27-year political prisoner invites students to join struggle
March 1998

Last year Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt was released from prison after 27 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. The government which prosecuted him knew he did not commit the crime, because their own surveillance records showed that he was attending a Black Panther Party meeting hundreds of miles away at the time. The effectiveness and popularity of the Black Liberation Movement which Geronimo Pratt was a part of was so threatening to the white power structure that they fabricated a case against him--and many others--in an effort to crush the movement. The Los Angeles prosecutor's office is still trying to lock him up again.

Geronimo Pratt spoke to an audience of about 300 at the University of Florida February 23. The event was organized by the Black History Month committee. During his introduction, the question was posed, "How did he endure? What did he draw on? What is the spirit in this man? This is what we need to tap on. His humility, his incredible strength. 27 years."

What follow are excerpts from his talk:

I always tell people wherever I go that I'm not a speaker. I didn't come out of prison to go around the country to do that. But I was asked by my comrades, brothers and sisters who are still incarcerated to try to carry certain messages to you, so please bear with me as I try to convey these things that are very important.

On March 27, there's a call for everyone who loves justice and humanity to converge on Washington, D.C. It's called a Jericho March. The concept came from a brother named Jalil who's doing 99 years in prison in New York--a very brilliant brother--to bring home the question once and for all, and the answer to the question of political prisoners and prisoners of war in this country, to the United States, so that they will be forced to face the reality, before the United Nations and all other forums, that there are in fact political prisoners and prisoners of war in this country. They are in fact victims of some of the most cruelest torture which you can ever imagine. And we are going through it right now, I went through it, and it will continue, and you will go through it, once you become a victim of their machine. So we encourage you to show up, show support, in whatever way you can for this demonstration March 27.

The other message that I like to keep at the forefront of my remarks is about a brother who's on death row in Pennsylvania named Mumia Abu-Jamal. He's on death row, facing the gallows, for something that everybody in the community know he didn't do. Just like everybody knew I didn't do the murder. People on the streets know. You all know, you're from the streets.

To tell you a little bit about Mumia, back when we were organizing certain sections of the Black Panther Party, we went to Philadelphia. We ran into this young, beautiful brother, whose name is Mumia. He was one of the youngest members of the entire party, and one of the most intelligent, precocious... He excelled, he rose through the ranks of the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Culture, he's such a likeable, personable--if you knew this brother you would know he couldn't do anything like this.

He was framed, if you check his records, check the trial transcript. Judge Sabo, the hanging judge, sentenced [him] to death in a matter of hours. So I wanted to bring that to you that we cannot let them kill Mumia. The brother professor mentioned a lot of beautiful names, there are a lot more, Mumia, Mutulu, Marilyn Buck, Linda Evans, Susan Rosenberg, on and on and on, Leonard Peltier, who in my 27 years I knew--just like I'm talking to you all--never committed a crime, only are in prison because of political reasons. But the United States refuses to recognize the fact that they have political prisoners. So that's a problem, that's a problem that we have to deal with.

Now that I've delivered those messages, I can get back to my element, and what I am more comfortable in, and that's telling you, first of all, I give these messages to you, but I don't want you to confuse anything about me, or about our ideology, with having any kind of faith in this system.

The brothers asked me to do this, they asked me to talk to the Congressional Black Caucus, I've done that. I talked to Minister Farrakhan, I've talked to Jesse Jackson, I've talked to the brother from the NAACP, Mfume,[and] Maulana Karenga, and I've been giving them the message. But what I believe is that power concedes nothing without a demand. They know they have political prisoners, they know we didn't commit a crime, so what's all this demonstration about? Well I support it and I encourage you to support it...

We were down here in Miami, in St. Pete, Ocala, all throughout here organizing. You had some of the strongest organizations in our movement, back in the '60's, from Florida. In the rich history that's here, with the Maroons, with our ancestors, with the Seminoles ... But we are too quick and too often ignorant of these facts, and we get cut off from it, and next thing you know you're just running around like a chicken with your head cut off because you are not moored in your historical reality. We had an organization in Florida called JOMO, that stood for Junta of Military Organizations. It was a conglomeration of groups, all up and down the peninsula, which were very progressive, very beautiful in leading the struggle for liberation, and not only for Black liberation, but for all oppressed peoples struggles against an evil system of exploitation.

