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State repression and the Black struggle

'Everyone has a point where they won't back down'

Interview with Safiya Bukhari, part 6

By Imani Henry

In the previous installment, Bukhari spoke of her arrest and imprisonment by Virginia authorities.

Imani Henry: I asked about you getting out of prison without doing all of your time.

Safiya Bukhari: I used the courts. And the women in the prison started to watch what I was doing. ...The warden said I was "a threat to the security of the free world." Then she told them that I could organize the women in her prison. And that was the only women's prison in Virginia.

They were concerned about my ability to organize and "recruit" women from the institution. I didn't believe in recruiting because the person has to make up her mind for herself and if you recruit too many, then it puts the responsibility on you. But if they did on their own, that was something different. [The prison officials] didn't understand those concepts at all.

Then the warden told me, "I'll approve you for a furlough, but I won't approve you for honor college." Honor college is where you can go in and out of the building anytime you want to. Now I could go off grounds, I could do work release, but I couldn't go to honor college on the grounds. What sense did that make?

I and other women started this group, Mothers Inside Loving Kids (MILK), for the long-termers. And we helped them spend time with their children. Because one of the things they do heavy in the South is that they take away parental rights, especially if a woman goes to jail. Doesn't matter how long she's in prison for or how short she's in prison for, even if her case has nothing to do with child abuse. Virginia took away parental rights.

That prison used to be a plantation. And most of those prisons down there used to be plantations. And they still had the slave housing; some of the same buildings that slaves had slept in.

IH: So when you came up for parole, was that a struggle again, or did you have enough good time?

SB: When my time came up for parole, the debate was what I was going to say to the parole board. Everybody kept saying I should say, "I have remorse."

IH: So what did you decide to do with the parole board?

SB: What they asked me was, "What do you think about violence?" And I told them. I don't believe in violence for the sake of violence. But everyone has a point where you will not back down.

And they asked me about being in contact with any former Black Liberation Army people, Black Panthers and felonies. And I told them, "Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm not to be in contact with my family. Because these people are not just members of the BLA or BPP; these people are part of my family. So it's up to you. And whatever you do, I will do what I have to do."

Then they asked me, "Do you still believe in what you believe in?" And I said, "No, in all these years, I learned that not everybody is ready for armed struggle. There is a lot of education that needs to be done. There's a lot of organizing that has to be done if you want to support other people. And that's what I do best." They didn't turn me down and they didn't give me parole. They gave me a deferral.

IH: So you did eight years and eight months, and you were released when?

SB: August 22, 1983.

IH: When did the Jericho movement start?

SB: I came to the conclusion there had to be a better way to deal with this issue of political prisoners. I went to Cuba to spend time with Assata Shakur and meet with the Association of Cuban Women and we heard that we had won the stay of execution for Mumia Abu-Jamal [in 1995].

In 1996, we started to build the Jericho march. ...We needed a umbrella organization that represented all political prisoners. The four objectives of the Jericho Movement are: 1) Winning amnesty and freedom for all political prisoners currently held; 2) Making the U.S. government acknowledge there are political prisoners in U.S. jails; 3) Setting up a legal defense fund so their appeal work gets done and there is ongoing work on their cases after their trials; and 4) Demanding adequate medical care.

Reprinted from the Aug. 15, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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