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News :: Human Rights : Police and Prisons : Race
Eddie Conway’s Update on Forgotten Political Prisoners
04 Dec 2019
Former Black Panther political prisoner Eddie Conway hosts this special episode of Rattling the Bars highlighting political prisoners that are still imprisoned after several decades, including Ed Poindexter, Jamil Al Amin (formerly H Rap Brown), Leonard Peltier, and Mumia Abu-Jamal .

Story Transcript

EDDIE CONWAY: I’m Eddie Conway, host of Rattling the Bars. As many well-known political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal continue to suffer in prison…

MUMIA ABU JAMAL: In an area where there is corporate downsizing and there are no jobs and there is only a service economy and education is being cut, which is the only rung by which people can climb, the only growth industry in this part of Pennsylvania, in the Eastern United States, in the Southern United States, in the Western United States is “corrections,” for want of a better word. The corrections industry is booming. I mean, this joint here ain’t five years old.

EDDIE CONWAY: …The media brings their stories to the masses. But there are many lesser-known activists that have dropped out of the spotlight, grown old in prison, or just been forgotten. For Rattling the Bars, we are spotlighting a few of their stories. There was a thriving Black Panther party in Omaha, Nebraska, headed by David Rice and Ed Poindexter. By 1968, the FBI had began plans to eliminate the Omaha Black Panthers by making an example of Rice and Poindexter. It would take a couple of years, but the FBI would frame them for murder.

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: In the 90s, Ed and Mondo both applied to the parole board. There are two different things you do in Nebraska, the parole board would grant you parole, but because they have life sentences, they were told that they have to apply to the pardons board, which is the governor, the attorney general, and the secretary of state, and ask that their life sentences be commuted to a specific number of years before they would be eligible for parole.

And so there was a movement in the 90s to try to get them out on parole. The parole board would recommend them for parole because they were exemplary prisoners, and then the pardons board would not give them a hearing. They wouldn’t even meet to determine whether they would commute their sentence.

EDDIE CONWAY: They served 45 years before Rice died in the Nebraska State Penitentiary. After several appeals, earning a master’s degree, writing several books and helping other inmates, Poindexter is still serving time at the age of 75.

KEITRYN ZYCHAL: Ed Poindexter has been in jail or prison since August of 1970. He was accused of making a suitcase bomb and giving it to a 16-year-old boy named Duane Peak, and Duane Peak was supposed to take the bomb to a vacant house and call 911, and report that a woman was dragged screaming into a vacant house, and when police officers showed up, one of those police officers was killed when the suitcase bomb exploded.

Ed and his late co-defendant, Mondo we Langa, who was David Rice at the time of the trial, they have always insisted that they had absolutely nothing to do with this murderous plot, and they tried to get back into court for 50 years, and they have never been able to get back into court to prove their innocence. Mondo died in March of 2016 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and Ed is going to turn 75 this year, I think. And he has spent the majority of his life in prison. It will be 50 years in 2020 that he will be in prison.

EDDIE CONWAY: There are at least 20 Black Panthers still in prison across the United States. One is one of the most revered is H. Rap Brown, known by his Islamic name, Jamil Al-Amin.

KAIRI AL-AMIN: My father has been a target for many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many years of the federal government, and I think him being housed these last 10 years in federal penitentiaries without federal charges show that the vendetta is still strong. The federal government has not forgotten who he was as H. Rap Brown, or who he is as Imam Jamil Al-Amin.

JAMIL AL-AMIN: See, it’s no in between. You are either free or you’re a slave. There’s no such thing as second-class citizenship.

EDDIE CONWAY: Most people don’t realize he’s still in prison. He’s serving a life sentence at the United States Penitentiary in Tucson.

KAIRI AL-AMIN: Our campaign is twofold. One, how can egregious constitutional rights violations not warrant a new trial, especially when they were done by the prosecution. And two, my father is innocent. The facts point to him being innocent, which is why we’re pushing for a new trial. We know that they can’t win this trial twice. The reason they won the first time was because of the gag order that was placed on my father which didn’t allow us to fight in the court of public opinion as well as the court of law. And so when you don’t have anyone watching, anything can be done without any repercussion.

EDDIE CONWAY: Another well-known political prisoner that has been forgotten in the media and in the public arena is Leonard Peltier. Leonard Peltier was a member of the American Indian Movement and has been in prison for over 40 years and is now 75 years old.

