti-government, violent, gun-toting militia group. The practical impact of this is that anything associated with the BPP is still vilified. We saw this recently in the instances of BPP member Joanne Deborah Chesimard (also known as Assata Shakur) being placed on the terrorist watch list and Debo Patrick Adegbile, a respected lawyer who was never a Black Panther, but he recently suffered the same ostracizing that they have.  As head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he acted on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Panther whose death sentence was recently overturned after spending nearly 30 years in solitary confinement on death row. Senators blocked President Obama’s nomination of Mr. Adegbile to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division because of this.
Until history is accurately told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a result of it. This is exactly why I wrote the article and it is why I am working so passionately on this topic.
(PHOTO: Herman Wallace’s memorial service on Oct. 12, 2013. Image by Ann Harkness)
A3N:   Any closing thoughts?
AB:     Yes, a few brief points.
At the memorial service for the late Herman Wallace, BPP member Malik Rahim commented that we would not see black-on-black crime as we do today if the Panthers were allowed to do the work they started in the community. I would add the same to be true when it comes to many other social ills. Along these same lines, it is quite intriguing that the Panthers started in response to police violence. They often followed police to ensure the public was safe in their interactions with the police. Years removed, we still find ourselves in need of such intermediaries. If their work had not been cut short, would we find ourselves better off?
Redress is broader than justice. I strongly believe redress is in order and I believe we have reached the appointed time. I do not advocate for a monetary payout. I advocate for amnesty, release of BPP members who remain in custody as a result of their BPP involvement, and for the correction and memorializing of history where the BPP is concerned.
I would be honored if folks would read the article in its entirety. I end with this excerpt from the conclusion of my article:
“Of course, this article is written with all the benefits that accompany hindsight. It is only fair to recognize that the government, at the time of the BPPs activism, was littered with competing forces, interests and pressures and the advent of new demands being placed upon it. Not only were these things taxing, but the situation intensified because there were no breaks in tensions. They came simultaneously and in close proximity so as not to allow time for rational thought to take command and there was no precedent to serve as a blueprint. Add to this gumbo mixture, a government being confronted with the likes of the BPP for the first time in history. When one comes to terms with the complexities of the situation and can appreciate how they were magnified by the setting within which these developments unfolded, one is forced to bear a degree of understanding for how such a tragedy was set in motion. While these things must be taken into account if the discussion is to remain honest and impartial, they must not serve as exit points or escape routes for those seeking a way out of this conversation vis-a-via the path of least resistance.”
–Angola 3 News is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com, where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Additionally we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.
(Poster by artist César Maxit)
 

Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party –An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell



(PHOTO:  Angela A. Allen-Bell joins Amnesty International in support of the Angola 3 outside of the Louisiana State Capitol on April 17, 2012.)

Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party
–An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell
By Angola 3 News
This past July, students from Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project visited the infamous Louisiana State Prison known as Angola. While there, students landed an impromptu interview with Warden Burl Cain, where they asked him about an inmate at Angola named Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, who has now been in solitary confinement for 28 consecutive years. This important interview was cited afterwards by Time Magazine in an article examining the impact of solitary confinement on prisoners’ health.
Zulu Whitmore is a member of the Angola Prison chapter of the Black Panther Party(BPP) that was first started in the early 1970s by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3. In reply to the students’ question about Whitmore, Cain cited his affiliation with the Angola BPP and expressed concern that Whitmore could spread his beliefs in the prison, sparking violence among inmates. “The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism—I’m not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism,” Cain said. At the time of publication, Whitmore remains in solitary confinement.

Burl Cain’s characterization of the BPP as “advocating violence and racism” is reminiscent of a deposition he gave on October 22, 2008, following Albert Woodfox’s second overturned conviction, where Cain cited Woodfox’s affiliation with the BPP as a primary reason for not removing him from solitary confinement. Asked what gave him “such concern” about Woodfox, Cain stated: “He wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant.” Cain then stated that even if Woodfox were innocent of the murder, he would want to keep him in solitary, because “I still know he has a propensity for violence…he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates.”

(PHOTO: Albert Woodfox, left, with Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, right, in 2009.)

The remarks by Burl Cain in 2008 and 2014 are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to misrepresenting the Black Panther Party. “Until history is accurately told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a result of it,” argues Southern University Law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell in the interview featured below. Her new article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil,” turns the tables on the anti-BPP rhetoric by asking if what the BPP sustained at the hands of government officials is itself akin to domestic terrorism.
In “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained,” Prof. Bell concludes that the US government’s multi-faceted response to the BPP, primarily within the framework of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO, was indeed the very definition of terrorism. Bell writes that “the magnitude of the unwarranted harm done to the BPP has not yet been explored in an appropriate fashion. Much like a fugitive, it has eluded justice.” As a result, “the FBI’s full-scale assault on the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s remains an open wound for the nation itself. This is more than a national tragedy; this is a human wrong.”
 
