Monday, November 30, 2009

Elections in Honduras: Whitewashing the Path to a Past of Horrors

Elections in Honduras: Whitewashing the Path to a Past of Horrors

 

by Lisa Sullivan

 

School of Americas Watch

 

http://soaw.org/article.php?id=1786

 

I came to Honduras to participate as a human rights

observer of the electoral climate in a delegation

organized by the Quixote Center. Several delegations

converged, connecting some 30 U.S. citizens with dozens

more from Canada, Europe and Latin America. In the days

prior to the elections we scattered to different

cities, towns and villages, meeting with fishermen,

farmers, maquila workers, labor leaders, teachers and

lawyers, as well as those who were jailed for carrying

spray paint, hospitalized for being shot in the head by

the military, and detained for reporting on the

repression. It was, most likely, a bit off the 5-star,

air-conditioned path of most of the mainstream

journalists who are filling your morning papers with

the wonders of today's elections.

 

But by the evening of the day of the elections, what we

had witnessed in previous days pushed those of us from

the U.S. directly to the doors of our embassy in

Tegucigalpa. We realized that this place, not the

polling stations, was where this horrific destiny of

Honduras, and perhaps all of Latin America, was being

determined. And so the U.S. citizens among us took our

statements and signs and determination there.

 

We were, indeed, greeted by many: dozens of guards with

cameras, some 30 journalists, Honduran police with guns

and also cameras, as well as a low flying helicopter

that at least made us feel important. While the

journalists let us read our entire statement of why

these elections should be not be recognized by our

government because of the egregious repression, the

embassy guards wouldn't even let us leave our slip of

paper. That, in spite of the fact that the embassy's

human rights officer, Nate Macklin, told our delegation

leader to make sure to let him know if there were any

human rights abuses.

 

Any? In each of the many corners of the country visited

by the 70-plus international observers, we witnessed

the fear, repression, intimidation, bribery and

outright brutality of the government security forces

(note: we were there to observe the electoral climate,

not electoral observers, since we consider the

elections to be illegal. Likewise, the UN, OAS, and

Carter Center and other bedrock electoral groups

boycotted "the event" as many Hondurans called the day.)

 

As elections were in full swing in the morning, our

delegate and nurse practitioner, Silvia Metzler visited

Angel Salgado and Maria Elena Hernandez who were

languishing in the intensive care unit of the Hospital

Escuela in Tegucigalpa . Both had been shot in the head

at one of the many military checkpoints, no questions

asked. Doctors give Angel a zero possibility of

survival and he leaves behind a 6 year old son. Maria

Elena has a better chance of recovery, but it will be a

long road. She was selling snacks on the side of the

road to support her teenage children when caught by

military bullet.

 

Tom Loudon was on the streets of San Pedro Sula when

police tanks and water trucks and tear gas canisters

attacked a peaceful march of the resistance movement.

It took him a long time to find other members of his

delegation who had scattered in the frenzy, but they

were luckier than two observers from the Latin America

Council of Churches who were detained or a Reuters

photographer who was injured in the massive display of

repression. Dozens of cells phones captured the police

beating anyone they could catch with their billy clubs.

 

The first person I thought of as I awoke on election

day was Wlmer Rivero, a fisherman in a small town with

the big name of Puerto Grande. I kept thinking of the

fear in his eyes as he relayed how the police have been

visiting his house and asking for him, ever since he

trekked 6 days on foot to greet a returning President

Zelaya. Each local mayor has been asked to put together

a list of resistance leaders, and his name was one of

22 from his town. We suggested to Wilmer that he not

sleep at home during the electoral days. He called the

next day to thank us for our advise. The police had

ransacked his home, and that of many of his neighbors,

the night before elections, threatening his life. But,

he wondered, what will he do now.

 

I also thought of Merly Eguigure who I had visited 2

days earlier in a cold and crumbling jail cell, reeking

of human waste. She had been captured for having a can

of spray paint in her car. Though she was released

shortly before elections, she will face trial and

probably prison for defacing government property. Merly

claims that the spray paint was to be used in an

activity to raise awareness of violence towards women.

Perhaps authorities worried that the paint was destined

to add a new message to the city walls. Every square

inch of blank wall space in the city is covered with

powerful graffiti against the coup. In spite of

government to whitewash over it, the blank spaces are

filled in again within hours.

