By Sanyika Shakur
Traditionally, the consensus, regarding those captured by the state who belong to organized formations within the New Afrikan Independence Movement, has been to accord them either Political Prisoner (PP) or Prisoner of War (POW) status.
This general consensus usually flows in accordance with the way in which the situation develops – from outside in. Meaning that not until a combatant or activist is has been captured does he/she becomes a POW or PP. This status is representative more so of organizational politics than of any universally accepted or specifically recognized protocol.
There are, however, guidelines and protocol which do exist relative to such prisoners, (1) but all organizations that consider themselves “revolutionary” and “at war with the u.s. government”, don’t accord POW/PP status to their captured constituents.
The POW status usually recognized by the u.s. government develops as a consequence of a war in which the u.s. is losing. It has suffered the capture of a multitude of soldiers by the opposition, such as Viet Nam and North Korea. But when there is domestic or close continental struggle, as is the case with the New Afrikan and Puerto Rican Independence Movements, the u.s. government balks at claims of Political Prisoner and Prisoner of War status.
Such denial is necessary for the u.s. government to disavow. To recognize such claims would be to admit the existence of internal colonies. This would, of course, dispel the facade of a “united states”, just as the national fissures within the Eastern Bloc exploded the myth of a “Soviet Union.” u.s. denial however should have no bearing on Our recognition of those captured while working in the service of freedom.
As a consequence of Our movement not being totally detoxified from anachronistic politics, We tend to look one-sidedly at the scope of POWs and PPs, and the overall importance of their relationship with, and subsequently to, Our struggle for land, independence and socialism.
Beginning, first and foremost, with a view of POWs and PPs which flows only from outside in, is non-dialectical and not truly representative of Our reality. To hold the position that only those captured as conscious combatants or political activists are POWs and PPs is exclusionary and non-dialectical.
For example, Comrade-Brother George Jackson was captured as a common criminal. As a consequence of Our collective neo-colonial relationship with the empire, Comrade George received a one year to life sentence for a $70 robbery. Had Comrade George not transformed his criminal mentality, he could not have become a revolutionary. Moreover, had he not been a revolutionary, a political prisoner, he would not have been charged with the correction of the soldier-cop in Soledad. (2) As a result of the coverage given the Soledad Brothers’ case, Comrade George was contacted by and eventually joined, the Black Panther Party. (3) Thus, he became a Prisoner of War. He became a POW because he was drafted into the military wing of the Black Panther Party as a Field Marshall. (4) As a consequence of the politico-military motives which drove him to be in an almost constant state of direct war with his captors, the Party recognized his status as such.
He became a political prisoner as a consequence of the social relation he conducted daily with prisoners which centered on the seizure and retention of state power. None of this would have been possible, however, had he not overstood the need to transform his criminal mentality. For the criminal mentality is parasitical, predatory and dangerously mercenary.
We need to deal with the facts as confronted in the “real world” and not simply through some virtual reality dreamscape. We need to overstand that literally We all are in custody. That’s what colonialism means. As such, We are prisoners in a general penitentiary, a socio-economic lockdown, complete with twenty-five foot philosophical walls, topped by ideological razorwire, and ringed by guntowers armed with theoreticians who aim to disable and kill.
This is the collective reality of Our lives here in amerika, where Our social and productive forces are held in partial paralysis through neo-colonialism. As a consequence of this, Our whole lives are essentially political, governed by relations We conduct daily and which ultimately center on the seizure and retention of state power. Forms of this quest for “state power”, i.e., freedom, take on two distinct patterns: One is a desire to join with those responsible for the maintenance of the oppressive system – the general penitentiary – thinking that it’s not the system that is corrupt, but rather the administrators. Therefore, a mere shuffling of seats will remedy the ailment. So they think.
The other line has been clearly to raze the tenets of the administrators and escape the oppressive confines of the general penitentiary; erect a new socialist society and get on with life. Of course, these two lines represent the difference between reform and revolution, neo-colonialism and independence.
When combatants or political activists who belong to organized formations within the New Afrikan Independence Movement are captured, they are necessarily accorded POW or PP status. This is both tactical and strategic. We see Ourselves as citizens of the Republic of New Afrika, as revolutionaries consciously engaged in the War of Independence against the amerikan settler government. To recognize Ourselves as POWs and PPs is to acknowledge the essence of Our struggle. The struggle between two nations – between two systems of social organization and political economy. (5)
Moreover, We need to include into Our overstanding of the above, what myself and a few others have called the George Jackson Phenomenon. Whereas, common criminals can/have, through arduous study and struggle, transformed their mentalities into productive mindsets with proletarian consciousness, working in concert with organized formations to rebuild and free the land. There was Brotha Andaliwa Clark, who Sundiata Acoli (a New Afrikan Prisoner of War) called “a revolutionary par excellence.” (6) He was murdered by soldier-cops in an escape attempt from Trenton State Prison in 1976. Andaliwa became a political prisoner while in prison. This is equally true for Shaka Shakur in Indiana; Gaidi Olugbala, Talib Kashif Shakur, and myself here in California. The list is quite extensive.
