Geronimo “ji-Jaga” Pratt died last week. He spent 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. It took place in Los Angeles while he was 350 miles away under FBI surveillance. Pratt was a target of the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO program, along with hundreds of other Black Panthers, Puerto Rican Nationalists, American Indian Movement members and other anti-imperialists and radicals.
His death reminds me of why I started the RFC, and that things have changed but also remained the same. My initial concept was that the RFC would help “the children of political prisoners” in the United States. (The project ultimately morphed into something broader; one to help “the children of targeted activists.”) I used the definition of political prisoners in the book, Can’t Jail the Spirit: “We define Political Prisoners as people who have made conscious political decisions, and acted on them, to oppose the United States government, and who have been incarcerated as a result of these actions. These actions are taken in response to economic, social, and political conflict within our society…. Many are framed up on totally unrelated charges or vague conspiracy laws. For example Geronimo Pratt and Leonard Peltier are in prison on frame-up murder charges...”
Once my dream of starting a foundation in my parents’ name had found its focus, my first task was to find as many children of political prisoners as I could. I discovered over 70 of them in my initial survey. Not surprisingly, many of them desperately needed help. In May, 1991 our very first grant, for $805.00, enabled two children of a political prisoner to attend a two-week session at a summer camp.
More than 20 years have passed since then. All the children I found in that initial canvas have become adults. Some of the political prisoners have been released. A few, like Geronimo have died since their release, and others died while still incarcerated. Most, however, like Leonard Peltier, received grotesquely long sentences, and still languish in jail. Instead of paying for their children to visit, the RFC is paying to unite them with their grand and great-grandchildren.
Unfortunately, a new generation of RFC beneficiary children have replaced the first cohort we aided in the early 1990’s. Iraq War resisters, Green Scare defendants and targeted Muslims are part of a recent wave of people incarcerated in the 21st century for political purposes.
As I write this we await word of a new round of indictments against peace and international solidarity activists the Justice Department apparently intends to charge with giving material aid to terrorists. Many of these “dangerous peace terrorists” have children. I hope none of them ever have to visit an imprisoned parent, but we will do what we can to help any child of this new group of targeted activists.
Just as the RFC has persisted, thousands of other committed people continue the effort to free all political prisoners. They place their struggle within the larger context of the battle against the prison industrial complex, a multi-billion dollar industry that leaves our nation, the ironically labeled “land of the free,” with the highest incarceration rate in the world!
Sometimes it may feel like we are a trickle resisting a mighty force, but our tiny stream is also part of a massive flow that has persevered for generations. In my parents’ name, in honor of Geronimo “ji-Jaga” Pratt, and so many others, we will continue.
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