Several pages of Bell’s new article examine the case of the Angola 3 in the context of the broader government repression faced by the Black Panthers. Bell is no stranger to the Angola 3 case. Her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind,” used the Angola 3 case as a springboard for examining the broader use of solitary confinement in US prisons.
We interviewed Bell previously, following the release of her 2012 law journal article. Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha Two, The Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Art, Dylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas, “We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,” Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy.  

(PHOTO: Billy X Jennings of It’s About Time BPP at the first BPP office in Oakland, CA.)
 
Angola 3 News:         Let’s begin by examining the word ‘terrorist.’ How is this defined?
Angela A. Allen-Bell:            For my article, I accept the view that a terrorist commits atrocities in an attempt to influence the behavior of the general population and the government. Their intended victims are not those they kill or harm, but rather are the government and the millions of people they hope to terrorize into some desired change of behavior. 
The US government’s definition of terrorism is not uniform and varies among different branches of the police, military, and US government. Some suggest that even the best intentions would result in an unclear definition, given the fact that any number of acts could constitute an act of terrorism, including offenses not yet conceived. 

Others suggest the lack of a specific definition is deliberate. In their book, Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror, authors Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. and Aziz Z. Huq suggest terrorism to be nothing more than a “political communications strategy” and a “preexisting neoconservative blueprint for a more interventionist American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.” 

Regardless of the reason for the current difficulty in adopting a uniform understanding of what is meant by ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist,’ the lack of a reliable definition comes at a price. In his article entitled, “A Human Rights Approach to Counter-Terrorism,” Mark D. Kielsgard writes: “On a larger scale, the lack of a definition diminishes the word’s use to a watered-down expression that can mean virtually anything. Allegorically speaking, the terrorist is the new nameless enemy, which to some may include all foreigners, immigrants, welfare recipients, or democrats, to name only a few. Terrorist has become the twenty-first century equivalent of communist, a generic term of derision whether the target perpetrates violence or just maintains a different point of view. It has entered the lexicon as a propaganda tool to label competing ideologies and promote fear and bigotry.”
With this understanding, consumers of information must listen with a discerning ear when these amorphous labels are assigned to the BPP or to other individuals and groups.

A3N:          In your new article you directly confront the mainstream portrayal of the BPP as being a ‘terrorist’ group. Since you conclude that they were not in fact ‘terrorists,’ can you please explain how and why you reached this conclusion?
AB:            From the outset, I wish to note that my responses apply to the Black Panther Party (BPP), not the New Black Panther Party. 
There are several competing reasons in support of my conclusion that the BPP was not a terrorist organization, the first of which involves two official reports issued by bodies acting on behalf of the government. Both reports were based on thorough investigations that included extensive witness testimony.
The Church Committee Report of 1976 established that they were victims of government excesses and the 1971 Report by the Committee on International Security, House of Representatives, entitled “Gun-Barrel Politics,” while having almost nothing positive to say about the BPP, did not find that they had an agenda to kill or harm solely for the purpose of making a political statement and also did not find that they had the means to accomplish this even if such an agenda existed.  Therefore, my first reason for reaching the conclusion that the BPP was not a terrorist organization is the absence of any credible, official findings establishing that they were.
My second reason involves the extensive surveillance used by the government against the BPP. I have reviewed volumes of these declassified documents and have found nothing to support a conclusion that the organization was out to kill or harm in order to make a political point. 
My last reason involves my extensive research on the topic. I have read countless court cases, books, documents, interviews and articles. I have even discussed the topic with BPP members and key figures. In all of this, no credible plot to kill or harm in order to make a political point has ever emerged.  
  
A3N:   If, as you argue, the BPP was not in fact a ‘terrorist group,’ what do you think it was about the BPP that the government actually did feel threatened by? Why did they choose to undertake the well-documented campaign of repression undertaken by the FBI as part of COINTELPRO?
AB:     I once read a book written by a man who inspires others to live life without boundaries or limitations. In this book entitled, Solitary Refinement, Christopher Coleman makes a profound inquiry. He asks: when was the most dangerous time in the life of a slave?
One might think the correct response to be when the slave was caught attempting an escape or when he talked back or disobeyed. However, Mr. Coleman forces us to see past the superficial and argues that the most dangerous time is when the slave actually accepts the fact that he is a slave because, at that very moment, bondage becomes self-inflicted and the slave becomes his own slave master. The slave no longer hopes to or attempts to change his condition. The slave simply decides to be a slave and wishes for nothing greater. 
A liberated mind was really slavery’s greatest enemy and it was ultimately the BPP’s mindset that made the government so uneasy. In my article, I explained: “The BPP did not believe in pleading, begging, praying or patiently waiting for equal rights to be conferred. They felt equality was a birthright, demanding it was a duty, having it delayed was an insult and compromise was tantamount to social and political suicide.” 

They refused to accept inequality and injustice. If they had succeeded in awakening the inner slave in marginalized Americans, there would have been important political change in the US. COINTELPRO was undertaken to prevent these positive changes, to therefore “neutralize” the BPP and to quell their ability to awaken the populace from a self-inflicted state of bondage.

