COINTELPRO: They Got Shut Down for Standing Up
by Karima Amin
From the late 1950's into the 1970's, the F.B.I. conducted a series of actions in a counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) designed to disrupt, discredit, and destroy certain individuals and groups in this country. The Communist Party, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), the Black Panther Party, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C.), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C.), the Black Liberation Army (B. L. A.), the Socialist Workers Party, La Raza Unida ("the Unified Race"), MOVE, the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) and others were among the targets. Dedicated activists who fought for justice were arrested for their political beliefs, tried in criminal courts, and incarcerated with exorbitant and punitive sentences. These political prisoners were effectively shut down for standing up. Though some of them still strive for justice behind bars, COINTELPRO has taken a toll on their lives. During COINTELPRO's heyday, the F.B.I. didn't hesitate to use thuggery, unauthorized wiretapping, warrantless break-ins and searches, harassment, burglaries, manufactured evidence, witness tampering, infiltration, and even murder to neutralize the aforementioned organizations and their individual members. In 1971, F.B.I. agents, convicted for counterintelligence crimes, were pardoned by President Ronald Reagan. Their targets are still in prison, having now spent decades (30-plus years) behind bars. Approximately 100 men and women in the U.S. are political prisoners, for having taken a stance or expressing a view that the government deems objectionable. They dared to stand up, speak out, and struggle for the liberation and self-determination of oppressed people. The U.S. government does not recognize the designation of political prisoner; in the government's view, they are merely dissidents.
In the past, Prisoners Are People Too has presented programs on COINTELPRO, the San Francisco 8, Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and MOVE. Several PRP2 members have voiced their support for political prisoners: Lynne Stewart and Robert Seth Hayes. Unfortunately, the names of these individuals are rarely mentioned in the "real world" and their stories are even more rarely told. Most of us can't name five U.S. political prisoners and far too few of us are actively engaged in supporting/defending a political prisoner. Further, we make the mistake of assuming that what happened to them could never happen to us. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Nowadays, "The Patriot Act" and "Homeland Security" make it all the more likely for any one of us to come face-to-face with Amerikkka's ugly side. While alleging "freedom and justice for all", this country ignores the shameful realities of incarceration and rampant injustice for individuals and organizations that participate in the kind of revolutionary direct action that is needed to make changes in government or social conditions. F.B.I. agents who engaged in illegal activity through COINTELPRO, got a proverbial "slap on the wrist" and nothing changed. Political prisoners, their families, and communities have suffered for nearly forty years.
On Monday, November 24, 2008, at 6:30-8:30pm, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, at 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, NY, Leonard Peltier's story will be told. Leonard Peltier was a COINTELPRO target because of his involvement with the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.). In 1977, this Native American activist was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the deaths of two F.B.I. agents during a 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, near Oglala, South Dakota. Leonard and his supporters believe that he did not receive a fair trial and that his conviction and imprisonment were results of his activism. He is currently imprisoned in a federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA. The documentary film, "Murder on a Reservation", from the Arts and Entertainment Channel's "American Justice" series will be screened. In the film, Leonard Peltier, F.B.I. representatives, and witnesses to the incident that led to the agents' death, tell their stories.
Our guest speaker will be Mr. Michael Kuzma, a Buffalo, NY defense attorney who has supported Leonard Peltier for several years. Mr. Kuzma practices in NY as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd, 8th, and 10th Circuits. He is seeking to obtain the release of 140,000 government documents concerning Leonard Peltier. Mr. Kuzma joined the legal profession believing that the law is a tool to bring about social, political, and economic change. He further believes that what happened to Leonard Peltier could happen to any one of us.
This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.