OK, now history tells you that we were at the forefront of that struggle, that we bore the brunt of that repression, and it's true. But history lies to you when it tells you that it was the Black Panther Party that bore that brunt by itself. Everywhere I go I like to correct that, because the Black Panther Party was not that important to the overall struggle for liberation. ...I'm from Louisiana, I grew up in segregation and we were born into a struggle. My uncle comes from the [United Negro Improvement Association's] Legionnaires, Marcus Garvey's old Legionnaires. ...When Emmett Till was killed, I was eight years old, just coming in to understand when I saw the elders arm themselves throughout the community. I went to Vietnam, I went to the army first. I was sent to the Army. I wanted to go to Grambling, Southern, I wanted to compete playing FAMU over there. We used to watch them coming out of the huddle like a snake, The Rattlers. Florida A&M had the best marching band back in the day. People think it was Southern and Grambling, it wasn't, it was FAMU, the Rattlers. ... It was segregation--it was like a black nation. That's what I grew up in...

It was 17 of us finished school. Out of the 17, 6 were guided into the armed forces by our elders. We listened to our elders, we obeyed our elders. I wanted to go play football, but I went into the Army because the preceeding protectorate of the community were getting old, the old Korean War vets. They needed some new, fresh blood, to go get some training. Even though we all grew up hunting, coons, rabbit, I got my first pair of shoes selling coons and rabbit and selling catfish, but that wasn't enough. So we went into the service. It wasn't no patriotism. We're dealing with truth. I don't lie. People write articles about me and I read them and I say, wow, I was never patriotic to this country. I was patriotic to my elders, they say go get the training, I went and got the training, I ended up in Vietnam. They didn't know I was going to end up there. [Two died and] the rest of us came back.

When I got back, Martin Luther King was just killed, and the elders... that was their king. Malcolm was our king, Martin Luther King was their king, the king of the elders. We were youngsters. We didn't like what Martin Luther King was doing. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not saying we were glad when King got killed, cause we respect our elders. But [when King was killed] the elders took off the chains, took off the leashes. I come back from Vietnam, I followed orders when I went and organized the Black Panther Party's Ministry of Defense. I was following orders when I went and worked with the Republic of New Afrika's Legionnaires, and on and on and on.

But to write history, and to just confine it to this one little organization, who really can't be defined. How can you define the Black Panther Party? It consisted of various ministries. It had the Ministry of Culture (Emory Douglas), the Ministry of Information (Eldridge Cleaver), the Ministry of Religion (Father O'Neill), had the Ministry of Education (George Murray, and later on Masai Hewitt)--you had various ministries of people who had come from all types of organizations to meet at this forefront--that's why it was called a vanguard. But we never tripped on names.

I come from the swamps of Louisiana, I grew up fighting the Klan--I don't bite my tongue--with guns. We were sent into these urban areas in which we didn't want to go. I'm a country boy, I don't like cities. And we'd sit and we'd talk and we'd explain things to these guys in the cities, and we told them how we did it. They were riding around in Cadillacs, they wanted women, dope, we didn't want none of that. We had different values. I didn't want no money, I don't want none today. No fame, no fortune, I say that everywhere. That's why I say, please don't ask me for no autograph--that hurts my feelings. You catch a guy telling you he's for your people and for the struggle and he's running around giving autographs. He's advancing himself, he's promoting himself, he's not promoting the struggle. So it's not about personalities, it's about priniciples. And this is what we went to prison for, this is what we died for. It's serious.

We had the wherewithal to take over Washington, D.C., militarily. But we were held in check by our elders. We didn't like it, but we obeyed them, their wisdom, their knowledge. So this is why I bring you these messages, because I have to bow down to the wisdom of the elders. But I also have to keep you alert to the fact that in any nation around the world, when the incarceration rate--let's just deal with that fact alone--is as high and as such as it is in the New Afrikan reality in this country, any nation in the world would have long ago called martial law, state of emergency.