(PHOTO: Important book on COINTELPRO)
A3N:   This leads us to the next core argument of your article: that the US government’s response to the growth of the BPP, largely associated with COINTELPRO, was itself ‘terrorist.’ Can you please explain how and why you reached this conclusion?
AB:     I reach the following conclusion in my article:  “If a domestic terrorist engages in acts that are dangerous to human life and does so on American soil for the purpose of intimidating people or coercing people through mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping, then there is an argument to be made that the BPP is a victim of something akin to domestic terrorism—and perhaps more—and there has been no official accountability.” 
As mentioned in the article, The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism. The first part of the definition requires the existence of an activity occurring primarily within the US. As for establishing an ‘activity,’ the FBI had declared ‘war’ on the BPP. In an effort to establish that the activity occurred primarily within the US, the article mentions that all COINTELPRO activity was first approved by high ranking, executive level officials who were acting under the badge of official authority and as arms of the US government.
The second part of the definition involves acts dangerous to human life. The article documents how every aspect of the government’s covert operations against the BPP was dangerous to human life, including both the lives of the Panthers and the many innocent people who suffered collateral damage. The baseless raids where officers were over armed (such as the raid on the NewOrleans Panthers), the pretextual stops used to justify illegal arrests or to incite violence, and the periods of unjust incarceration were all extremely dangerous to human life. 
The third part of the definition involves a violation of the criminal laws of the United States. The article chronicles a number of official actions that were in violation of criminal laws, such as assassinating individuals who are in no way posing a physical threat, engaging in torture, and manufacturing criminal cases.
The final part of the definition requires that the act appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce civilians, influence government policy by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. Then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover demanded that the FBI “destroy what the [BPP] [stood] for and “eradicate its serve the people programs.” 

My article details the numerous ways this dictate was implemented then found that there “are but a few explanations for the stated techniques and that is to intimidate people into conforming to a single belief system, to influence government policy, by intimidation or coercion, so as to eliminate alternative approaches or to affect the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”


(PHOTO: Important film about COINTELPRO)

A3N:   Along with the story of the NOLA Panthers, you also examine the case of the Angola 3 and the Angola Prison BPP chapter started by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox (Robert King joined the BPP chapter upon arrival at Angola in 1972). Given that the Angola BPP organized non-violent work and hunger strikes, as well as multiethnic and collective self-defense against the widespread rape epidemic, how do these activities contrast with or resemble ‘terrorism?’
AB:     As noted, one aspect of the definition of domestic terrorism is the violation of the criminal laws of the US. The Angola 3 case was used in the article as an illustration of a possible violation of the criminal laws of the US committed by official actors in their terrorism against the BPP. 
The Angola 3’s BPP organizing was behind the walls of Louisiana State Penitentiary (commonly referred to as, “Angola.”). Beginning in the 1960s, at this former slave plantation, select inmates were provided arms and used as guards to oversee inmates working the fields. These inmates were given authority to shoot anyone who stepped outside of an imaginary boundary. 

In addition to this, Angola was segregated in the early 1970s and was the subject of regular litigation. Multiple courts found that state and federal constitutional violations were rampant and violence was comparable to that found in a warring territory.

Instead of engaging in predatory behavior, the Angola 3 courageously chose to teach their newly discovered Panther awareness to fellow inmates. They did this in an attempt to change the culture from one of violence, corruption and predatory behavior to one of mutual respect. They hoped to create a sense of community amongst the men and they hoped to hold the administration to a standard.
They wanted an institution that was safe and one that afforded inmates all the rights promised to them under state, federal and international law. They actively organized against inmate-on-inmate violence and rape. They successfully litigated many favorable changes for prisoners. I have observed many parents thank them for various transforming acts of service done on behalf of other inmates. Their intentions were noble, their efforts were heroic and their accomplishments were far-reaching. In essence, they did for no pay what state officials were paid to do: better conditions behind bars.
The only thing that resembles terrorism in this case is the conduct of some of the government’s official actors, such as the prosecutors who have engaged in years of documented misconduct and those who have engaged in and defended the use of torture.

(Herman Wallace, left, with Albert Woodfox, right)