 

So, now I wonder what the Honduran people will do to

overcome the massive whitewash that just took place in

their country. Not of walls, but of coups. The military

coup led by SOA graduates Generals Vasquez Velasquez

and Prince Suazo first had a quick bath of whitewash by

placing a "civilian " leader as the figurative head of

government: President of Congress and business mogul

Roberto Micheletti. The whitewash used at the moment

was mixed ahead of time, and quite abundant. It was the

excuse that Zelaya was preparing a vote to call for his

re-election and had to be removed quickly. (Never mind

that the consultative vote actually had nothing to do

with a re-election. It was a consultative vote to ask

Honduras whether they wanted to vote on convening a

Constitutional Assembly). I call this first whitewash

the "transformation from military coup to civilian coup".

 

And now, the second bath of whitewash was even more

challenging, especially since the first whitewash

proved to be kind of thin and exposed the words from

below. Thus, it didn't really convince many. As a

matter of fact, it didn't convince anyone except the

United States government (or woops, maybe they actually

helped to stir the first batch), Now, the challenge of

November 29th whitewash was to transform the civilian

coup into a shining electoral display of freedom,

fairness and grand participation so that all the world

would say, "wow, that Honduran coup is gone. Now

Honduras has a real and wonderful democracy, End of story".

 

Except that it's probably the beginning of a story. One

that we thought had been left to rest in Latin America

years and years ago. One of fear and repression and

deaths and disappearances. We know the litany all too

well, and we remember the names of its thousands of

victims each November. This year we had to add too many

new names from Honduras. And, if our government chooses

to recognize these elections, this massive whitewash, I

fear that many more names will be read from the stage

in front of Ft. Benning next year. And perhaps not just from Honduras.

 

So, when I said that I wonder what Hondurans will do in

the face of this whitewash what I really wonder is what

I will do, what we will do U.S. citizens. Because, this

whitewash will only have the formula to whiten and

brighten this military dictatorship if our government

chooses to accept the results, as they have indicated

that they will likely do.

 

Today the headlines in most of the U.S. media reiterate

the official Honduran statistics that 60% of Hondurans

went to the polls yesterday. Our delegates visited

dozens of polling stations, finding them almost empty,

in most places counting more electoral monitors and

caretakers than voters. The resistance movement puts

abstention at 65-70%. Which statistic do we prefer to believe?

 

I have lived in Latin America since 1977. I was called

to stay in this land when I saw how young and

idealistic youth such as myself at the time, were being

taken from their homes, never returned. Somehow, I felt

called to continue the steps they would never take. And

so I stayed 32 years. I have witnessed hope rising from

the South in the past 10 years, in ways I never

dreamed. I have seen efforts of building dignity and

sovereignty rise high, inspire millions, and make a difference.

 

And so, maybe this explains the anger that rose from

within me yesterday, in front of the embassy. That

anger surprised even me. I am ashamed of our

government. Ashamed that we are in great part to blame

for pushing this country back 30 years into dark and

deadly times. And I worry that Honduras is just the beginning.

_____________________________________________

 

The Hollow Politics of Escalation

 Baltimore United for Peace and Justice and the Pledge of Resistance are calling for a demonstration on Wed., Dec. 2 at 5:30 PM outside the War Memorial Bldg. on Gay St. The demonstration is a protest against Obama’s plan to escalate the war in AfghanistanEmail Max at mobuszewski at verizon.net.

Published on Monday, November 30, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

The Hollow Politics of Escalation

by Norman Solomon

An underlying conceit of the new spin about benchmarks and timetables for Afghanistan is the notion that pivotal events there can be choreographed from Washington. So, a day ahead of the president's Tuesday night speech, the New York Times quotes an unnamed top administration official saying: "He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down."

But "eventually" is a long way off. In the meantime, the result of Washington's hollow politics is more carnage.

The next days and weeks will bring an avalanche of hype about insisting on measurable progress and shifting burdens onto the Afghan army -- while the U.S. military expands the war. In the groove, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed, told CNN viewers on Sunday: "The key element here is not just more troops. The key element is shifting the operations to the Afghanis [sic]. And if that can be done, then I would support the president."

That's the kind of talk that I. F. Stone disparaged at the height of the Vietnam War, in mid-1970, when he concluded: "Not enough Asians are going to fight Asians for us even if the price is right."