It's a shame that you've got these young brothers and sisters coming in these prisons for nothing. And you're sitting out here looking for jobs at these new prisons they're building cause they've got fat paychecks. That's a shame. They're killing the brothers in there... Brothers come in, well this brother's got 25 years to life, he got 40 years--for one little error, for one little mistake. Then I've got my white partners over there doing 4 5 years, got busted with the powder...

With all these new prisons they've got now, you've got to watch out for it being a breeding ground for COINTELPRO stooges, because the new maximum security prisons, it's weird, the way they're manipulating young minds and have them so fearful of the powers that be, the next thing you know, they're snitching.

When I went to the pen, I worked in LA--and I'm not from LA, please don't say that--I hear that LA Panther and all--I only went and helped the Panthers build their military and their Ministry of Defense, that's all I did. And I wasn't by myself ... you know of Assata Shakur, Afeni Shakur, Tupac's mother, a lot of us worked in the Ministry of Defense, to build this. I worked in New York, in Philly and down here way more that I worked in Los Angeles. But just because we had shootouts in LA--we had shootouts in Seattle, right there in New Orleans--that's because we don't write our own history. It's not really that important but I just like to try to straighten up facts cause I don't like to be given credit for something I didn't do, you know, if I did it I'm going to tell you I did it.

We advocated armed struggle. And we saw the need to pick up the gun, and we did that, in protective ways. We had to do it within the confines of legality. So we had another straitjacket on us. So our war college was one of the sharpest in existence, because we had to prepare our people, train our soldiers to do this, do that, and yet be held in check by this force, and then further be held in check by another force, because you had to operate within the realm of legality... But what you see in the history books, with the Panthers marching, when we went into Sacramento with guns, all that was legal. It was all within the confines of their domestic law.

But [FBI head] J. Edgar Hoover was playing by a different set of rules. We didn't know it, we were young and naive, but we suspected it. So he unleashed what you now know as COINTELPRO, a psychological warfare strategy that proved to be pretty effective. Not totally. And it's worthy of study. It's worthy because these new prisons, like I mentioned to you earlier, are being used to turn our young brothers and sisters into zombies, straight zombies, to come out and do the bidding of ol' massa. You've got to watch them. You've got to watch your enemy within. I'm not trying to get nobody to be paranoid. But you've got to watch because you've got people "in power," who like to play games with people's lives. All working people know that.

You know, we had to study all that, the struggle of the proletariat, the struggle of the lumpenproletariat, the struggle of the bourgeoisie, we were talking earlier about all of the doctrines we had to study, and then at night we had to patrol the police and then in the mornings we had to feed children. It was a constant thing. When you're serious about liberation, this is nothing unusual. So this is why I like to encourage youngsters wherever I got to understand that it ain't all about just picking up the gun, shooting, that's the easiest thing, I mean the stupidest thing. The hardest thing is to study, to go in those books, and to understand what the hell you're fighting for, who the enemy is. You have to first define the enemy. You talk about the white folks this the white folks that--the white folks ain't your enemy. Your enemy has to be clearly defined. We got some of the most beautiful allies, comrades, kinfolk in our history that you call white. ... You forget about John Brown ...

Brother talked about Harriet Tubman, but you don't mention Levi Coffin, Fairbanks, Torrey, Rev. Torrey who went to prison for 17 years, all these people I just mentioned are white people, before slavery ended, he went to prison for 17 years in Kentucky, because he wouldn't tell them where the slaves went when he smuggled them through. Levi Coffin started the underground railroad that Harriet Tubman used. She couldn't buy no house. So we have to be very careful, and I could go on and on down the line, how we define our enemies. One of my greatest heroes right now is in prison right there in Pleasantown, California, Marilyn Buck. Now if you hear her story you'd probably just go busting walls down. One of the most beautiful persons I've ever known in my life.

So define your enemies and know who to attack, else you'll find that you're attacking your own friends and allies, and that's what COINTELPRO is all about, confusing you to attack the wrong person, misguided aggression. Be very wary of everything you hear, especially rumors and gossip, cause that's the main tool that they're using.

