Sep 1, 2007
For Kenneth Foster: No More Death Row
[col. writ. 9/1/07] (c) '07 Mumia Abu-Jamal
To the state of Texas that sought to extinguish his life, his name is Kenneth Foster; to many of his friends and supporters, his name is Haramia KiNasser, an eloquent and outspoken activist.
By whatever name that he may be known, he is now a past denizen of Texas Death Row, for, by a governor's order of commutation, he is on Death Row no more.
That he was ever on Death Row at all is due more to a quirk of Texas law, than anything else.
For the judge, the defense and the DA agree that Foster hurt no one; he shot no one; he killed no one; nor did he rob anyone.
He was a driver in a car full of guys, just rolling around one night, when, all of a sudden, one of them (unbeknownst to Kenneth) steps out, robs a guy, shoots him and kills him.
In Texas, under what's called the Law of Parties, Foster's presence near a crime was enough; even though he didn't commit a crime, didn't participate in it, nor profited from it, he was convicted, and sent to Death Row.
If that were not enough, when he still had less than a month to live the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) banned the man from receiving or reading a book on sports!
The book, titled What's My Name Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the U.S., penned by sportswriter, Dave Zirin (pronounced like 'siren'), was banned from Texas Death Row because, in the words of the Aug. 9th, 2007 memo from the TDC publication review committee, "It contains material that a reasonable person would construe as written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption such as strikes or riots."'
I never thought sports was so powerful.
The author, sent the notice by Foster, was, understandably quite shocked.
He checked out the objectionable pages, and was even more amazed. The pages cited by the TDC dealt with baseball icon, Jackie Robinson, and heavyweight boxing champ, Jack Johnson.
Both dealt with their resistance to white repression; one, about 1/2 a century ago; the other, perhaps 80 years ago.
Yeah. That'll start riots in prisons all over the country!
For Kenneth Foster, at least, his Death Row days are behind him. Unfortunately, he's now doing a life bit in Texas gulags.
His dozen years on Death Row politicized him, and gave him an historical perspective that he did not possess when he first arrived there.
Thanks to supporters across the country, his last day of life wasn't August 30th, as the warrant decreed.
Now, the struggle for his freedom begins.
(c) '07 maj
*Source: Zirin, Dave, "In Texas, books are a danger to death row", Houston Chronicle, Sun., Aug. 28, 2007, p. E5.
Aug 24, 2007
A 'Lesson' From Vietnam
col. writ. 8/23/07 (c) '07 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Speaking before a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) group recently, US President George W. Bush evoked the slaughter, concentration camps, and devastation following the US pullout from Vietnam, to warn against the costs of precipitous withdrawal from the Iraq debacle.
The argument boiled down to the recent conservative claim that if the US leaves Iraq now, it'll result in a societal bloodbath.
There is something quite unseemly about a man who, when he was of age, declined to go to Vietnam, now arguing for its lessons before men who did go, some of whom have lost limbs.
There is another odd, almost surreal quality to hearing the president who went to war on the most naked of lies, who authorized a bombing campaign called "shock and awe", who sent the entire region into a tizzy of maddening discontent, which led to the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Iraqis, argue about the costs of withdrawal. His "stay the course" is as empty an echo as was that of one of his presidential predecessors, Lyndon B. Johnson when he called for troop increases in Vietnam.
What is missing from his convenient 'lesson' from Vietnam, is the reckoning of just how such pain, suffering and death was visited upon the Vietnamese by the American war. According to many sources, some 3 million Vietnamese were killed by US military forces (the number isn't clearer, simply because, as they were Asians, it wasn't deemed necessary for an accurate count).
What Bush conveniently forgot to mention was the continuing costs of war facing Vietnam, because of the US use of toxic chemicals, such as the defoliant, Agent Orange. The US dropped over 10 million gallons of that poison on Vietnam, and the country still suffers from this aerial assault.
According to Anthony Arnova's The Logic of Withdrawal (N. Y.: The New Press, 2006), some four million people suffered from this barrage, which has left an untold number with serious birth defects, and has caused an unprecedented environmental and ecological damage to the rural regions.
A recent civil lawsuit against Dow Chemical (which created the weapon) was dismissed by US courts.
Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Vietnam after all, but not ones the Bush Regime may wish to address.
Recent Bush Administration criticisms of Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki, that his government is 'ineffective', and doesn't listen enough to his American paymasters, sounds eerily similar to mumbled musings against South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem. The CIA 1st key military leaders know that the US was losing faith in their chosen puppet, and thus laid the groundwork for a military coup that not only toppled Diem's government, but led to his brutal assassination.
Are we witnessing the opening stages of this 'lesson', being replayed in Iraq?
Let us not think for a moment that the US doesn't prefer generals to presidents; or, as in Pakistan's Musharraf, both for the price of one. The history of 20th century Latin America has been one of an American love affair with generals, and -- yes, with death squads (many trained in the infamous School of the Americas --since renamed --at Fort Benning, Georgia).
"Dubya", who was apparently a poor student of history, is not much better as a teacher, for if this is the only lesson learned from Vietnam, then he needs to go back to summer school.
One lesson is that lies and scare tactics may lead people to war, but it won't keep them there once they learn the truth.
(c) '07 maj
Aug 20, 2007
The Power of History: (Haiti)
[col. writ. 8/19/07] (c) '07 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Recently, while speaking with a younger journalist, I made mention of several points of Haitian history, and the writer looked at me blankly.
Although he was well-read, and had even traveled to Haiti, he hadn't the faintest idea of many of the historical facts to which I made reference.
He simply had never read nor heard of them.
As a student of history, I recommended he read the work of the late radical scholar-activist, C.L.R. James on Haiti: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution, originally published in 1938. He knew of the book, but he never read it.
C.L.R. James was a man of remarkable brilliance, and a man who wore many hats and mastered many skills. His book, The Black Jacobins, is regarded as a masterwork of history, with perhaps the best telling of the story of the Haitian Revolution (at least in English).
James, a revolutionary organizer as well as an accomplished scholar, probed deeply into the forces that led to revolution, both in Haiti and in France.
One such factor was the relentless brutality of French slavery in Haiti, where sugar factories exploited black labor so totally that the life span of a captive worker there was 7 years. 7 years. To replenish this slave labor force, more and more Africans were captured from West Africa's coast, to work the sugar factories of Haiti.
Black suffering and death meant white profits and sweets.
James cites an axiom commonly used in France at the time of the French Revolution: "The Ivory Coast is a good mother."
What that meant was slavery and brutality was good for business!
Were it not for the immense wealth extracted from African slavery in Haiti, James explains, the French Revolution would never have happened. Quoting the French historian Jaures, James teaches us that "The slave-trade and slavery were the economic basis of the French Revolution."
"Sad irony of history," comments Jaures. "The fortunes created at Bordeaux, at Nantes, by the slave-trade, gave to this bourgeoisie that pride which needed liberty and contributed to human emancipation." Nantes was the centre of the slave-trade. As early as 1666, 108 ships went to the coast of Guinea and took on board 37,430 slaves, to a total value of more than 37 million, giving the Nantes bourgeoisie 15 to 20 per cent of their money. [p.35]
Haiti also had other impacts on the world.
Its Revolution spelled the end for Napoleon's dream of a Franco-American empire. Shortly after the Revolution cut off profits to France, Napoleon communicated to Thomas Jefferson his willingness to sell Louisiana to the US for several million bucks,
Jefferson leaped at the offer, and by the alleged sale (so-called because Napoleon sold land that belonged to Indians, not France), the United States doubled its size overnight.
History is important; it teaches us why things are the way they are.
It teaches not only about yesterday, but about today.