Now, President Obama's decision to massively escalate the Afghanistan war is confronting people and institutions in the United States with a challenge of historic dimensions.

Among those inclined to be antiwar, it doesn't much matter whether they "support" the escalation. What matters is whether they openly oppose it -- and, if so, how vocally and emphatically.

There's a clear and well-trod pathway for ineffectual dissent from members of Congress who end up passively assisting the escalation by a fellow Democrat in the Oval Office. Avid support for the war effort is helpful but not necessary. Scarcity of determined opposition will suffice to keep the war politically viable in Washington.

At the core of the enabling politics is inner space that's hollow enough to reliably cave under pressure. Typically, Democrats with antiwar inclinations weaken and collapse at push-comes-to-shove moments on Capitol Hill. The habitual pattern involves loyalty toward -- and fear of -- "the leadership."

Early on, during President Johnson's Vietnam War escalation, Senators Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening and then Frank Church were prophetic antiwar pariahs. As years went by, the war's horrors and growing domestic opposition led some others in Congress to find a solid inner core that withstood pro-war pressures. Eventually.

We're now in an early stage of such a progression. Due to careful silences in U.S. politics, many more lives will be shattered. Soon. And eventually.

The essence of a core becomes evident under pressure. It's one thing to voice opposition to sending more troops into Afghanistan -- it's another to really try to prevent the escalation. Few in Congress have gotten serious enough about halting the war's deadly spiral to sign onto Congresswoman Barbara Lee's bill H.R. 3699, which would prohibit any increase in funding for additional troop deployment to Afghanistan.

Among Democrats in powerful positions, some misgivings about the war are evident -- but willingness to withhold spending for the war is not.

The tragic limits of those misgivings were evident last week when ABC News interviewed Rep. David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who called for a war surtax.

"On the merits, I think it's a mistake to deepen our involvement," Obey said. "But if we are going to do that, then at least we ought to pay for it. Because if we don't, if we don't pay for it, then the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every other initiative that we have to try to rebuild our own economy."

Then came a direct question from the network correspondent: "The White House comes and asks you again to get through this Congress money for an increased commitment in Afghanistan -- are you going to be there fighting to get that passed?"

The congressman replied: "I'm going to be there fighting to get whatever they do, paid for."

But Congress can't stop the war while paying for it.

Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death [1]" has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is "Made Love, Got War. [2]" He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare [3] campaign. In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay; www.GreenNewDeal.info [4].

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

 

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

 

Peace and antiwar community says no to war in Afghanistan

BALTIMORE NONVIOLENCE CENTER, 325 East 25th Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

 

President Barack Obama

The White House

Washington, D.C.

 

November 30, 2009

 

Dear President Obama,

 

With millions of U.S. people feeling the fear and desperation of no longer having a home; with millions feeling the terror and loss of dignity that comes with unemployment; with millions of our children slipping further into poverty and hunger, your decision to deploy thousands more troops and throw hundreds of billions more dollars into prolonging the profoundly tragic war in Afghanistan strikes us as utter folly. We believe this decision represents a war against ordinary people, both here in the United States and in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan, if continued, will result in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of U.S. troops, and untold thousands of Afghans.

 

Polls indicate that a majority of those who labored with so much hope to elect you as president now fear that you will make a wrong decision --a tragic decision that will destroy their dreams for America. More tragic is the price of your decision. It will be paid with the blood, suffering and broken hearts of our young troops, their loved ones and an even greater number of Afghan men, women and children.

 

The U.S. military claims that this war must be fought to protect U.S. national security, but we believe it is being waged to expand U.S. empire in the interests of oil and pipeline companies.

 

Your decision to escalate U.S. troops and continue the occupation will cause other people in other lands to despise the U.S. as a menacing military power that violates international law. Keep in mind that to most of the peoples of the world, widening the war in Afghanistan will look exactly like what it is: the world's richest nation making war on one of the world's very poorest.

 

The war must be ended now. Humanitarian aid programs should address the deep poverty that has always been a part of the life of Afghan people.

 

We will keep opposing this war in every nonviolent way possible. We will urge elected representatives to cut all funding for war. Some of us will be led to withhold our taxes, practice civil resistance, and promote slowdowns and strikes at schools and workplaces.