What We are calling the George Jackson Phenomenon is actually the recognition and transformation of the criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality. This is what Comrade George himself went through and then attempted to guide others through. Comrade George said:
“i met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao… and they redeemed me. For the first four years, i studied nothing but economics and military ideas… We attempted to transform the black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality.” (7)
Comrade George was “redeemed” from criminality through study and struggle. He then “attempted to transform” others who were still afflicted by criminality. To “attempt to transform” means a recognition of and therefore an overstanding of how a situation occurred, and subsequently, a practical method for its resolution. His position on this was:
“Prisoners must be reached and made to understand that they are victims of social injustice. This is my task working from within (while I am here, my persuasion is that the war goes on no matter where one may find himself (herself) on bourgeois-dominated soil). The sheer numbers of the prisoner class and the terms of their existence make them a mighty reservoir of revolutionary potential. Working alone and from within a steel-enclosed society, there is very little that people like myself can do to awake the restrained potential revolutionary outside the walls. That is part of the task of the Prison Movement.” (8)
Before Comrade George “met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao”, he was still, while in prison, a common criminal, engaged in parasitical activity on the prison yard, banging with the Wolf Pack. (9)
The title of POW and PP serves to educate and inform the observer as to the degrees of struggle We are engaged in. Briefly then, a POW is a combatant functioning within one of the armed formations of the New Afrikan Independence Movement who, as a consequence of a blunder or superior fire power of the state’s forces, is captured.
A Political Prisoner is a cadre/activist belonging to one of the organizations within the Movement who, as a result of their political activity has been captured by the state. Overstanding, as We do, that all truly anti-imperialist activity, whether one is carrying a picket sign, a shovel or a gun, is illegal activity, which could lead one to the cellblocks. Likewise, a POW or a PP can be an individual educated and transformed while already in prison after having joined one of the organized formations representing the nation, e.g., Adaliwa Clark, Shaka Shakur, etc.
The amerikan imperialists use conspiracy laws and criminal slogans to euphemize the reality of Our struggle as a tactic to forestall awareness regarding Our Independence Movement. Comrad-Brotha Kusasi Balagoon, Black Liberation Army Soldier, was captured in 1981 as a consequence of an expropriation which went wrong. The kourts insisted on trying him as a common criminal in spite of the fact that he clearly was a revolutionary. In his opening statement, Kuwasi Balagoon exclaimed:
“I am a Prisoner of War and I reject the crap about me being a defendant, and I do not recognize the legitimacy of this court. The term defendant applies to someone involved in a criminal matter, in an internal search for guilt or innocence. It is clear that I’ve been a part of the Black Liberation Movement all of my adult life and have been involved in a war against the American Imperialists, in order to free New Afrikan people from its yoke.” (10)
In another kourtroom, Comrade Sekou Odinga, Black Liberation Army soldier, charged in the same Brinks case, but given a R.I.C.O. (Racketeering Influence Corrupt Organizations) indictment, said before being sentenced:
“I am a Prisoner of War, a Freedom Fighter against the fascist government of the United States. Both me and you, judge, know you represent the lawless government, so do what you want to. Others will keep fighting to free the land and for our own independent Nation of New Afrika.” (11)
The u.s. prosecutor, Edmund Alekesey, called Comrad-Brotha Sekou, “the top criminal in the country.” (12) Dr. Mutulu Shakur similarly filed a Prisoner of War Petition following his capture in Los Angeles in 1986, but was likewise denied by the u.s. kourts who proceeded to try this New Afrikan patriot as a common criminal. In his POW Petition, Dr. Mutulu Shakur wrote:
“Given the body of factual data in defendant’s affidavit about the war against New Afrikans and the Black Liberation Movement, and the massive documentation the Church Committee revealed that chronicled the government’s “secret war” involving the Army, the CIA, the FBI the IRS and the state and local police against the Black Liberation Movement, such actions taken against any foreign nation would clearly constitute overt “acts of war”, in international law. Any person captured would be considered a prisoner of war. Protocol I would accord such individuals involved in internal conflicts the status of Prisoners of War. BLA communiques issued at the time stated there was a war, and the government treated the situation as a war, and the United States Senate’s failure to ratify the Protocols does not preclude this court from investigating the issue of the true nature of the accused prisoner’s status. The government insists that the judiciary must defer to the political branch because the President and Congress alone can exercise the power to declare war. But the massive actions directed against the New Afrikan Movement and people demonstrate that the Executive Branch has already declared war. Further, not part of the United States regular force, the legal requirements for an internationally recognized armed conflict have not been met. This self-serving statement shot within two days in 1971 by the Black Liberation Army. Afterwards, President Richard Nixon called a White House meeting of internationally-renowned experts on urban guerilla warfare. As a consequence of that meeting, a Pentagon desk on urban guerilla warfare was established. The President was kept informed on developments in the case.” (13)
While the reality of the matter speaks for itself, the virtual reality imposed by the u.s. imperialists gets into an altogether different mold.
“Tradition” sometimes translates into dogma, and tends to authenticate itself through longevity. What We need to overstand is the fluid reality of Our situation not just vis-a-vis the empire, but within the realm of the social development We create. Prisoners of War, as well as Political Prisoners do not and will not flow only from one direction, but will develop in accordance with the dialectic within which they exist – both from inside and out. The point is to support Our captured combatants and Political Prisoners unconditionally because they’ve stood up consciously in defense of Our freedom, against the national assault on Our existence.