The racist frame-up of Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt
James Schmidt

In 1968 Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt returned to the United States after three years in Vietnam. He was 21 years old. The nation he came home to was a very different place from the one he had left, especially for people of African descent. Ten years of agitation for civil rights had opened the floodgates of pride and frustration in Black communities all across America. The hope for freedom represented by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the implementation of major economic reforms was balanced by the more immediate reality of brutal reaction, as the assassinations of both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated. The rising tide of Black revolutionary consciousness was tinged with rage and despair. There were riots and bitter confrontations in cities, towns, and universities from coast to coast.

The forces of conservative reaction, from the media to government law enforcement agencies, sought to exploit this anger and bitterness to their advantage, most notably through the Federal Bureau of Investigations' COINTELPRO campaign of infiltration, lies and murder. When Geronimo Pratt joined the Black Panther Party after moving to Los Angeles and enrolling at UCLA, the government and the media were already hard at work painting a picture of the Panthers and other Black Liberation organizations as hateful, thuggish fringe-dwellers who were out to kill whites. The racist political economy of the U.S. has no room for a pro-active movement that would seek to create social, political and economic self-determination for the nation's Black underclass. Geronimo and his cohorts were not the vicious killers that the authorities portrayed them to be, they were committed revolutionaries who believed in the neccessity of radical social change and principled self-defense. Rather than see the movement grow, the authorities acted out against them with a brutality far exceeding that which they accused the Panthers of, using all manner of deception and violence to achieve their goals.

Geronimo Pratt, targeted along with hundreds of other activists for elimination by COINTELPRO, was framed for the brutal murder of a white school teacher on a Santa Monica, CA tennis court in 1968. This despite the fact that the FBI's own spy records report that he and other BPP members were being watched by the police and the FBI at a meeting in Oakland, 400 miles away from Santa Monica. This along with other crucial information was never made available to Geronimo's defense and he was convicted and jailed in 1971. Since that time the FBI claims to have "lost" all records of that particular surveillance.

In 1973, the government's secret campaign of terror was exposed when anti-war protesters broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and went public with files they discovered that detailed COINTELPRO's plan to "discredit and destroy the Black liberation Movement." After the ensuing uproar and government self-investigation, the passing of the Freedom of Information Act allowed Geronimo to obtain some of the files concerning his case. These files, obtained in 1978, shed some light on the FBI's conspiracy against him. The files revealed that the state's chief witness, Julio Butler, was a paid FBI informant who had met with Bureau representatives 33 times prior to Pratt's trial. They also revealed that FBI informers had been planted on his defense team. Even more crucial was the discovery that the murder victim's husband, Ken Olsen, had identified another man as the killer before recanting and identifying Geronimo; this information had been deliberately withheld from his defense lawyers.

Despite these revelations, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt remains in jail. He is a political prisoner and a prisoner of war. Throughout twenty-fours years of legal appeals and bureaucratic shuffling, all motions for a new trial have been denied, despite overwhelming evidence of misconduct by both the judiciary and the FBI. The government was determined to put Geronimo in jail and they are determined to keep him there, solely because of his political beliefs. He has served more time than murderers and criminals whose guilt was never in question but whose political beliefs constitute no threat to the status quo. As Geronimo himself said in a 60 Minutes TV interview, "If I had done the murder, I'd be out by now." Despite widespread awareness of his case and continued community support, the California Parole Board refuses to release him. The authorities would like to see that Mr. Pratt has been "rehabilitated." They would like to see regret and perhaps a political recantation.

But Geronimo Pratt refuses to apologize for a murder he did not commit. He refuses to renounce his political beliefs. He is committed to the struggle for freedom and justice for Black people and for all people. His case is symbolic of both the brutality of state-sponsored repression and the unyielding spirit of resistance that such repression fosters.

For more information on the case of Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, contact Equal Justice USA at:

Equal Justice USA
P.O. Box 5206
Hyattsville, MD 20782
(301) 699-0042

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