Saturday, 4 June 2011

Elmer G. Pratt

Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, September 13, 1947 – June 2, 2011, also known as Geronimo ji-Jaga, was a high ranking member of the Black Panther Party. The Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted him in a COINTELPRO operation, which aimed to "neutralize Pratt as an effective BPP functionary. Pratt was tried and convicted of the kidnap and murder of Caroline Olsen in 1972, and spent 27 years in prison, eight of which were in solitary confinement. Pratt was freed in 1997 when his conviction was vacated. He was working as a human rights activist up until the time of his death. Pratt was also the godfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur . He died of a heart attack in his adopted country, Tanzania, on June 2, 2011.

Murder charges
In 1968, Caroline Olsen, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher, was murdered by gunshot during a robbery on a Santa Monica tennis court. Olsen's husband, Kenneth, who was also shot but survived, initially identified another man as the killer. Julius Butler, a Black Panther and police informant, fingered Geronimo Pratt as the killer. In 1970 Pratt was arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping.
His attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., assured his client that the charges would be dropped, given that Pratt had been 350 miles away on the night of the murder and could prove it. But, according to and alleged by author Jack Olsen, they were met with setbacks, from lying prosecution witnesses trooped to exculpatory evidence disappearing at police stations and the L.A. District Attorney’s office. Later it was revealed, according to Olsen, that FBI "moles" had infiltrated defense sessions and monitored Cochran’s phone calls.

Pratt always maintained his innocence. During his incarceration he studied law and steadfastly built a defense. Pratt was represented by attorneys Stuart Hanlon and Johnnie Cochran in his original trial. Together with William Paparian, Hanlon contributed much to the appeals that later led to Pratt's conviction being vacated.

Murder conviction vacated
Pratt's conviction was vacated on June 10, 1997, on the grounds that the prosecution had concealed evidence that might have exonerated the defendant. In particular, the government had not disclosed that a key witness against Pratt, Julius Butler, was an informant for both the FBI and the LAPD. An appeals court ruled this fact to be "'favorable' to the defendant, 'suppressed' by a law enforcement agency, and 'material' to the jury's decision to convict.
Pratt eventually received $4.5 million as settlement for false imprisonment. A federal judge approved the settlement of the civil suit: The city of L.A. paid $2.75 million of the settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice paying the $1.75 million remainder.

Later years
Pratt continued to work on behalf of men and women believed to be wrongfully incarcerated until his death, including participation in rallies in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whom he had met when both were active as Black Panthers. Geronimo was living in Tanzania at the time of his death.

Early years
Pratt was raised in Morgan City, Louisiana. He served two combat tours in the Vietnam War and came to Los Angeles,
After he served his two tours, Pratt used the GI Bill to go to UCLA. When Pratt joined the Black Panthers, his years in the army proved useful. He rose to be Minister of Defense of the local organization, after two of its officers were killed. Pratt's wife Saundra was killed in 1971 while 8 months pregnant and left in a ditch. The murder was blamed on a Party schism between supporters of Huey Newton and supporters of Eldridge Cleaver with Pratt and his wife belonging to the Cleaver faction.
By January 1970, the Los Angeles FBI office had sought permission from headquarters for a counterintelligence effort "designed to challenge the legitimacy of the authority exercised" by Pratt in the local Panthers. Another FBI memo dated five months later noted that the Bureau was constantly considering counterintelligence measures designed to neutralize Pratt "as an effective (Panther) functionary.