SPEAKER: Leonard Peltier represents, in a very real sense, the effort, the struggle by indigenous peoples within the United States to exercise their rights as sovereign nations, recognized as such in treaties with the United States. For the government of the United States, which has colonized all indigenous peoples to claim boundaries, keeping Leonard in prison demonstrates the costs and consequences of asserting those rights.

EDDIE CONWAY: Leonard Peltier suffers from a host of medical issues including suffering from a stroke. And if he is not released, he will die in prison.

LEONARD PELTIER: I’ll be an old man when I get out, if I get out.

PAULETTE D’AUTEUIL: His wellbeing is that he rarely gets a family visit. His children live in California and North Dakota. Both places are a good 2000 miles from where he’s at in Florida, so it makes it time consuming as well as expensive to come and see him. He is, health-wise, we are still working on trying to get some help for his prostate, and there has been some development of some spots on his lungs, which we are trying to get resolved. There’s an incredible mold issue in the prison, especially because in Florida it’s so humid and it builds up. So we’re also dealing with that.

EDDIE CONWAY: These are just a few of the almost 20 political prisoners that has remained in American prisons for 30 and 40 years, some even longer. Mutulu Shakur has been in jail for long, long decades. Assata Shakur has been hiding and forced into exile in Cuba. Sundiata has been in prison for decades; Veronza Bower, The Move Nine. And there’s just a number of political prisoners that’s done 30 or 40 years.

They need to be released and they need to have an opportunity to be back with their family, their children, their grandchildren, whoever is still alive. Any other prisoners in the United States that have the same sort of charges as those people that are being held has been released up to 15 or 20 years ago. That same justice system should work for the political prisoners also.

Thank you for joining me for this episode of Rattling the Bars. I’m Eddie Conway.
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2011 interview with Eddie Conway
05 Dec 2019

FBI persecution of the Black Panther Party: An interview with political prisoner Eddie Conway

June 2011

At its Black History Month celebration on Feb. 26, the Seattle Freedom Socialist Party sponsored a forum entitled “The FBI’s war on the Black Panther Party: the fight is not over!” Eddie Conway, author, Vietnam vet, former Panther leader in the Baltimore chapter, was the featured speaker — from behind bars.

Below are excerpts from his phone interview with Seattle FSP organizer, Chris Smith.

--What was it about the politics of the Black Panther Party and your own experience that helped you to decide to join that organization?

I think it wasn’t so much the politics of the Black Panther Party as it was the lack of progress in any other avenue that we attempted to work through. When I returned home from Europe, from the Army, I joined the NAACP and I joined CORE. Both of these organizations were trying to integrate workplaces, change the laws and improve conditions in the community. Through that process I found out that the problems in America were systemic and so profound that all the reform organizations couldn’t really address the conditions of the Black community. A bunch of us decided that we needed to have something a little more solid and tangible and the Black Panther Party represented that.

--What was it specifically that you thought about the Black Panther Party that was different from some of those other organizations?

Our community was impoverished. And there was a lot of police brutality against our young people, a lot of police “justifiable” homicides occurring. We recognized the need for some sort of organization that would address that and challenge the police, try to get community control of the police. The other organizations weren’t even talking about this, or about us setting up an apparatus that would take care of us and use our own resources such as health clinics, etc. The Black Panther Party was talking about these issues, and it was very appealing.

--Right. Not only were they talking about it, but they were defending the community. What do you see as the role of women in the Black Panther Party?

I always feel like women were probably the glue that helped the party grow and develop and manage itself — logistically in terms of making sure the programs operated, in terms of even studying. Women had equal roles in the Black Panther Party. A lot of people talk about that. In fact, I always tell people that when sisters and brothers both are required to know self-defense mechanisms, there’s not going to be a lot of male chauvinism or discrimination within an organization.

--What did you do in the Black Panther Party? And what contributed to your arrest and imprisonment? Tell us your story about how you were set up.

In Baltimore I was a lieutenant of security for a period of time, so I was responsible for checking new members. I discovered that the defense captain in the Baltimore chapter was actually a National Security Agency agent or agent provocateur, and that he had been sent to Maryland to set up an artificial Black Panther Party. I became the target of COINTELPRO after that, because my exposure had caused them to lose a key spy, and they put me on their hot list, I guess.