A3N:   The Angola 3 and supporters have always argued that the convictions of Herman and Albert for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller, were a frame-up orchestrated in retaliation for Herman and Albert’s political activities as BPP organizers. Do you consider this to be a credible argument? Do you consider their convictions and placement in solitary confinement to be politically motivated?
AB:     Yes to both.  One should not overlook the timing of the government’s plot to neutralize the BPP and the timing of the (post-incarceration) convictions of Robert King, Albert Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace. They were openly acting as BPP members at a time when the government was on a mission to neutralize the BPP. 
Years removed, we have learned of many BPP members who were framed for crimes they did not commit and who were subsequently submitted to prolonged solitary confinement while in prison. Some of these are referenced in the article. False convictions were used as a means of neutralization and solitary confinement was used to break their wills and end their activism. This is no longer speculation. This is now a documented fact.
When one looks at the lack of credible evidence in the Angola 3 case and couples it with the public statements of official actors, which cement (not suggest) the belief that the Angola 3 have been treated as inhumanely as they have because of their BPP involvement, one can’t help but entertain the thought that there is more at work than the murder of an innocent guard who was met with a fate he absolutely did not deserve.
(PHOTO: BPP collage by Its About Time BPP.)
A3N:   On a personal level, after researching the BPP and writing your article, what do you find most inspiring about the BPP legacy? What lessons do you think today’s activists can learn from studying BPP history?
AB:     The late Derrick Bell is one of my favorite authors. He teaches that courage can’t be gauged until the act that we think is courageous is viewed in context. Putting the actions of the BPP in its proper social context makes a case for how courageous they were.
They watched Martin Luther King attempt change through nonviolent means. They had seen the emergence of the Deacons for Defense. They had witnessed the Freedom Riders, who were young and innocent children harmed as well as many other protesters who were savagely beaten, killed and/or jailed for doing nothing more than attempting to make America a just place (and doing so in a nonviolent way and without being armed). They knew that law enforcement often acted to uphold segregationist laws and policies. Police regularly treated activists, protestors and those practicing civil disobedience as common criminals and many dished out violence in generous portions at civil rights events. Not intimidated by this, the Panthers still took center stage. They teach us penetrating lessons in courage.
Most of the Panthers were very young. They had nothing more than a thirst for change, a will to work hard in service to others and a commitment to studying other change agents in an effort to craft a strategy for change in this country. They illuminate the point that, to make meaningful and eternal change, one does not have to be a certain age and one does not have to have titles or credentials. They also teach us that world changers can’t be impulsive, reactionary or emotional people. Instead, they must be visionaries and wise strategists who are measured in their reactions and deliberate in their actions. The Panthers were proponents of (legitimate) education and everything they did was done after much study and deliberation. This should not be overlooked.
Most inspiring is their selflessness and genuineness. They served the people out of love. They did not seek payment or votes. They did not come with an agenda. They teach us a lot about our current leaders who will often do nothing without the promise of pay, glory or promotion.     
A3N:   Based upon your research and examination of the topic, why do you think Cain and others like him continue to misrepresent what the BPP was about?
AB:     There is an explanation for why the misrepresentation of the BPP has continued all these years, but it is complex. 
The initial reason for the perception of the BPP being violent and racist is the government itself.  The declassified documents verify that a part of its neutralization strategy was to discredit them in the public’s eye. This was done in an attempt to stop people from joining, following or supporting the party. The article lists the myriad of ways this plan was brought to fruition. One way was to use infiltrators and informants to join the party then have these individuals behave badly and violently so it would appear that the BPP was nothing more than a group of thugs and outlaws. Another way the government contributed to the negative perception of the Panthers is in the way they often responded with exaggerated force where the Panthers were concerned and often initiated violent encounters and when violence erupted, sole fault was assigned to the Panthers. Mainstream history will have you believe they always directed violence towards the police who were always innocent and honorable in their interactions with the Panthers. Evidence simply does not bear this out.
A second reason for the negative image was the media. The declassified documents also establish that certain members of the media worked with the government to publicize only negative images and adverse press about the BPP. It is a known fact that repetition is one of the most effective advertising tools. And so certain media outlets went to work in reporting as much bad as it could and made certain not to air anything positive about the BPP. The impact of this is generations of people who have no idea that the BPP was a service organization that laid the groundwork for many social programs that we currently enjoy, such as community policing, health care for the poor, sickle-cell anemia treatment and testing, free meals in school and food distribution to poor families. Their acts of service to the community was quite extensive—they served as watchdogs over the police, escorts to the elderly, community organizers and a host of other things that are discussed in detail in my article.
The third reason for the misrepresentation is the sanitized history that we are taught in schools.  History has never been presented honestly where the Panthers are concerned. As a result, many people perceive them as an anti-government, violent, gun-toting militia group. The practical impact of this is that anything associated with the BPP is still vilified. We saw this recently in the instances of BPP member Joanne Deborah Chesimard (also known as Assata Shakur) being placed on the terrorist watch list and Debo Patrick Adegbile, a respected lawyer who was never a Black Panther, but he recently suffered the same ostracizing that they have.  As head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he acted on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Panther whose death sentence was recently overturned after spending nearly 30 years in solitary confinement on death row. Senators blocked President Obama’s nomination of Mr. Adegbile to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division because of this.
Until history is accurately told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a result of it. This is exactly why I wrote the article and it is why I am working so passionately on this topic.
(PHOTO: Herman Wallace’s memorial service on Oct. 12, 2013. Image by Ann Harkness)
A3N:   Any closing thoughts?
AB:     Yes, a few brief points.
At the memorial service for the late Herman Wallace, BPP member Malik Rahim commented that we would not see black-on-black crime as we do today if the Panthers were allowed to do the work they started in the community. I would add the same to be true when it comes to many other social ills. Along these same lines, it is quite intriguing that the Panthers started in response to police violence. They often followed police to ensure the public was safe in their interactions with the police. Years removed, we still find ourselves in need of such intermediaries. If their work had not been cut short, would we find ourselves better off?
Redress is broader than justice. I strongly believe redress is in order and I believe we have reached the appointed time. I do not advocate for a monetary payout. I advocate for amnesty, release of BPP members who remain in custody as a result of their BPP involvement, and for the correction and memorializing of history where the BPP is concerned.
I would be honored if folks would read the article in its entirety. I end with this excerpt from the conclusion of my article:
“Of course, this article is written with all the benefits that accompany hindsight. It is only fair to recognize that the government, at the time of the BPPs activism, was littered with competing forces, interests and pressures and the advent of new demands being placed upon it. Not only were these things taxing, but the situation intensified because there were no breaks in tensions. They came simultaneously and in close proximity so as not to allow time for rational thought to take command and there was no precedent to serve as a blueprint. Add to this gumbo mixture, a government being confronted with the likes of the BPP for the first time in history. When one comes to terms with the complexities of the situation and can appreciate how they were magnified by the setting within which these developments unfolded, one is forced to bear a degree of understanding for how such a tragedy was set in motion. While these things must be taken into account if the discussion is to remain honest and impartial, they must not serve as exit points or escape routes for those seeking a way out of this conversation vis-a-via the path of least resistance.”
–Angola 3 News is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com, where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Additionally we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.
(Poster by artist César Maxit)
 

Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party –An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell



(PHOTO:  Angela A. Allen-Bell joins Amnesty International in support of the Angola 3 outside of the Louisiana State Capitol on April 17, 2012.)

Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party
–An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell
By Angola 3 News
This past July, students from Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project visited the infamous Louisiana State Prison known as Angola. While there, students landed an impromptu interview with Warden Burl Cain, where they asked him about an inmate at Angola named Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, who has now been in solitary confinement for 28 consecutive years. This important interview was cited afterwards by Time Magazine in an article examining the impact of solitary confinement on prisoners’ health.
Zulu Whitmore is a member of the Angola Prison chapter of the Black Panther Party(BPP) that was first started in the early 1970s by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3. In reply to the students’ question about Whitmore, Cain cited his affiliation with the Angola BPP and expressed concern that Whitmore could spread his beliefs in the prison, sparking violence among inmates. “The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism—I’m not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism,” Cain said. At the time of publication, Whitmore remains in solitary confinement.

Burl Cain’s characterization of the BPP as “advocating violence and racism” is reminiscent of a deposition he gave on October 22, 2008, following Albert Woodfox’s second overturned conviction, where Cain cited Woodfox’s affiliation with the BPP as a primary reason for not removing him from solitary confinement. Asked what gave him “such concern” about Woodfox, Cain stated: “He wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant.” Cain then stated that even if Woodfox were innocent of the murder, he would want to keep him in solitary, because “I still know he has a propensity for violence…he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates.”

(PHOTO: Albert Woodfox, left, with Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, right, in 2009.)

The remarks by Burl Cain in 2008 and 2014 are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to misrepresenting the Black Panther Party. “Until history is accurately told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a result of it,” argues Southern University Law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell in the interview featured below. Her new article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil,” turns the tables on the anti-BPP rhetoric by asking if what the BPP sustained at the hands of government officials is itself akin to domestic terrorism.
In “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained,” Prof. Bell concludes that the US government’s multi-faceted response to the BPP, primarily within the framework of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO, was indeed the very definition of terrorism. Bell writes that “the magnitude of the unwarranted harm done to the BPP has not yet been explored in an appropriate fashion. Much like a fugitive, it has eluded justice.” As a result, “the FBI’s full-scale assault on the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s remains an open wound for the nation itself. This is more than a national tragedy; this is a human wrong.”
 
Several pages of Bell’s new article examine the case of the Angola 3 in the context of the broader government repression faced by the Black Panthers. Bell is no stranger to the Angola 3 case. Her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind,” used the Angola 3 case as a springboard for examining the broader use of solitary confinement in US prisons.
We interviewed Bell previously, following the release of her 2012 law journal article. Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha Two, The Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Art, Dylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas, “We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,” Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy.  

(PHOTO: Billy X Jennings of It’s About Time BPP at the first BPP office in Oakland, CA.)
 
Angola 3 News:         Let’s begin by examining the word ‘terrorist.’ How is this defined?
Angela A. Allen-Bell:            For my article, I accept the view that a terrorist commits atrocities in an attempt to influence the behavior of the general population and the government. Their intended victims are not those they kill or harm, but rather are the government and the millions of people they hope to terrorize into some desired change of behavior. 
The US government’s definition of terrorism is not uniform and varies among different branches of the police, military, and US government. Some suggest that even the best intentions would result in an unclear definition, given the fact that any number of acts could constitute an act of terrorism, including offenses not yet conceived. 

Others suggest the lack of a specific definition is deliberate. In their book, Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror, authors Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. and Aziz Z. Huq suggest terrorism to be nothing more than a “political communications strategy” and a “preexisting neoconservative blueprint for a more interventionist American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.” 