I wanted to touch on and go into detail a little bit about the role of the students in the Black Liberation Movement, the Native Liberation Movement, the Mexicano Liberation movement and all liberation movements of the '60's. It was central. It's was central because that's where our intelligence came from, the students. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which later became the Student National Coordinating Committee--we didn't like the 'nonviolent'--Stokely Carmichael, who is now Kwame Ture (who I was with last night, beautiful brother, who now has prostate cancer.) SDS, Students for a Democratic Society which later spawned the Weather Underground, some beautiful comrades who fought and took up arms against the system like we did, Puerto Rican Students that went into the Young Lords. Students.

SNCC was so important to our development that you cannot explain our history, and any organization from the Panthers to the ... NAACP without mentioning SNCC. That's where we got our brainpower. The students had time to sit there and study all of these doctrines, all of this dogma, all of this ideology while we're out there smoking weed, dropping reds and drinking wine. You know, we were street people, you see what I'm saying? The students come out and they shared their intelligence with us, and that's what led to us having to sit down and hold PE [Political Education] classes everyday.

I laugh because it was a struggle, it wasn't easy. You're talking about transforming a gangster mentality into a revolutionary mentality, and that was our task. Again, the most organized groups in the inner cities are gangs, so we'd go in and we'd transform them into revolutionaries, and it wasn't easy. And then eventually they're feeding children and they're sitting down reading books. And that's why I'm laughing because some of them ended up being the most beautiful people you could ever imagine, the kind of people that would give their life for you, without question, and would fight and fight and fight, be driven underground, be sent overseas ... that would go to prison and stay there for the rest of their life, without breaking, without snitching without doing nothing but being that soldier for you, without asking nothing, don't send me no money ... I need some, I could use some, but you're struggling and you've got a family. That's the kind of person I'm talking about.

We never asked anybody to go around saying "Free Geronimo." That was people out there being concerned. Half the time I didn't even know it. Back when I was in the hole you didn't have no TVs and radios, they were still whipping you with axe handles. We didn't have no toilet to sit on, we had a hole in the floor. Didn't have no bed to lay on. Right there in San Quentin, it wasn't that nice and it's still going on today. These are the kind of people that I carry a message to you from. They just want you to know the message, but they are content within themselves, if they die there, they will die there, struggling for what they believe in. Based on a principle that's worth dying for.

In every war, both parties, the first thing they ask for when the war is over is "I want my POWs back." These sisters and brothers have been fighting for you, for years and years, and you're out here looking at some soap operas, or want to go to a mall. They didn't even have malls when I went to the pen. What is going on? You're disrespecting your elders, you're disrespecting the women, you come up with this macho attitude. You have to respect, learn to respect so that you can become an active participant in a positive way, whatever you want to do. And we have to focus on tearing down those prisons.

Prisons are not necessary. It may seem strange to you to be saying that, with all the stuff that you hear on the news, but I truly believe that prisons are not necessary, and we can have a society that doesn't require prisons. Prisons are built by a system that profits, that thrives off of that kind of exploitation ... People are profiting from your daughters and your sons and your uncles and your daddies' lives. They're profiting from it. And the very people who build them... even involve you in stocks and bonds to build new prisons. You know, the trappings and the manipulations of capitalism. It's vicious. And it's more vicious when you're a victim of it. Now you're on the other side of it, you're like OK, and you get in your $100,000 car and get in your jacuzzi and all that, but like we said in the '60's, y'all enjoying it now, but the bourgeois bubble of boundless bliss is bursting, that's what Bunchy [Carter] used to say.

You got people struggling and dying in there. Right before I left--like, I haven't been out a year yet, you got these police--we call them pigs--in the gun tower. A young brother... he stands up arguing and the next thing you know pow! the whole back of the head of the brother was blown away. Pig in the gun tower shot him in the head and blew all his brains out. Nobody threw a punch.

They're killing the brothers and sisters in there. Those brothers don't need that, I don't care what they did out there. You're sending your sons and daughters to that system. It's like slavery, you might as well say, "Here, Massa, here's my son and daughter, best of luck." You got to struggle with those kids--don't send them in there to me--I got enough problems in there... The brothers that have been there 20 to 30 years, they're trying to help themselves, they got 50--right now we've got 60, 70, 80,000 black youngsters--on your back, cause they didn't have no father figures. They come in prison, we're the father figures, we teach them right from wrong, but you can do it out here. Those are some beautiful, beautiful young brothers and sisters.

