We still have political prisoners in the U.S. from the Nixon Era
One of them is my friend
Ever since the start of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has invited comparisons to authoritarian figures in history.Richard Nixon is currently enjoying favor in the media because of their shared obsession with law and order, White House leaks, and hatred of journalists.
But before the punditry glibly snags another Trump twin from its Arcade Claw Machine of Despotism, I’d like it to focus, really focus, on Nixon and the COINTELPRO era of law enforcement, because we still have political prisoners in the United States serving sentences due to the legal abuses from that era.
And one of them is my friend, Jalil Muntaqim.
As has been amply documented by authors like Peter Matthiessen, Ward Churchill, Betty Medsger and documentaries like COINTELPRO 101, the FBI under Nixon targeted activists who were part of movements like the Black Panthers, and the American Indian Movement (AIM), infiltrating their activities, often marking them for assassination.When they fought back, their experience with the judicial system was one marked by the government’s illegal tampering with evidence and with witnesses lying to judges.
In Jalil’s case, the tampering in his trial and his co-defendants for murdering two police officers involved inconsistent evidence from three witnesses, the recanted testimony of one witness who was intimidated into cooperating, the suppressed exculpatory FBI ballistics test on a .45 caliber weapon seized after he and his co-defendant Albert Washington were arrested and the perjured testimony of NYPD detective George Simmons concerning the test. The Nixon tapes contain a record of a secret White House May 26, 1971 meeting in which Richard Nixon, John Erlichman, FBI Director Herbert Hoover, and others named the murders “NEWKILL,” (for “New York killings”). Those involved with the case of Jalil and his co-defendants believe they decided to blame them on Black Panther Party (BPP) members as part of the COINTELPRO conspiracy to destroy them.
While the 1975-76 Senate Church Committee hearings disclosed some of the abuses of COINTELPRO and other intelligence agencies, it never sought redress for those prisoners framed by the FBI’s manipulations of the justice system.
So Jalil and the other COINTELPRO targets are still in prison.Why?Because the Judges that put them there refused to grant appeals and because parole boards are made up largely of law enforcement personnel, who almost never vote for the parole of prisoners involved in the death of other law enforcement personnel. And they have a powerful lobby when it comes to petitioning governors and presidents against clemency.
Any other prisoner serving twenty-five years to life with Jalil’s record would have been paroled long ago.While in prison he has graduated with a BS in psychology and a BA in Sociology, taught computer skills to prisoners, and helped them get their GEDs.He has twice received commendations for quelling prison riots and was recognized by the Deputy Superintendent of Auburn Prison for his efforts to raise inmate funds for the Red Cross after 9/11.From prison he has also co-sponsored a Victory Gardens project, enlisting Maine farmers to distribute produce to poor urban New York New Jersey and Boston communities.
Think of what this man could have done if he had not spent the last 45 years in prison.
I saw Jalil last weekend.He had been transferred from Attica to a super max facility near the Pennsylvania border because he had been teaching a class in Black History and had compared, unfavorably, the Crips and the Bloods gang membersto the Black Panthers.He noted how the former were not invested in supporting their communities while the Panthers’ raison detre was uplifting their neighborhoods.Somehow, the prison authorities took from this bit of pedagogy that Jalil was promoting gang warfare.Attica is refusing to release the tape of the session, which Jalil is certain will exonerate him—but it is in the hands of his lawyer now.
We asked him why he thought Obama, during his last days in office, had pardoned Oscar Lopez Rivera, targeted by COINTELPRO because of his activism for Puerto Rican independence and not AIM activist Leonard Peltier, also a COINTELPRO victim.(Jalil, convicted on a state offense, is not eligible for federal pardon.) Jalil thought Jimmy Carter appealing for Lopez Rivera probably had something to do with it.However, he thought that it probably had more to do with the quantity of votes Puerto Ricans had to offer the Democratic Party versus the quantity of votes Indigenous people have to offer.
I have followed the Free Peltier Campaign for some time on social media, and my heart broke in January for Peltier and all the dedicated activists, when they found out that Obama would not pardon Peltier, who is quite ill.They viewed Obama’s decision as a death sentence.
Because, of course, no one has any illusions that Trump will respond to appeals for political prisoners.This is a man who still claims the Central Park 5 are guilty despite the fact they were all exonerated after DNA proved them innocent and the actual rapist confessed to the crime.