Black Panther Party

Black Panther Party (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was an African-American revolutionary leftist organization. It was active in the United States from 1966 until 1982. The Black Panther Party achieved national and international notoriety through its involvement in the Black Power movement and in U.S. politics of the 1960s and 70s. The anti-racism of that time is today considered one of the most significant social, political and cultural currents in U.S. history. The group's "provocative rhetoric, militant posture, and cultural and political flourishes permanently altered the contours of American Identity.
Founded in Oakland, California, by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton on October 15, 1966, the organization initially set forth a doctrine calling primarily for the protection of African American neighborhoods from police brutality. The organization's leaders espoused socialist and communist (largely Maoist) doctrines, however the Party's early black nationalist reputation attracted a racially diverse membership. Black Panther Party objectives and philosophy expanded and evolved rapidly during the party's existence, so ideological consensus within the party was difficult to achieve, and some prominent members openly disagreed with the views of the leaders.
The organization's official newspaper, The Black Panther, was first circulated in 1967. Also that year, the Black Panther Party marched on the California State Capitol in Sacramento in protest of a selective ban on weapons. By 1968, the party had expanded into many cities throughout the United States, including New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, San Diego, Denver, Newark, New York City, Kansas City, Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, San Francisco and Omaha. Peak membership neared 10,000 by 1969, and their newspaper, under the editorial leadership of Eldridge Cleaver, had a circulation of 250,000. The group created a Ten-Point Program, a document that called for "Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace", as well as exemption from conscription for African-American men, among other demands. With the Ten-Point program, “What We Want, What We Believe”, the Black Panther Party expressed its economic and political grievances.
Gaining national prominence, the Black Panther Party became an icon of the counterculture of the 1960s. Ultimately, the Panthers condemned black nationalism as "black racism" and became more focused on socialism without racial exclusivity. They instituted a variety of community social programs designed to alleviate poverty and improve health among inner city black communities as well as soften its public image. The Black Panther Party's most widely known programs were its armed citizens' patrols to evaluate behavior of police officers and its Free Breakfast for Children program. However, the group's political goals were often overshadowed by their confrontational, militant, and violent tactics against police.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover called the party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country, and he supervised an extensive program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, assassination, and many other tactics designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members and drain the organization of resources and manpower. Through these tactics, Hoover hoped to diminish the Party's threat to the general power structure of the U.S., or even maintain its influence as a strong undercurrent. Angela Davis, Ward Churchill, and others have alleged that federal, state and local law enforcement officials went to great lengths to discredit and destroy the organization, including assassination. Black Panther Party membership reached a peak of 10,000 by early 1969, then suffered a series of contractions due to legal troubles, incarcerations, internal splits, expulsions and defections. Popular support for the Party declined further after reports appeared detailing the group's involvement in activities such as drug dealing and extortion schemes directed against Oakland merchants By 1972 most Panther activity centered around the national headquarters and a school in Oakland, CA, where the Party continued to influence local politics. Party contractions continued throughout the 1970s; by 1980 the Black Panther Party comprised just 27 members.

The Ten Point Program
The Ten Point Program was as follows:
WE WANT FREEDOM. WE WANT POWER TO DETERMINE THE DESTINY OF OUR BLACK AND OPPRESSED COMMUNITIES. We believe that Black and oppressed people will not be free until we are able to determine our destinies in our own communities ourselves, by fully controlling all the institutions which exist in our communities.
WE WANT FULL EMPLOYMENT FOR OUR PEOPLE. We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every person employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the American businessmen will not give full employment, then the technology and means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
WE WANT AN END TO THE ROBBERY BY THE CAPITALISTS OF OUR BLACK AND OPPRESSED COMMUNITIES. We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules were promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of our fifty million Black people. Therefore, we feel this is a modest demand that we make.
WE WANT DECENT HOUSING, FIT FOR THE SHELTER OF HUMAN BEINGS. We believe that if the landlords will not give decent housing to our Black and oppressed communities, then housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that the people in our communities, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for the people.
WE WANT DECENT EDUCATION FOR OUR PEOPLE THAT EXPOSES THE TRUE NATURE OF THIS DECADENT AMERICAN SOCIETY. WE WANT EDUCATION THAT TEACHES US OUR TRUE HISTORY AND OUR ROLE IN THE PRESENT-DAY SOCIETY. We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else.
WE WANT COMPLETELY FREE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL BLACK AND OPPRESSED PEOPLE. We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventive medical programs to guarantee our future survival. We believe that mass health education and research programs must be developed to give all Black and oppressed people access to advanced scientific and medical information, so we may provide our selves with proper medical attention and care.
WE WANT AN IMMEDIATE END TO POLICE BRUTALITY AND MURDER OF BLACK PEOPLE, OTHER PEOPLE OF COLOR, ALL OPPRESSED PEOPLE INSIDE THE UNITED STATES. We believe that the racist and fascist government of the United States uses its domestic enforcement agencies to carry out its program of oppression against black people, other people of color and poor people inside the United States. We believe it is our right, therefore, to defend ourselves against such armed forces and that all Black and oppressed people should be armed for self defense of our homes and communities against these fascist police forces.
WE WANT AN IMMEDIATE END TO ALL WARS OF AGGRESSION. We believe that the various conflicts which exist around the world stem directly from the aggressive desire of the United States ruling circle and government to force its domination upon the oppressed people of the world. We believe that if the United States government or its lackeys do not cease these aggressive wars it is the right of the people to defend themselves by any means necessary against their aggressors.
WE WANT FREEDOM FOR ALL BLACK AND OPPRESSED PEOPLE NOW HELD IN U. S. FEDERAL, STATE, COUNTY, CITY, AND MILITARY PRISONS AND JAILS. WE WANT TRIALS BY A JURY OF PEERS FOR ALL PERSONS CHARGED WITH SO-CALLED CRIMES UNDER THE LAWS OF THIS COUNTRY. We believe that the many Black and poor oppressed people now held in United States prisons and jails have not received fair and impartial trials under a racist and fascist judicial system and should be free from incarceration. We believe in the ultimate elimination of all wretched, inhuman penal institutions, because the masses of men and women imprisoned inside the United States or by the United States military are the victims of oppressive conditions which are the real cause of their imprisonment. We believe that when persons are brought to trial they must be guaranteed, by the United States, juries of their peers, attorneys of their choice and freedom from imprisonment while awaiting trial.
WE WANT LAND, BREAD, HOUSING, EDUCATION, CLOTHING, JUSTICE, PEACE AND PEOPLE'S COMMUNITY CONTROL OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY. When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are most disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpation, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