Regardless of the reason for the current difficulty in adopting a uniform understanding of what is meant by ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist,’ the lack of a reliable definition comes at a price. In his article entitled, “A Human Rights Approach to Counter-Terrorism,” Mark D. Kielsgard writes: “On a larger scale, the lack of a definition diminishes the word’s use to a watered-down expression that can mean virtually anything. Allegorically speaking, the terrorist is the new nameless enemy, which to some may include all foreigners, immigrants, welfare recipients, or democrats, to name only a few. Terrorist has become the twenty-first century equivalent of communist, a generic term of derision whether the target perpetrates violence or just maintains a different point of view. It has entered the lexicon as a propaganda tool to label competing ideologies and promote fear and bigotry.”
With this understanding, consumers of information must listen with a discerning ear when these amorphous labels are assigned to the BPP or to other individuals and groups.

A3N:          In your new article you directly confront the mainstream portrayal of the BPP as being a ‘terrorist’ group. Since you conclude that they were not in fact ‘terrorists,’ can you please explain how and why you reached this conclusion?
AB:            From the outset, I wish to note that my responses apply to the Black Panther Party (BPP), not the New Black Panther Party. 
There are several competing reasons in support of my conclusion that the BPP was not a terrorist organization, the first of which involves two official reports issued by bodies acting on behalf of the government. Both reports were based on thorough investigations that included extensive witness testimony.
The Church Committee Report of 1976 established that they were victims of government excesses and the 1971 Report by the Committee on International Security, House of Representatives, entitled “Gun-Barrel Politics,” while having almost nothing positive to say about the BPP, did not find that they had an agenda to kill or harm solely for the purpose of making a political statement and also did not find that they had the means to accomplish this even if such an agenda existed.  Therefore, my first reason for reaching the conclusion that the BPP was not a terrorist organization is the absence of any credible, official findings establishing that they were.
My second reason involves the extensive surveillance used by the government against the BPP. I have reviewed volumes of these declassified documents and have found nothing to support a conclusion that the organization was out to kill or harm in order to make a political point. 
My last reason involves my extensive research on the topic. I have read countless court cases, books, documents, interviews and articles. I have even discussed the topic with BPP members and key figures. In all of this, no credible plot to kill or harm in order to make a political point has ever emerged.  
  
A3N:   If, as you argue, the BPP was not in fact a ‘terrorist group,’ what do you think it was about the BPP that the government actually did feel threatened by? Why did they choose to undertake the well-documented campaign of repression undertaken by the FBI as part of COINTELPRO?
AB:     I once read a book written by a man who inspires others to live life without boundaries or limitations. In this book entitled, Solitary Refinement, Christopher Coleman makes a profound inquiry. He asks: when was the most dangerous time in the life of a slave?
One might think the correct response to be when the slave was caught attempting an escape or when he talked back or disobeyed. However, Mr. Coleman forces us to see past the superficial and argues that the most dangerous time is when the slave actually accepts the fact that he is a slave because, at that very moment, bondage becomes self-inflicted and the slave becomes his own slave master. The slave no longer hopes to or attempts to change his condition. The slave simply decides to be a slave and wishes for nothing greater. 
A liberated mind was really slavery’s greatest enemy and it was ultimately the BPP’s mindset that made the government so uneasy. In my article, I explained: “The BPP did not believe in pleading, begging, praying or patiently waiting for equal rights to be conferred. They felt equality was a birthright, demanding it was a duty, having it delayed was an insult and compromise was tantamount to social and political suicide.” 

They refused to accept inequality and injustice. If they had succeeded in awakening the inner slave in marginalized Americans, there would have been important political change in the US. COINTELPRO was undertaken to prevent these positive changes, to therefore “neutralize” the BPP and to quell their ability to awaken the populace from a self-inflicted state of bondage.

(PHOTO: Important book on COINTELPRO)
A3N:   This leads us to the next core argument of your article: that the US government’s response to the growth of the BPP, largely associated with COINTELPRO, was itself ‘terrorist.’ Can you please explain how and why you reached this conclusion?
AB:     I reach the following conclusion in my article:  “If a domestic terrorist engages in acts that are dangerous to human life and does so on American soil for the purpose of intimidating people or coercing people through mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping, then there is an argument to be made that the BPP is a victim of something akin to domestic terrorism—and perhaps more—and there has been no official accountability.” 
As mentioned in the article, The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism. The first part of the definition requires the existence of an activity occurring primarily within the US. As for establishing an ‘activity,’ the FBI had declared ‘war’ on the BPP. In an effort to establish that the activity occurred primarily within the US, the article mentions that all COINTELPRO activity was first approved by high ranking, executive level officials who were acting under the badge of official authority and as arms of the US government.
The second part of the definition involves acts dangerous to human life. The article documents how every aspect of the government’s covert operations against the BPP was dangerous to human life, including both the lives of the Panthers and the many innocent people who suffered collateral damage. The baseless raids where officers were over armed (such as the raid on the NewOrleans Panthers), the pretextual stops used to justify illegal arrests or to incite violence, and the periods of unjust incarceration were all extremely dangerous to human life. 
The third part of the definition involves a violation of the criminal laws of the United States. The article chronicles a number of official actions that were in violation of criminal laws, such as assassinating individuals who are in no way posing a physical threat, engaging in torture, and manufacturing criminal cases.
The final part of the definition requires that the act appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce civilians, influence government policy by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. Then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover demanded that the FBI “destroy what the [BPP] [stood] for and “eradicate its serve the people programs.” 

