Geronimo ji Jaga never surrendered
Published Jun 9, 2011 6:59 AM
Geronimo ji Jaga
They couldn’t break Geronimo ji Jaga. The FBI and Los Angeles district
attorney framed the Black Panther Party leader for murder and jailed him for 27
Geronimo spent eight of those years in solitary confinement, with a hole in the
floor of his tiny cell serving as a toilet. He was finally released in 1999
after being exonerated of all charges.
Geronimo ji Jaga died on June 2 in Tanzania. He was born on Sept. 13, 1947, in
Morgan City, La., 70 miles southwest of New Orleans.
The future revolutionary grew up with the name Elmer Pratt. He lived with six
brothers and sisters in a segregated small town. His father had a small scrap
Elmer Pratt was quarterback of the Morgan City Colored High School’s
football team. He joined the U.S. Army and fought in Vietnam, becoming a
sergeant in the 82nd Airborne. Pratt came home wounded with two purple hearts
and other medals.
The Pentagon waged a dirty, racist war against the Vietnamese people. At least
3 million Vietnamese were killed. With communist leadership, Vietnam defeated
Wall Street’s mighty war machine.
The incredible courage and perseverance of the Vietnamese people influenced
Asian, Black, Latino and Native GIs. They weren’t coming home to take the
same old crap.
After Vietnam, Elmer Pratt enrolled in the University of California, Los
Angeles under the GI bill. He changed his name in 1968 to Geronimo in honor of
the great Native American leader. Ji Jaga refers to an African people who lived
Black revolutionaries were inspired by Native people, who never ceased fighting
to be free despite centuries of genocide. Leaders of the American Indian
Movement said they were inspired by the Black Panther Party.
Framed for being a revolutionary
African Americans rebelled in 200 cities after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
was assassinated on April 4, 1968. That same year Geronimo ji Jaga was
recruited by Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter to the Black Panther
Carter and John Huggins, leaders of the Panthers’ Southern California
chapter, were fatally shot in a feud with the US (United Slaves) organization,
led by Ron Karenga, the originator of Kwanza. Many people believe this feud was
provoked by the FBI’s Cointelpro campaign against Black activists.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover attacked Dr. King. But his biggest FBI target was
the Black Panther Party. Hoover hated the Panthers for spreading revolutionary
consciousness while organizing the Breakfast for Children program.
At least 28 members of the Black Panther Party were killed by police. Some
Panthers are still in jail today, including Marshall “Eddie” Conway
in Maryland, Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa in Nebraska, and Albert Woodfox
and Herman Wallace in Louisiana.
A few days after Chicago Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot
to death in a hail of bullets by cops on Dec. 4, 1969, Los Angeles police
attacked the local Panther headquarters.
Moving up to the second floor, Geronimo — by now the chapter’s
acting Minister of Defense — and the other Panthers defended themselves
against police gunfire for six hours.
This was enough time for people to come into the streets to prevent the cops
from killing the Panthers.
Within a month the Los Angeles FBI office crafted a Cointelpro plot
“designed to challenge the legitimacy of the authority exercised”
by Geronimo ji Jaga among Black Panther Party members. Another FBI memo
discussed methods to destroy Geronimo “as an effective [Panther]
functionary.” (Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1994)
To take Geronimo ji Jaga off the streets they framed him for the December 1968
killing of Caroline Olsen. She and her partner Kenneth were robbed and shot on
a Santa Monica tennis court. Kenneth Olsen survived.
This crime resulted in lurid headlines about a white couple allegedly killed by
Black perpetrators. In 1970 Geronimo was arrested for murder, despite being 350
miles away in Oakland attending Panther meetings at the time of the crime.
According to former FBI agent Wesley Swearingen, the FBI had wiretap evidence
proving Geronimo ji Jaga was in the San Francisco Bay area. These wiretap logs
were destroyed so Geronimo could be unjustly convicted.
The star witness against Geronimo was Julius Butler, who claimed Geronimo ji
Jaga confessed to him about killing Olsen. Butler was a former Los Angeles
County sheriff’s deputy and FBI informer who had wormed his way into the
local Panther chapter. Butler lied when he denied being an informer.
Another influential witness was Kenneth Olsen, who identified Geronimo ji Jaga
as one of the shooters. But before that Olsen had identified another Black man
as the culprit.
This key fact — which would have hurt Kenneth Olsen’s credibility
— was withheld from jurors. One of the jurors, Jeanne Hamilton, later
said, “I think that alone would have changed our mind.” (Los
Angeles Times, May 24, 1994)
It still took the jury 10 days before agreeing to convict Geronimo, who was
then sentenced to life imprisonment.
Worldwide defense effort freed him
Geronimo never gave up despite being beaten by prison guards. He used yoga and
“cellisthenics,” a physical fitness program he developed, to keep
His defense lawyer, Johnnie Cochran Jr., never gave up either, calling
Geronimo’s case the most important in his career.
A worldwide defense effort finally flushed out the truth about the frame-up.
Geronimo ji Jaga was released on June 10, 1997. Los Angeles County and the U.S.
Department of Justice agreed to pay him $4.5 million in reparations.
Geronimo spoke at the March 28, 1998, Jericho Movement demonstration in
Washington, D.C., to free all political prisoners. He spoke at the Feb. 26,
1999, New York City rally at Town Hall to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Whenever you hear the U.S. government complain of “human rights”
violations in China, remember that Geronimo ji Jaga spent as many years in jail
as Nelson Mandela did in apartheid South Africa.
Long live the memories of Geronimo and Geronimo ji Jaga.
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