 

In short, President Obama, we will do everything in our power, as nonviolent peace activists, to build the kind of massive movement --which today represents the sentiments of a majority of the American people--that will play a key role in ending U.S. war in Afghanistan. Such would be the folly of a decision to escalate troop deployment and such is the depth of our opposition to the death and suffering it would cause.

 

Sincerely, (Signers names listed in alphabetical order)

 

Jack Amoureux, Executive Committee, Military Families Speak Out

Michael Baxter, Catholic Peace Fellowship

Medea Benjamin, Co-founder, Global Exchange

Frida Berrigan, Witness Against Torture

Imam Mahdi Bray, Executive Director, Muslim American Society Freedom

Elaine Brower, World Can’t Wait

Leslie Cagan, Co-Founder, United for Peace and Justice

Tom Cornell, Catholic Peace Fellowship

Matt Daloisio, War Resisters League

Marie Dennis, Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Robby Diesu, Our Spring Break

Pat Elder, Co-coordinator, National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth

Mike Ferner, President, Veterans For Peace

Joy First, Convener, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance

Sara Flounders, Co-Director, International Action Center

Sunil Freeman, ANSWER Coalition, Washington, D.C.

Diana Gibson, Coordinator, Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice

Jerry Gordon, Co-Coordinator, National Assembly To End Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupation

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence

David Hartsough, Peaceworkers, San Francisco

Mike Hearington, Steering Committee, Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, Atlanta

Larry Holmes, Coordinator, Troops Out Now Coalition

Mark C. Johnson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation

Hany Khalil, War Times

Kathy Kelly, Co-Coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Leslie Kielson , Co-Chair, United for Peace and Justice

Malachy Kilbride, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance

Adele Kubein, Executive Committee, Military Families Speak Out

Jeff Mackler, Co-Coordinator, National Assembly to End Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair–Elect, World Parliament of Religion

Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Peace Action

Michael T. McPhearson, Executive Director, Veterans For Peace

Gael Murphy, Co-founder, Code Pink

Michael Nagler, Founder, Metta Center for Nonviolence

Max Obuszewski, Director, Baltimore Nonviolence Center

Pete Perry, Peace of the Action

Dave Robinson, Executive Director Pax Christi USA

Terry Rockefeller, September 11th Families For Peaceful Tomorrows

Samina Sundas, Founding Executive Director, American Muslim Voice

David Swanson, AfterDowningStreet.org

Carmen Trotta, Catholic Worker

Nancy Tsou, Coordinator, Rockland Coalition for Peace and Justice

Jose Vasquez, Executive Director, Iraq Veterans Against the War

Kevin Zeese, Voters for Peace

Accident casts fresh doubt on nuclear safety

www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.nuclear25nov25,0,810881.story

baltimoresun.com

Accident casts fresh doubt on nuclear safety

By Gwen L. DuBois

November 25, 2009

On Nov. 21, there was a radiation leak at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., less than 100 miles north of Baltimore up I-83. One hundred and fifty workers were evacuated, and 20 people were exposed to radiation.

The leak didn't get a lot of attention here, but Marylanders should care - not only because Three Mile Island is not very far from us but also because Calvert Cliffs in Southern Maryland may be the site of the first new nuclear power plant to be ordered since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Electricité de France (EDF), the largest merchant of nuclear power in Europe, has purchased an almost 50 percent share in Constellation's nuclear holdings and will try to build a new nuclear power plant in our state with millions of dollars in federal loan guarantees.

Last week's leak is the latest reminder that nuclear power, despite its proponents' claims, can be dirty and unsafe. And there are disturbing questions about EDF's safety record. Last month, it was accused of dumping more than 1,500 tons of spent fuel near a town in Siberia, where the waste was discovered in metal cans. EDF claims it is sending the material to Russia to be "reprocessed." Environmental experts quoted in Britain's Telegraph newspaper say that 13 percent of spent fuel from its plants is shipped over there, and it is "really dirty stuff."

EDF has other problems in France, where 15 of 58 reactors it owns are currently off-line. As reported this month in the Economist, one investment bank attributes the company's trouble with reliability in electricity production to under-investment and large maintenance costs from EDF's aging nuclear power fleet. Another expert quoted in the article commented that more attention was being given to international expansion and less to local French operations. One site, Tricastin, has repeatedly been in the news for leaks and mishaps - as it was again two weeks ago, when its Unit #2 had to stop refueling because the fuel assembly got stuck, just as it had last year. Also last year, there was a 30,000-liter spill of a uranium solution that contaminated two nearby rivers for a time. Another event at Tricastin last year caused the low-level radioactive contamination of 45 workers.