My article details the numerous ways this dictate was implemented then found that there “are but a few explanations for the stated techniques and that is to intimidate people into conforming to a single belief system, to influence government policy, by intimidation or coercion, so as to eliminate alternative approaches or to affect the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”


(PHOTO: Important film about COINTELPRO)

A3N:   Along with the story of the NOLA Panthers, you also examine the case of the Angola 3 and the Angola Prison BPP chapter started by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox (Robert King joined the BPP chapter upon arrival at Angola in 1972). Given that the Angola BPP organized non-violent work and hunger strikes, as well as multiethnic and collective self-defense against the widespread rape epidemic, how do these activities contrast with or resemble ‘terrorism?’
AB:     As noted, one aspect of the definition of domestic terrorism is the violation of the criminal laws of the US. The Angola 3 case was used in the article as an illustration of a possible violation of the criminal laws of the US committed by official actors in their terrorism against the BPP. 
The Angola 3’s BPP organizing was behind the walls of Louisiana State Penitentiary (commonly referred to as, “Angola.”). Beginning in the 1960s, at this former slave plantation, select inmates were provided arms and used as guards to oversee inmates working the fields. These inmates were given authority to shoot anyone who stepped outside of an imaginary boundary. 

In addition to this, Angola was segregated in the early 1970s and was the subject of regular litigation. Multiple courts found that state and federal constitutional violations were rampant and violence was comparable to that found in a warring territory.

Instead of engaging in predatory behavior, the Angola 3 courageously chose to teach their newly discovered Panther awareness to fellow inmates. They did this in an attempt to change the culture from one of violence, corruption and predatory behavior to one of mutual respect. They hoped to create a sense of community amongst the men and they hoped to hold the administration to a standard.
They wanted an institution that was safe and one that afforded inmates all the rights promised to them under state, federal and international law. They actively organized against inmate-on-inmate violence and rape. They successfully litigated many favorable changes for prisoners. I have observed many parents thank them for various transforming acts of service done on behalf of other inmates. Their intentions were noble, their efforts were heroic and their accomplishments were far-reaching. In essence, they did for no pay what state officials were paid to do: better conditions behind bars.
The only thing that resembles terrorism in this case is the conduct of some of the government’s official actors, such as the prosecutors who have engaged in years of documented misconduct and those who have engaged in and defended the use of torture.

(Herman Wallace, left, with Albert Woodfox, right)