While part of the organization was already participating in local government and social services, another group was in constant conflict with the police. For some of the Party's supporters, the separation between political action, criminal activity, social services, access to power, and grass-roots identity became confusing and contradictory as the Panthers' political momentum was bogged down in the criminal justice system. Disagreements among the Party's leaders over how to confront these challenges led to a significant split in the Party. Some Panther leaders, such as Huey Newton and David Hilliard, favored a focus on community service coupled with self-defense; others, such as Eldridge Cleaver, embraced a more confrontational strategy. Eldridge Cleaver deepened the schism in the party when he publicly criticized the Party for adopting a "reformist" rather than "revolutionary" agenda and called for Hilliard's removal. Cleaver was expelled from the Central Committee but went on to lead a splinter group, the Black Liberation Army, which had previously existed as an underground paramilitary wing of the Party.
The Party eventually fell apart due to rising legal costs and internal disputes. In 1974, Huey Newton appointed Elaine Brown as the first Chairwoman of the Party. Under Brown's leadership, the Party became involved in organizing for more radical electoral campaigns, including Brown's 1975 unsuccessful run for Oakland City Council and Lionel Wilson's successful election as the first Black mayor of Oakland.
In addition to changing the Party's direction towards more involvement in the electoral arena, Brown also increased the influence of women Panthers by placing them in more visible roles within the male-dominated organization. Brown's attempt to battle this previously pervasive sexism within the Party was very stressful for her and led to her dependence on Thorazine as a way to escape the pressures of leading the Party.

