The System vs. Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt: Why
Mumia Abu-Jamal
July/August 1997

Much of the national media made much of the recent reversal of the murder conviction of former Black Panther official Geronimo ji Jaga (nee E. G.Pratt), after almost 3 decades in California hell-holes.

Few accounts explained why Geronimo was caged, and why the state fought so long and hard to keep him there, even using foul and unfair means to do so.

This writer, who knew Geronimo in his youth, will attempt to do so.

Why would the state of California and the FBI knowingly convict a man of a murder that they knew he didn't commit?

The answer to this conundrum lies less in the realm of the "law" than in the area of politics.

Geronimo's "offense" had nothing to do with murder and everything to do with his political beliefs and activities; he was a Black Panther, and a revolutionary, and therefore, he was a target to be "neutralized," in FBI terms.

In December 1969, the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party was attacked by the heavily-armed L.A.P.D. Geronimo, as the office's Defense Minister, heavily insulated the office against government attack, and a gun-battle ensued, lasting up to 10 hours of urban war.

When the smoke cleared, every Panther emerged alive, thanks to Geronimo's skilled defense work, and military expertise.

Although several Panthers were later beaten by cops (the chapter's Culture Minister had his right hand, his drawing--as in art--hand, broken) none suffered life-threatening wounds, despite hours of being under heavy police automatic fire and bombing by grenades.

Geronimo, who learned the art of war in the rice paddies of Viet Nam,had brought the war--this time, for Black liberation--home, and the state marked him from that day forward.

For his armed defense of the Black Nation (through the Black Panther Party) Geronimo would be hunted, framed and caged in a cruel succession of state gulags for almost 30 years, while an FBI/LAPD/L.A.D.A. (District Attorney) snitch would be massaged into positions of power, prominence and influence over the Black community of LA.

As a Black ex-sheriff, Julius "Julio" Butler knew people in the region's cop community, and used that knowledge to his advantage, as a smart snitch would. Despite felony convictions, the DAs office armed him, and by treating old cases as misdemeanors, opened the doors to law school where Butler won a law degree. Thus equipped, this paid FBI/LAPD/L.A.D.A. informant, standing on the caged back of Geronimo, ascended the leadership of the LA African-American community as he was named a deacon of one of the city's most respected Black churches.

As he rose, the state's judiciary and political establishment stomped on Geronimo again and again and again and again and again--denying him parole, denying post-conviction petitions, denying his habeas writs, setting him up on bogus prison charges, time and time again. By caging this revolutionary, the state killed 3 birds with one stone:

1) the government deprived the Black community of one of its most militant (and militarily skilled) fighters;
2) the government put in place of Black prominence a paid informant; and,
3) the government fractured and dissipated emerging white, progressive support by falsely tying the murder of a Santa Monica school teacher to a known Black Panther, like Geronimo.

It also used the growing paranoia of the late Dr. Huey P. Newton to prevent crucial support from coming to Geronimo's aid in his darkest hour of need.

In a demonstration of admirable, albeit misguided, discipline, almost a dozen Panthers stood by silently while Geronimo was railroaded, as they were under orders from the Supreme Commander to not assist a man who, Huey feared, had defected to the more militant East Coast wing of the Black Panther Party. It would takedecades for them to realize that the East Coast-West Coast split was itself fomented by agents and operatives of the FBI, and finally, like ripe plums, they fell into line, and testified, decades later, to knowing Geronimo was innocent of the Santa Monica murder, as he was some 400 miles away, in Oakland, at the time.

It is easy for us to now celebrate Geronimo's return as a signal victory, and it is. But, we must not stop there.

We must also acknowledge it was a victory for the state which unjustly stole 27 years--half the life--of a man who rightly defended his people from unjust attack. For 30 years the government created a Black "leader" it could work with (a snitch and a lawyer!).

For almost 3 decades the state wiped the field clear of revolutionaries, and allowed gangsters (like Freeway Ricky Ross) to thrive, thus lobotomizing an entire Black generation with a cruel, new form of chemical warfare (until they got tired of them and set them up!).

Because of their efforts, the Black Panther Party is no more. So who won, who lost?

Because of their unprincipled, foul methods, most Black folks hear the word "revolutionary" and think it's a new kind of fabric softener.

Because of their utilization of the law as a tool of white supremacy and as an instrument of crime countless revolutionaries, like Ruchell Magee ("Cinque"), Hugo "Yogi" Pinell, E. Mondo Langa, Delbert, Merle, Phil, Janine, Ed, Janet, Mike, Deb and Chuck Africa, Russell "Maroon" Shoats, Leonard Peltier, Dr. Mutulu Shakur . . . and on and on, languish in American gulags.

For many of them, their trials were about as "fair" as Geronimo's, with "witnesses" just as tainted, and "evidence" just as twisted. So, it is true that Geronimo won a powerful victory.

It is also true that Black America (and, as in Bro. Leonard's case, Native America) suffered, and continues to suffer, a grievous loss, until all political prisoners, and prisoners of war, are free.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an African freedom fighter and journalist on death row in Pennsylvania, framed with killing a police officer. He was targeted by the Philadelphia police department for his criticism of their attacks on MOVE and other political reporting in defense of black people. For more information on his case, write the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, 163 Amsterdam Ave., No. 115, New York, NY 10023-5001. 212-580-1022.

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