A3N:   The Angola 3 and supporters have always argued that the convictions of Herman and Albert for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller, were a frame-up orchestrated in retaliation for Herman and Albert’s political activities as BPP organizers. Do you consider this to be a credible argument? Do you consider their convictions and placement in solitary confinement to be politically motivated?
AB:     Yes to both.  One should not overlook the timing of the government’s plot to neutralize the BPP and the timing of the (post-incarceration) convictions of Robert King, Albert Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace. They were openly acting as BPP members at a time when the government was on a mission to neutralize the BPP. 
Years removed, we have learned of many BPP members who were framed for crimes they did not commit and who were subsequently submitted to prolonged solitary confinement while in prison. Some of these are referenced in the article. False convictions were used as a means of neutralization and solitary confinement was used to break their wills and end their activism. This is no longer speculation. This is now a documented fact.
When one looks at the lack of credible evidence in the Angola 3 case and couples it with the public statements of official actors, which cement (not suggest) the belief that the Angola 3 have been treated as inhumanely as they have because of their BPP involvement, one can’t help but entertain the thought that there is more at work than the murder of an innocent guard who was met with a fate he absolutely did not deserve.
(PHOTO: BPP collage by Its About Time BPP.)
A3N:   On a personal level, after researching the BPP and writing your article, what do you find most inspiring about the BPP legacy? What lessons do you think today’s activists can learn from studying BPP history?
AB:     The late Derrick Bell is one of my favorite authors. He teaches that courage can’t be gauged until the act that we think is courageous is viewed in context. Putting the actions of the BPP in its proper social context makes a case for how courageous they were.
They watched Martin Luther King attempt change through nonviolent means. They had seen the emergence of the Deacons for Defense. They had witnessed the Freedom Riders, who were young and innocent children harmed as well as many other protesters who were savagely beaten, killed and/or jailed for doing nothing more than attempting to make America a just place (and doing so in a nonviolent way and without being armed). They knew that law enforcement often acted to uphold segregationist laws and policies. Police regularly treated activists, protestors and those practicing civil disobedience as common criminals and many dished out violence in generous portions at civil rights events. Not intimidated by this, the Panthers still took center stage. They teach us penetrating lessons in courage.
Most of the Panthers were very young. They had nothing more than a thirst for change, a will to work hard in service to others and a commitment to studying other change agents in an effort to craft a strategy for change in this country. They illuminate the point that, to make meaningful and eternal change, one does not have to be a certain age and one does not have to have titles or credentials. They also teach us that world changers can’t be impulsive, reactionary or emotional people. Instead, they must be visionaries and wise strategists who are measured in their reactions and deliberate in their actions. The Panthers were proponents of (legitimate) education and everything they did was done after much study and deliberation. This should not be overlooked.
Most inspiring is their selflessness and genuineness. They served the people out of love. They did not seek payment or votes. They did not come with an agenda. They teach us a lot about our current leaders who will often do nothing without the promise of pay, glory or promotion.     
A3N:   Based upon your research and examination of the topic, why do you think Cain and others like him continue to misrepresent what the BPP was about?
AB:     There is an explanation for why the misrepresentation of the BPP has continued all these years, but it is complex. 
The initial reason for the perception of the BPP being violent and racist is the government itself.  The declassified documents verify that a part of its neutralization strategy was to discredit them in the public’s eye. This was done in an attempt to stop people from joining, following or supporting the party. The article lists the myriad of ways this plan was brought to fruition. One way was to use infiltrators and informants to join the party then have these individuals behave badly and violently so it would appear that the BPP was nothing more than a group of thugs and outlaws. Another way the government contributed to the negative perception of the Panthers is in the way they often responded with exaggerated force where the Panthers were concerned and often initiated violent encounters and when violence erupted, sole fault was assigned to the Panthers. Mainstream history will have you believe they always directed violence towards the police who were always innocent and honorable in their interactions with the Panthers. Evidence simply does not bear this out.
A second reason for the negative image was the media. The declassified documents also establish that certain members of the media worked with the government to publicize only negative images and adverse press about the BPP. It is a known fact that repetition is one of the most effective advertising tools. And so certain media outlets went to work in reporting as much bad as it could and made certain not to air anything positive about the BPP. The impact of this is generations of people who have no idea that the BPP was a service organization that laid the groundwork for many social programs that we currently enjoy, such as community policing, health care for the poor, sickle-cell anemia treatment and testing, free meals in school and food distribution to poor families. Their acts of service to the community was quite extensive—they served as watchdogs over the police, escorts to the elderly, community organizers and a host of other things that are discussed in detail in my article.
The third reason for the misrepresentation is the sanitized history that we are taught in schools.  History has never been presented honestly where the Panthers are concerned. As a result, many people perceive them as an anti-government, violent, gun-toting militia group. The practical impact of this is that anything associated with the BPP is still vilified. We saw this recently in the instances of BPP member Joanne Deborah Chesimard (also known as Assata Shakur) being placed on the terrorist watch list and Debo Patrick Adegbile, a respected lawyer who was never a Black Panther, but he recently suffered the same ostracizing that they have.  As head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he acted on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Panther whose death sentence was recently overturned after spending nearly 30 years in solitary confinement on death row. Senators blocked President Obama’s nomination of Mr. Adegbile to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division because of this.
Until history is accurately told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a result of it. This is exactly why I wrote the article and it is why I am working so passionately on this topic.
(PHOTO: Herman Wallace’s memorial service on Oct. 12, 2013. Image by Ann Harkness)
A3N:   Any closing thoughts?
AB:     Yes, a few brief points.
At the memorial service for the late Herman Wallace, BPP member Malik Rahim commented that we would not see black-on-black crime as we do today if the Panthers were allowed to do the work they started in the community. I would add the same to be true when it comes to many other social ills. Along these same lines, it is quite intriguing that the Panthers started in response to police violence. They often followed police to ensure the public was safe in their interactions with the police. Years removed, we still find ourselves in need of such intermediaries. If their work had not been cut short, would we find ourselves better off?
Redress is broader than justice. I strongly believe redress is in order and I believe we have reached the appointed time. I do not advocate for a monetary payout. I advocate for amnesty, release of BPP members who remain in custody as a result of their BPP involvement, and for the correction and memorializing of history where the BPP is concerned.
I would be honored if folks would read the article in its entirety. I end with this excerpt from the conclusion of my article:
“Of course, this article is written with all the benefits that accompany hindsight. It is only fair to recognize that the government, at the time of the BPPs activism, was littered with competing forces, interests and pressures and the advent of new demands being placed upon it. Not only were these things taxing, but the situation intensified because there were no breaks in tensions. They came simultaneously and in close proximity so as not to allow time for rational thought to take command and there was no precedent to serve as a blueprint. Add to this gumbo mixture, a government being confronted with the likes of the BPP for the first time in history. When one comes to terms with the complexities of the situation and can appreciate how they were magnified by the setting within which these developments unfolded, one is forced to bear a degree of understanding for how such a tragedy was set in motion. While these things must be taken into account if the discussion is to remain honest and impartial, they must not serve as exit points or escape routes for those seeking a way out of this conversation vis-a-via the path of least resistance.”
–Angola 3 News is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com, where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Additionally we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.
(Poster by artist César Maxit)