Evolving ideology, widening support

Black Panther convention, Lincoln Memorial, June 19, 1970
Awareness of the group continued to grow, especially after the May 2, 1967 protest at the California State Assembly.
In May 1967, the Panthers invaded the State Assembly Chamber in Sacramento, guns in hand, in what appears to have been a publicity stunt. Still, they scared a lot of important people that day. At the time, the Panthers had almost no following. Now, a year later however, their leaders speak on invitation almost anywhere radicals gather, and many whites wear "Honkeys for Huey" buttons, supporting the fight to free Newton, who has been in jail since last Oct. 28, 1967 on the charge that he killed a policeman.
In October 1967, Huey Newton had been arrested for the murder of Oakland Police Officer John Frey, a murder he later admitted and pointed to with pride.
Newton claimed that he had been falsely accused, leading to the "Free Huey" campaign. On February 17, 1968, at the "Free Huey" birthday rally in the Oakland Auditorium, several Black Panther Party leaders spoke. H. Rap Brown, Black Panther Party Minister of Justice, declared:
Huey Newton is our only living revolutionary in this country today...He has paid his dues. He has paid his dues. How many white folks did you kill today? 
The mostly black crowd erupted in applause. James Forman, Black Panther Party Minister of Foreign Affairs, followed with an even more incendiary speech:
We must serve notice on our oppressors that we as a people are not going to be frightened by the attempted assassination of our leaders. For my assassination--and I'm the low man on the totem pole--I want 30 police stations blown up, one southern governor, two mayors, and 500 cops, dead. If they assassinate Brother Carmichael, Brother Brown...Brother Seale, this price is tripled. And if Huey is not set free and dies, the sky is the limit! 
Referring to the 1967-68 period, black historian Curtis Austin states: "During this period of development, black nationalism became part of the party's philosophy.  During the months following the "Free Huey" birthday rallies, one in Oakland and another in Los Angeles, the Party's violent, anti-white rhetoric attracted a huge following and Black Panther Party membership exploded.
Two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., on April 6, 1968, seventeen-year-old Bobby Hutton joined Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther Party Minister of Information, in what Cleaver later admitted was "an ambush" of the Oakland police. Two officers were wounded, and Bobby Hutton became another martyr when officers opened fire, killing Hutton and wounding Cleaver. Almost all black people, and many white liberals, believed Cleaver's claim that the police were at fault.
After Hutton's death, Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale and Kathleen Cleaver (Eldridge's wife) held a rally in New York City at the Fillmore East in support of Hutton and Cleaver. Playwright LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) joined them on stage before a mixed crowd of 2,000:
We want to become masters of our own destiny...we want to build a black nation to benefit black people...The white people who killed Bobby Hutton are the same white people sitting here.
The crowd, including many whites, gave LeRoi Jones a standing ovation.
In 1968, the group shortened its name to the Black Panther Party and sought to focus directly on political action. Members were encouraged to carry guns and to defend themselves against violence. An influx of college students joined the group, which had consisted chiefly of "brothers off the block." This created some tension in the group. Some members were more interested in supporting the Panthers social programs, while others wanted to maintain their "street mentality". For many Panthers, the group was little more than a type of gang.
Curtis Austin states that by late 1968, Black Panther Party ideology had evolved to the point where they began to reject black nationalism and became more a "revolutionary internationalist movement":
(The Party) dropped its wholesale attacks against whites and began to emphasize more of a class analysis of society. Its emphasis on Marxist-Leninist doctrine and its repeated espousal of Maoist statements signaled the group's transition from a revolutionary nationalist to a revolutionary internationalist movement. Every Party member has to study Mao Tse-tung's "Little Red Book" to advance his or her knowledge of peoples' struggle and the revolutionary process. 
Panther slogans and iconography spread. At the 1968 Summer Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two American medalists, gave the black power salute during the playing of the American national anthem. The International Olympic Committee banned them from the Olympic Games for life. Some Hollywood celebrities, such as Jane Fonda, became involved in their leftist program. She publicly supported Huey Newton and the Black Panthers in the early 1970s. The Black Panthers attracted a wide variety of left-wing revolutionaries and political activists, including writer Jean Genet, former Ramparts Magazine editor David Horowitz and left-wing lawyer Charles R. Garry, who often acted as their counsel. Survival Committees and coalitions were organized with several groups across the United States. Chief among these in Chicago was the first Rainbow Coalition formed by Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers which included Young Patriots and a Latino youth gang turned political:the Young Lords.

Political activities
The Party briefly merged with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, headed by Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture). In 1967, the party organized a march on the California state capitol to protest the state's attempt to outlaw carrying loaded weapons in public after the Panthers had begun exercising that right. Participants in the march carried rifles. In 1968, BPP Minister of Information Eldridge Cleaver ran for Presidential office on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. They were a big influence on the White Panther Party, that was tied to the Detroit/Ann Arbor band MC5 and their manager John Sinclair, author of the book Guitar Army that also promulgated a ten-point program.

New Black Panther Party
In 1989, a group calling itself the "New Black Panther Party" was formed in Dallas, Texas. Ten years later, the NBPP became home to many former Nation of Islam members when the chairmanship was taken by Khalid Abdul Muhammad.
The Anti-Defamation League and The Southern Poverty Law Center consider the New Black Panthers as a hate group. Members of the original Black Panther Party have insisted that this New Black Panther Party is illegitimate and have strongly objected that there "is no new Black Panther Party.