Somebody who goes to trial who has money, when they go to trial they say, "Well, I ate a Twinkie, I ate some candy and that's why I assasinated two public officials," in the case of Dan White. The man didn't commit murder, he committed assasination. He came to prison for what? Four years. And I'm sitting in there, I'm going on my 20-something year and I've got to sit and look at this. Right before your face they're doing it to you. Your son, or your daughter, if they do something like that, they're going to the gas chamber or the electric chair. It's a double standard, a triple standard, and we have to put a stop to it. This whole prison-industrial complex is a scheme to make rich people richer, and the poor people dead, poor and exploited. We know what's going on.

This is a very serious thing. It should be a state of emergency. Especially to the Black nation in this country, it should be a state of emergency. Especially in the Hispanic nation, especially in California, and parts of NY and Chicago, what's going on on the streets, the frame-ups, the set-ups, and the foul-up in the courts. We can see a big black judge sentencing this beautiful young brown brother to prison for the rest of his or her life... A few weeks later that same judge's niece or nephew is writing me or writing somebody and he's saying, look I need some help, I'm in trouble, and then they realize they're not immune from it either.

But they're so many that's expendable. Ol' Massa say, OK, get rid of them, we'll get another one out of university right here in Gainesville. I went to UCLA, I saw the CIA recruiting there, you've heard of COINTELPRO, the FBI's program against a legitimate liberation, freedom struggle--but you haven't heard much about CHAOS, which was the CIA's operation against these movements. Now you've got to ask yourself, What the hell is the CIA doing involved in our constitutionally protected rights--what is the CIA doing involved in operation CHAOS, in case you want to look it up. This is a university, look it up. Check everything out you hear. This is after years and years and years of study, what I tell you. Operation CHAOS was the CIA's operation against our movement. It's in the Church Committee's report, and it's a shame.

Nixon, the biggest criminal in the country goes to San Clemente and we go to San Quentin. It don't add up. We didn't commit a crime. All we did was want to feed some children, wanted to stop the pigs from shooting some brothers in the community--with our guns, legally. We stood 20 feet away. We would tell him look, you stop him, give him the ticket and get on, because we don't believe that you should be in our communities. We believe that you are an occupying force, just like we were in Vietnam, occupying a foreign country. We can police our own communities, we can govern ourselves. If you want to work with us, work with us through all the established bureaus, just don't come and impose yourself on us and end up shooting our children because you said this 9 year old kid stole a candy bar out of a liquor store. That's what we were about, and that's what we still should be about.

But America is enjoying an economic boom, and you are enjoying the spoils of that, the crumbs off ol' massa's table, but you wait until that boom ends, like in the '60's, the economic depression, very important for you to study economic determinisms, for you to realize how your lives are being shaped by this economic order.

When you hear somebody tell you, well, this guy did a drive-by shooting down there in Liberty City, and the bullet went astray and it killed this person and that person, now are you going to call them a political prisoner? Yes. Because if that same person would've been raised in Beverly Hills, would've been given the proper nutrition, instead of eating off the street, candy bars, fast food--all that has to do with your violence potential--would've been given the proper ethics, the proper morals, then that person would not have done that. So it's a mismanagement in society, an economic depravity there that this person is the victim of. You can't understand anything in isolation. That's why Dan White could very well have killed those two people because he ate too many Twinkies. There's always extenuating circumstances, but no-one cares about the extenuating circumstances when it comes to us, they only care about it when it comes to this multimillionaire that killed that wrestler. Where's he at? He's in a mental institution. The boy that shot Reagan, where is he at? ... Patty Hearst, where's she at?

Police state, police power, creating a monster that you can't control. It's all around you. And until you wake up to it, you're going to continue to be victims of it, your children are going to continue to be victims of it, until it all eats up on itself. It's a very cruel, uncivilized, savage way of existence, and it's going to come to a head. It's coming to a head right now in those prisons, and it's a damn shame because everyone learns, after you do 2 or 3 years you begin to understand that, man I attack the guards, I attack the police ... but it's just like if sombody sics their dog on you, are you going to go around the rest of your life hating that dog? Those police are trained to attack you. So yeah, we were young and crazy, we wanted to shoot 'em all up until we began to realize that, hey, they are victims too, stupid so-and-sos, they are victims, too.

