In 1982 Dr. Mutulu Shakur went underground. His primary concern — COINTELPRO. Having participated in — per the words of author Ishmael Reed — the slave revolts of the 1960s and 70s, Dr. Shakur, having renounced his U.S. citizenship in the late 60s to become a citizen of the Republic of New Afrika, was aware that he was a target of the U.S. government. Prior to his capture by authorities in Los Angeles in February 1986, he’d been listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
When the gavel slammed against the judge’s courtroom table, Dr. Shakur, a founder of the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America renowned for his groundbreaking acupuncture techniques in treating drug addiction, had been sentenced to 60 years in prison without recommendation for parole. No fingerprints or eyewitnesses linked him to the 1981 Brinks armored truck robbery for which he was convicted. He was also sentenced for operating a criminal enterprise and aiding in the liberation of his sister, Assata Shakur, from prison. Only a single piece of evidence, the testimony of an informant, was used to convict him.
Indelible marks surround Dr. Shakur’s case compared to other political prisoners and freedom fighters. Slain rap-activist, Tupac Shakur, was/is his stepson. Assata Shakur continues to live in political exile in Cuba, earning a master’s degree from the University of Havana and becoming a Cuban citizen. To this day, her liberation from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women evokes outrage from U.S. politricksters who want her extradited and returned to prison. But, like all political prisoners in the United States ignored by the mainstream corporate media, from Mumia Abu Jamal to Oscar Lopez, Marilyn Buck to Kuwasi Balagoon, the MOVE 9 to Leonard Peltier – and the list goes on – Mutulu Shakur has never received a just trial for the crimes of which he was convicted. So how does the situation of political prisoners in the US compare to other political prisoners who were once deemed terrorists by U.S. authorities?
A militant Black Nationalist and anti-imperialist-capitalist offshoot of the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army (BLA), emerged in 1971. The year marked the height of the Tupamaros, another anti-imperialist-capitalist urban guerrilla group that engaged in armed struggle in Uruguay. José Mujica, the austere lifestyle president who governed Uruguay from 2010 to 2015, is the most recognized ex-member of the Tupamaros. President Mujica, affectionately known as Pepe, racked up enough revolutionary street cred to have been recruited by the Black Liberation Army. In March 1970, he was involved in a police shootout that left him shot six times and two policemen injured. The Tupamaros would eventually gain extensive press coverage in the United States after kidnapping and executing Dan Mitrione, a CIA agent who trained Uruguayan police forces in torture techniques. Unlike those who resisted U.S. tyranny and, for doing so, remain incarcerated or exiled, every single Tupamaro member was granted political amnesty and released from prison when the Uruguayan military dictatorship ended in 1985.
How is it that José Mujica, an ex-Tupamaro, can become president of a country and advocate a third-way, socialist program, while so many political prisoners continue to rot behind U.S. penitentiary walls for decades? An answer to this question lies in a recent study conducted by Princeton researcher Martin Giles and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page. After analyzing data from roughly 1,800 policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, they concluded that America’s rhetorical mainstay, democracy, couldn’t be farther from reality. Gilsen and Page wrote, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” And as Tom McKay stated at Policy Mic:
Big corporations, the ultra-wealthy and special interests with a lot of money and power essentially make all of the decisions. Citizens wield little to no political power. America, the findings indicate, tends towards either of these much more than anything close to what we call “democracy” — systems such as majoritarian electoral democracy or majoritarian pluralism, under which the policy choices pursued by the government would reflect the opinions of the governed.
If the average American lives in a country uprooted by oligarchs, it would be almost impossible to fathom the plight of African-descendants who struggle for freedom and justice. They must’ve been tossed into the very pit of pits of inequity and injustice?
Not even a truth and reconciliation moratorium, at this late stage, extracting best practices from the Nuremburg Trials and South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission can help to purge America’s tumultuous past, and present, from its pervasive forms of institutionalized racism, neoliberal capitalism, and other forms of legalized oppression. That said, where is the revolutionary fervor of the 21st century, so desperately needed to provide girth and substance to the words of Sekou Odinga, ex-Black Panther and Black Liberation Army member, released from prison in November 2014, “free them all.”