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The Other Side of the Tracks blog by Word Press

New Year Doesn’t Mean New Attitudes

Our weekly commentary from Socially Speaking

The Other Side of the Tracks

A new year brings a false sense of “newness” that we’ve grown accustomed to in American culture.  That’s something shared, whether Black or white.  It’s one of the few culture-centric values that has no division.  Then there’s criminal justice; the divide is wide and partially weighted in terms of pro and con.  If you’re white, you fall into the pro camp. 

In 1971, a group of peace activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and lifted files that helped reveal the FBI’s elaborate program of illegally spying on political groups. At that time in history, it was widely believed that the FBI was “beyond reproach” by most Americans.  Blacks, for the most part, distrusted law enforcement, but knew they were needed and necessary—much like today.  Not much has changed.  A new year has no effect on repression by authorities.

The documents, given to journalists at the time, provided the first hints of a secret counter intelligence program—COINTELPRO, the FBI’s secret program to infiltrate, monitor and disrupt social movements. The burglars called themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. They were never caught. But decades later, a number of them are now coming forward for the first time. 

This the great American whistleblower story, right?  It is, I’d agree. Well, I think of the Black Americans who have stood on the right side of liberty, on the right side of history, the right side of the law…and ended up dead or in jail.  Fred Hampton was assassinated by Chicago police.

What this group did was illegal.  How many times do you think the United States let people get away with illegalities?  Don’t they Feds always “get their man,” “hunt you down, no matter how long it takes?” I wonder why the US is still holding the hatchet over Assata Shakur’s head?  FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover assigned nearly 200 agents to investigate the burglary—in particular, they were told to hunt for the mysterious college girl who had come to the office. But the case was closed when the statute of limitations expired five years later.  …statute of limitations?  The whole FBI couldn’t find a white girl? Is there a statute of limitations on Shakur? 

That group of activists was surely patriots; they informed their fellow Americans of facts and truth about their tyrannical government—under risk and penalty.  They turned over documents of proof of their assertions to a free press who published these facts—from “the horse’s mouth!”  Funny how we aren’t seeing Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden the same way (and do you think anyone has spoken of a statute of limitations on Snowden)?  Again, the government is leading the narrative—with the assistance of the fifth estate—the media.

There are others that exposed the dirty rottenness of our government: Peter Buxtun exposed the Tuskegee syphilis experiment exacted upon Black people, Frank Serpico exposed police corruption in the New York City police department (the self-titled 1973 was about him), and Karen Silkwood’s battle against an Oklahoma nuclear plant (dramatized in a 1983 movie). 

Heck, for that matter, add Whitey Bulger’s name. And you see what happened to him!  He’s doing life after telling how the NYPD sanctioned several murders of “bad guys.”  And of course, there’s Deep Throat, Mark Felt.  Known only as Deep Throat until 2005, Felt was Associate Director of the FBI, the number-two job in the Bureau, when he leaked information about President Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal.

The scandal would eventually lead to the resignation of President Nixon, and prison terms for White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and Presidential Adviser, John Ehrlichman.  Yet, Felt never saw the inside of a jail cell—nor the business end of a gun.

More to the point, the story of the FBI burglary is told in a recent book by Betty Medsger, a former Washington Post reporter who received the documents from the burglars. Three other burglars have chosen to remain anonymous. The idea for the burglary came from William Davidon, a physics professor and leader of civil disobedience against the Vietnam War. Davidon died last year. None of these people were prosecuted…and that is what bothers me.  Black Americans surely end up dead or in jail.  I can’t name one that hasn’t.

The renown, Daniel Ellsberg got to tell his story.  Black Americans who expose the government’s abuse of power never do. Ellsberg was a former RAND Corp. military analyst who, along with Anthony Russo, leaked the Pentagon Papers, a secret account of the Vietnam War to The New York Times. The Pentagon Papers revealed endemic practices of deception by previous administrations, and contributed to the erosion of public support for the war.  This was information the American public—especially white people—needed to know.  Black people—even everyday white people—have always known that you can’t trust the white people who make up our government.

People in power will always abuse that power when left unchecked.  That’s why Conservatives try so diligently to make government “smaller.”  The release of the Pentagon Papers triggered a legal case concerning government efforts to prevent the publication of classified information that was heard by the US Supreme Court (New York Times Co. v. United States (403 U.S. 713)). Sounds a lot like Wikileaks, huh? Ellsberg himself was the subject of retaliation by Nixon’s Administration.

And you may ask, “Why do I bring up Shakur?” Well, on May 2, 1973, a New Jersey state trooper was killed. In her letter, as well as in her autobiography, she recounts what happened that night, when she, along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli, were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike for having a faulty tail light. One trooper drew his gun and told them to put their hands in the air, which Assata did. Moments later a shootout ensued, ending with the deaths of Zayd and state trooper Werner Foerster. Assata was also shot while her hands were up. Though the forensic evidence backed up her account, the state was able to convict her, and in 1977 she was sentenced to life plus thirty-three years.

She has lived in Cuba, where she was granted asylum, since 1984, telling her story.  Having escaped (or in the language of the movement, liberated) from Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979, she has been treated like you’d expect the United States to treat a Black person—wrong. This liberation is the only way she gets to tell her story. 

Sean Gillispie didn’t get to tell his story. Henry Glover didn’t get to tell his story. Christopher Dorner tried to tell his story—in dramatic fashion—after no one would listen…to a Black man. Marissa Alexander tried to tell her story and what did she get?…a mandatory 20 years! Shakur never committed a crime but exposed our corrupt government. 

Let’s return to the FBI burglary: Also involved were a social worker named Bob Williamson, and John and Bonnie Raines, a married couple with children. Convinced the FBI was infiltrating peace groups, the burglars hatched a plan to stage the break-in on the night of a major championship boxing match. Another of the burglars, Keith Forsyth, described his motivation in a video produced by Retro Report.  These white burglars are telling their stories—under no threat of jail time.

Of course, the layer that will goes unquestioned is how did the Media, Pennsylvania burglars   gain a platform, i.e., access that ensured their truth could be told. All involved persons share a common denominator: white skin.

Black Americans have never gotten such a pass to see their truths, i.e., justice—much less expose the truth, followed by a willing platform to tell their story.  It’s time to quit any talk of a “post-racial America.” Black Americans know the truth because they live it—as targets.  Martin Luther King was a target.  Fred Hampton was a target.  Malcolm X was a target. Stokley Carmichael was a target. H. Rap Brown was a target. Assata Shakur is a target. I could go on…

Hypocrisy’s in the air.  A New Year doesn’t change anything when it comes to the life of a Black man [or woman or child] in America.

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