The National Alliance of Black Panthers
The National Alliance of Black Panthers was formed on July 31, 2004. It was inspired by the grassroots activism of the original organization but not otherwise related. Its chairwoman is Shazza Nzingha.

Obama Praises Auto Bailout:Is Road to Recovery

Government data released on Friday showed employers in May hired the fewest number of workers in eight months and U.S. unemployment rose to 9.1 percent, up from 9.0 percent in April.

That bump is a political challenge for the president, whose re-election in 2012 may depend on his ability to convince voters that his economic policies have been successful.

Part of his pitch will include steering attention to outside forces as causes for economic woes at home.

The president did just that in his weekly radio and Internet address, broadcast on Saturday, by highlighting "head winds" that are affecting the United States.

"Even though our economy has created more than two million private sector jobs over the past 15 months and continues to grow, we're facing some tough head winds," he said.

"Lately, it's high gas prices, the earthquake in Japan, and unease about the European fiscal situation. That will happen from time to time. There will be bumps on the road to recovery.

Like Friday's comments to Chrysler workers, Obama's address Saturday did not mention the bleak unemployment numbers announced Friday for the month of May. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the economy last month created only a net 54,000 jobs and unemployment inched up to 9.1 percent.
"We're facing some tough headwinds," Obama said. "Lately, it's high gas prices, the earthquake in Japan and unease about the European fiscal situation. That will happen from time to time."
The Bush and Obama administrations pumped $80 billion in taxpayer money into Chrysler and GM, with Obama guiding the companies into bankruptcy. The companies are now reporting profits, Chrysler has paid back all but $1.3 billion of its federal infusion, and the White House declared this week that the overall loss to taxpayers will be $14 billion, far less than initially expected.
Delivering the Republican address, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee cast the Obama administration as too friendly to labor unions and said industries are more likely to flourish in environments where unions don't hold as much sway. He noted that foreign auto companies like Nissan and Volkswagen have chosen to set up plants in his home state, a state with right-to-work laws that don't require employees to join unions or pay union dues.
He cited the case of Boeing, which was accused last month by the National Labor Relations Board of retaliating against union workers in Washington state who went on strike in 2008 by locating a new assembly line for its 787 aircraft in South Carolina, a state with right-to-work laws. The NLRB is seeking a court order that would force Boeing to return all 787 assembly work to Washington.
"Our goal should be to make it easier and cheaper to create private-sector jobs in this country," Alexander said. "Giving workers the right to join or not to join a union helps to create a competitive environment in which more manufacturers like Nissan and Boeing can make here what they sell here.

Economic news is bad for Obama’s reelection bid

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will play golf together on June 18th in what will be an opportunity for the two men to hammer out their differences on the debt ceiling and other issues.

Both the White House and Boehner's office confirmed the planned round of golf to CBS News. The White House said Mr. Obama extended the invitation -- and the House speaker accepted.

The location of the round - as well as who will fill out the expected foursome - has not yet been decided.

CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reported on May 30 that Mr. Obama had played 70 rounds of golf as president. Boehner also regularly hits the links.

Boehner gas called on Mr. Obama to get personally involved in working out a deal on raising the debt ceiling, which the government says will be crossed on August 2 without action. Republicans, led by Boehner, want spending cuts larger than the increase in the debt limit in exchange for yes votes; Democrats say not raising the debt ceiling would have catastrophic consequences.

Behind the economic distress is a series of unexpected events, including the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the European debt crisis and rising gasoline prices. As a result of the unemployment rate turning back up and the housing market reaching new lows since the slump began in 2006, numerous economists have reduced their expectations for economic growth this year.

Even more challenging for Obama is that some of the hardest-hit states, such as Florida, Nevada and Michigan, are critically important for his reelection strategy.

Democrats believe the auto bailout can be a big political winner in the industrial Midwest. But the administration has struggled to show progress in helping struggling homeowners.

And White House allies concede that the economy may present greater challenges than they had thought.

“The president is going to be running for reelection in an economy that’s still too weak,” said Jared Bernstein, who until last month was chief economic adviser to Vice President Biden. “It is improving and is in a far better place than it was when he got there but still is not adequately lifting the living standards of the broad middle class.