Reuters reported Nov. 3 that British, Finnish and French nuclear safety bodies jointly issued a criticism and demanded changes in the security systems in the new European pressurized reactor designed by AREVA and used by EDF in its new plants. These concerns are over "insufficient independence between day-to-day systems and emergency systems." This is the system that EDF plans to use at Calvert Cliffs.

The Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago that EDF's debt will grow from $42 billion euro to $50 billion euro by 2013, and that EDF might have to raise $27 billion euro to meet its nuclear obligations. The Economist reported Nov. 19 that its debt "stands at $37 billion euro ($53 billion) and could rise to $65 billion euro by 2017-2018."

All that debt comes with a cost to consumers. Nuclear power in France from old nuclear power plants costs about 4.3 cents per kilowatt-hour; given cost overruns, new nuclear power can cost anywhere from 7 cents to 10 cents per kwh.

In the current issue of Scientific American, Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi propose a technically feasible, clean and efficient energy future from wind, water and sun. They note that wind - at 7 cents per kwh and projected to drop to 4 cents by 2020 - is getting cheaper than new nuclear, which is growing more expensive. In addition, wind is 25 times cleaner because of carbon emissions caused by mining, manufacturing and transporting associated with nuclear power.

These recent reports recount worker and environmental contamination, mishandling of nuclear waste, lack of reliability in producing electricity and fiscally risky policies at EDF. As laid out in Scientific American, as well as in the works of Maryland's own clean energy scholar, Arjun Makihani, from the Takoma-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, EDF's biggest problem may be that it is marketing an old, expensive and dirty solution to our energy crisis.

Three Mile Island reminds us that when there is a mishap at a nuclear power plant - unlike at wind, water and solar plants - what leaks out is radioactive.

Dr. Gwen L. DuBois, an internist at Sinai Hospital, is a member Physicians for Social Responsibility. Her e-mail is gdu bois@pol.net.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net

 

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Assassinated By The State

Assassinated By The State

The federally sanctioned murder of a Black Panther.

By Salim Muwakkil

In These Times

November 25, 2009

http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/5203/assassinated_by_the_state

 

It's clear that Hoover's designation of the Panthers as

`the greatest threat to the internal security of the

country' provided law enforcement with a virtual license to kill.

 

Jeffrey Haas tells a story that many of us have long

waited to read. His book, The Assassination of Fred

Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a

Black Panther (Lawrence Hill Books, November), is a

much-needed corrective to a badly distorted mainstream

narrative of a key event in the history of the left and

African-American politics of the late '60s. Haas reveals

just how deeply the Nixon Justice Department was

involved in the Chicago police raid on December 4, 1969,

that killed Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and

Mark Clark. Hampton headed the Panthers' Chicago branch

and Clark the Peoria, Ill., branch.

 

It is now clear that Hampton and Clark were victims of a

plot hatched by the FBI and executed by the Cook County

State's Attorney and Chicago police officers.

Nonetheless, conventional wisdom portrays the Panthers

as the villains. In 2006, Chicago's City Council, under

pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police, voted down

a routine city ordinance to name the block on which

Hampton's murder took place in his honor.

 

The accumulation of facts presented in Haas' book

portrays Chicago police as all too willing to violate

the constitutional rights of Panther members and

supporters. He reveals the cynical treachery of State

Attorney Edward Hanrahan, whose office planned the raid

under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover's

Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Haas also

provides a damning portrayal of one obstinate judge's

continued attempts to thwart the legal process.

 

But Haas also offers captivating details that add color

and context to those turbulent times. He evokes the

infectious spirit of change and activism that infused so

many idealistic young Americans during the hallowed

'60s. His accounts of growing up Jewish and middle-class

in Atlanta, Ga., help locate the source of his

unconventional political leanings. Haas' grandfather,

for example, was an attorney for Leo Frank, a Jewish

factory owner who was lynched in Georgia after being

wrongly accused of murdering a teenage girl. His father

was deeply involved in the civil rights movement in the

South. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an icon of that

movement, wrote the eulogy for his father's funeral.