There was this incident in which two members of the Black Panther Party got arrested a couple of blocks away from the scene of a crime, and they engaged in a shooting incident with Baltimore city police. One of the police was killed, one was wounded and one shot at. A day or so later they arrested me and charged me with being the leader of that. When they couldn’t substantiate it, they put an informer in my cell that had worked for the police department before, and he turned in the statement they needed for a conviction.

They had no evidence. All the people who testified at my trial were police officials, and one or two work supervisors who testified that I was organizing Black postal labor. I worked for the post office then, and I was organizing Black postal workers to create a union for us, because we weren’t getting fair representation from the major union.

--The Panthers called themselves “Revolutionary Internationalists.” How did they come to that position and what does it mean?

Initially, we were Black community focused — we attracted a lot of Black Nationalists and a lot of people who were just really concerned with what was happening in the Black community. But as we looked at who our friends were and who our enemies were, it became clear that our problem wasn’t one of us being a colony or having a nationalistic problem. Our problem was a class struggle, because it was clear that there was something wrong with the way the economic system had been set up and how it impacted a large portion of the Black Community. We recognized that the same problem existed in South Africa, in Nicaragua, in Vietnam, in the Middle East, and that we must really look at the situation from an internationalist perspective. Our philosophy elevated to Revolutionary Internationalism.

--In 1968 J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, called the Black Panther Party the single greatest threat to the security of the U.S. What was Hoover afraid of?

The United States military was like 5 million people and of course they had the most sophisticated weapons on the planet. So you’d think, “Well OK, what’s the problem here?” The problem certainly wasn’t a military threat! The problem was the possibility of Native Americans, Latinos, the anti-war movement, the New Left and the old Left, the Palestinians and Puerto Ricans, the Africans and Asians and Latin Americans — all these people working together in some sort of unified way.

The idea of them supporting each other really did represent a threat in Hoover’s mind. And a threat to the ruling class itself, because for the first time the youth and progressive people were challenging it in the street. And for the first time since McCarthyism, I think there was a clear understanding that people were talking about the “no-no” word, socialism.

--What advice do you have for young African Americans and other radicals of all colors who really want to see change?

We need to educate, spread the word, and work on the ground in the areas where we can. We need to network at this point. Because I think that what’s happening in Ireland is coming to America, what’s happening in France is coming to America, what’s happening in Egypt is coming to America, what’s happening in the rest of the world — all those things are coming to America.

--Sentenced to life 41 years ago, Marshall “Eddie” Conway’s two books are entitled The Greatest Threat and Marshall Law: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther. Contact his defense committee at for information on how to get copies and help with his case.
Eddie Conway's autobiography
05 Dec 2019
Click on image for a larger version

Click on image for a larger version

This is the book's website and summary:

Publisher: AK Press
Format: Book
Binding: ebook
Pages: 200
Released: April 26, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781849350532

In 1970, the feds framed Eddie Conway for the murder of a Baltimore City Police officer. He was 24 years old. They threw him in prison, took him away from his family, his friends, and his organizing, and tried to relegate him to a life marked by nothing but legal appeals, riots and lockdowns, transfers from one penal colony to the next. But they failed.

Forty years later, still incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit, Eddie Conway continues to resist.

Marshall Law is a poignant story of strength and struggle. From his childhood in inner-city Baltimore to his political awakening in the military, from the rise of the Black Panther Party to the sham trial, the realities of prison life, escape attempts, labor organizing on the inside, and beyond, Eddie's autobiography is a reminder that we all share the responsibility of resistance, no matter where we are.

It also brings to light important details about the FBI's infiltration of the Black Panther Party. As Eddie makes clear, the FBI had already placed agents deep inside the Panthers' leadership well before Stokeley Carmichael's group in Canada was infiltrated, long before the brutal murder of Fred Hampton. It's all here ... and much, much more.

Marshall "Eddie" Conway is the former Minister of Defense of the Baltimore Black Panther Party. In 1969, he uncovered evidence of the FBI's infiltration of the Panthers as a part of the COINTELPro initiative, and found himself locked away, just one year later, convicted of a murder he did not commit. Currently in his fortieth year of incarceration in a State of Maryland correctional facility, he has played a leading role in a variety of prisoner support initiatives, including the formation of the Maryland chapter of the United Prisoner's Labor Union, and the ACLU's Prison Committee to Correct Prison Conditions.