But you got to wake them up to that fact, that they're being used by the same enemy, we all have the same enemy, and he is so adept at dividing us and making us get at each other, viciously. If he's not using racism he's using some kind of economic pimp game or scam or scheme or some kind of cultural manipulation and we all constantly become steady victims of it, when all we've got to do is open our eyes and study, study, study. So that's the main message I wanted to get across to students, you have to provide intellegence to the movement. We're like blind men groping in the dark, like Mao Tse-Tung used to say.

We would've never even cared to look at no Mao Tse-Tung, the dudes we were dealing with would've called him a squeegee-eyed Chinese and here they were later worshipping the man because they studied him. They studied Nkrumah, they studied Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Teles, Anaxamander, all the way down the line and then it came full circle--that the studies that we were doing, that were kind of bifurcated--hooked right up because it all began with the Egyptian Mysteries in Africa, and the circle was complete. It's very beautiful.

When we talk about being serious about a nation, I'm not caring about no Black Panther Party or no NAACP or no Democratic Party, I'm caring about liberating a nation of people so they can be able to govern themselves once and for all--that's all I care about. We have never been given the chance to vote, ever, since slavery supposedly have ended... We've never been asked, what did we want to do? We never took an oath of citizenship. Frederick Douglass by then had gotten kind of old, his ideology had gotten kind of screwed, and he was confused, he was saying maybe we should assimilate, but the vast majority of newly freed slaves were ready to govern themselves, and they were doing it all throughout Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, until the Hayes-Tilden Compromise, 1877...

[But] they had not prepared themselves in protective ways enough yet. Well, if you're not familiar with the Hayes-Tilden Compromise, Rutherford B. Hayes struck a deal with Senator Tilden from Florida, I believe it was 1877, it was supposed to have sounded the death knell of Reconstruction. That's when--all the slaves are free--they pull all the Union soldiers out of the South. When they pulled the Union soldiers out of the South that left the newly-freed slaves defenseless. So yeah, we love Frederick Douglass, but we also love rebels, we also love ... the concept of a person running themselves, calling their own shots.

So you hear this whole thing about 'Messiah,' J. Edgar Hoover talking about a black Messiah, where we don't want a Black Messiah to rise up and lead them to the promised land. We don't even think in those concepts any more. That's an old biblical concept that will get you trapped and keep you in trouble. If we would not have been thinking that way we would not have listened to old brother Frederick, who had done so much. ... We would have stuck to our guns, listening to what we knew would have been right. But because of that personality, we confused it with the principle. So no, we're not raising no black messiah. We're raising a trillion black messiahs, Mexican messiahs, Indian messiahs--you cut off this head, you got a bunch more to cut off. Don't get hung up in their rhetoric and thinking that it has to apply to your reality. Define your own reality, that's what we have to do.

So I can't stress enough the need for students to bust them books open and to get at us with some new knowledge, because the world is constantly changing, it's spiraling, and minds are getting old and tired and we need younger blood.

We don't care about color when it comes to defeating a monster such as this. We just want to defeat him. All ideas that you come up with, please bring them forward. You have soldiers ready to carry out a lot of orders. But we don't want them to carry them out like robots, cause that's mechanical discipline, that's what Che Guevara used to talk about, who is one of our heroes. We don't want mechanical discipline. That's the discipline that's motivated by money, material things and stuff like that. We want conscience discipline--and that has to be instilled through ideological struggle, through sharing, through giving that, like we did with them young gang-bangers when they come up. They say, I've been with you for a week, ain't nobody on the street ever did that. Nobody on the street ever sit down and spend time with me like that.

So we need that energy from the student sector, and we need you to lead our struggle like we led the struggle back in the 60's when we were all students, with the intelligence, the knowledge that you gain from all your studies and research, and to keep us sharp and on our toes, because we have to be, because we're dealing with a cold dog, a person, a thing, an entity, a master that will put a person in prison for 27 years knowing he didn't do nothing but fight against the system.

So please give us that enlightenment, that illumination, so we won't be groping in the dark. The answers come from you all, and we welcome them, we encourage them and we thank you for that.

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