 

Haas' forebears held radical positions for Southern

whites, and it seems Haas was simply following ancestral

footsteps when he aligned himself with the emergent

black radical movement of the 1960s. Although many

thought it unusual for an attorney with University of

Chicago credentials to eschew wealth and status to

associate with black radicals, it was a natural move for Haas.

 

His accounts of the life at the U of C law school, where

he met a "persuasive" Bernardine Dohrn, who would become

the leader of the Weathermen faction of Students for a

Democratic Society, evoke a period infused with

political passions. At that time, Dohrn chaired a group

that sent law students to the South for summer jobs with

civil rights lawyers. Haas was sent to his home, Atlanta.

 

"I had to go to Chicago to take my first steps to

confront segregation where I grew up," he writes. Though

easily parodied, the earnest idealism of those days

provoked real change. Haas' volume reminds us how

important na√ɯve and optimistic students were to toppling

barriers of segregation in the South.

 

Back in Chicago, after passing the bar and while

defending suspects arrested during the violence that

erupted following the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin

Luther King, Jr., Haas met a like-minded attorney named

Dennis Cunningham. They formed a friendship and

partnership, and in 1969 they joined with two other

lawyers to open the People's Law Office, which has since

gained an international reputation for conscientiously

defending victims of overzealous law enforcement.

 

Haas also provides some historical context for the rise

of the Black Panther Party, a group started in 1966 by

college students Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale to

address issues of police brutality in their hometown of

Oakland, Calif. Seale and Newton decided to form an

organization of armed volunteers to confront abusive

police officers directly. At the time, it was still

legal to brandish unconcealed weapons in California.

 

The idea that African-Americans could physically resist

police mistreatment was very attractive to urban black

youth of that era. I was one of them. And, like me, many

had grown weary of watching nonviolent protesters for

civil rights endure humiliating beatings at the hands of police.

 

The Black Panther Party's disciplined audacity offered

black youth an alternative that resonated with the

militant tenor of the times. Although the group embraced

a quasi-Marxist ideology and provocatively challenged

police authority, it spread like wildfire-mostly in the

urban north. Their urgent sense of commitment to social

justice permanently altered the street-gang culture of urban America.

 

The first Panther office opened in Chicago in November

1968. Fred Hampton, a charismatic 20-year-old who

formerly led the Maywood, Ill., NAACP youth chapter, was

given the leadership role by Bobby Rush, now an Illinois

congressman, but then the Defense Minister of the

Illinois Black Panthers. Haas gives us one of the few

accounts of Hampton's life outside of his connection to

the Panthers. Hampton grew up in Chicago's southern

suburbs, the third child of Louisiana immigrants Francis

and Iberia Hampton.

 

The true strength of this book is Haas' meticulous

reconstruction of the particulars that led to the

partial victory (the plaintiffs received a $1.85 million

settlement, although the government admitted no

wrongdoing) and legal vindication of the People's Law

Office. He details how the FBI, the Cook County State's

Attorney's office and the Chicago police conspired to

assassinate Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. He clearly

reveals, for example, how COINTELPRO, which sought to

"neutralize" black leaders, provided motivation for the

Hampton murder. The book's exhaustive account of this

incident is one of the few investigations to explore the

Hampton assassination. This is odd because many strands

of U.S. history converge at this point. The FBI's

COINTELPRO program, uncovered in 1973 by the Senate

Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Idaho

Senator Frank Church, sought to "prevent the rise of a

messiah who could unify and electrify the militant Black

Nationalist movement." That FBI directive helps us

understand just how deeply the federal government feared

the Black Panthers and someone like Fred Hampton. A

popular leader with great potential, Hampton embodied

the electrifying appeal of the Black Panther Party among

a certain segment of black youth.

 

In retrospect, it's clear that Hoover's designation of

the Panthers as "the greatest threat to the internal

security of the country" provided law enforcement with a

virtual license to kill. What's more, the reckless

bravado of the Panthers often provided police a

convenient pretext.

 

Haas' important book clarifies how the racial paranoia

of an out-of-touch federal government produced a

deceitful policy that trashed constitutional rights even

as it ignored legitimate grievances.

 

This book should alter the conventional wisdom that the

Panthers were a dangerous threat that the police had to

eliminate at all costs. Haas reveals that the cost was much too high.

_____________________________________________