Thursday, 1 February 2001

From Paris to Pelican Bay - by Kiilu Nyasha, Feb. 2001

[Intro from Jan. 27, 2014, from Kiilu's Site:] 
I had almost forgotten I wrote this piece after our ten-day tour of France and Geneva in November-December 2000 in behalf of Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal.  I thought you might find it interesting.  Just remember the dates are all dated :).  Two good things have happened since:  Mumia is off death row and in general population; and Yogi has been transferred from Pelican Bay to New Folsom State Prison near Sacramento, ca., albeit still in lockup. 


By Kiilu Nyasha
February 2001

In behalf of two of our most treasured prisoners of war -- Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier -- we visited seven European cities in ten days and spent our last four days in Paris where a major demonstration happened on December 2, 2000. 

A letter from one of the longest held political prisoners in the country (37 years!), Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi) awaited my return from Paris. I thought to myself, if I could travel all over France for Mumia and Leonard, I could make it to Pelican Bay to see Yogi again.


On November 20, 2000, Yroko Major-Nealy and her son, Omari, age two, met me at San Francisco's airport to fly nonstop to Paris where we would join other activists to begin our tour of six cities in France plus Geneva, Switzerland. 

I was invited to join the group of five already in Europe by Julia Wright, daughter of the famous author, Richard Wright, former correspondent of the Black Panther Party, and a leader of COSIMAPP (International Support Committee for Mumia Abu-Jamal and All Political Prisoners) based in Paris. Yroko, daughter of our distinguished poet/writer, Devorah Major, and granddaughter of writer/BPP historian, Reggie Major, a poet herself who has lived in Paris and speaks French, kindly agreed to accompany and assist me (I'm a disabled wheelchair user.) Omari became our little mascot and provided us with comic relief during the long distance drives between cities. By trip's end, he had captured everyone's heart, especially mine.

The delegation, which left Paris on November 22, also included Apache-Xicano Bobby Castillo from the Bay Area, international spokesperson for Leonard Peltier; Sylvain Duez, Alessandrini, co-coordinator of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee in France; Katherine (French) and Lauren Cunningham (American resident of Geneva) who handled all the driving, and yours truly, activist/journalist and former member of the New Haven Chapter of the BPP.

Local activist groups in the various towns prepared meetings with the public and the press to raise awareness about these two cases, the FBI's COINTELPRO, the situation for all political prisoners and prisoners of war, racism and oppression in the United States, the struggle to abolish the death penalty and other pertinent issues. The panel addressing the various audiences included Bobby, Sylvain, Julia, and I, plus interpreters. Sylvain would commence in French with a full report on the case of Peltier. 

Our Native American comrade-brother and leader of the American Indian Movement was falsely convicted of killing two FBI agents in 1975 at Pine Ridge. Bobby would follow Sylvain describing his prison experiences, meeting Peltier at Lompoc Federal Prison in Southern California, and raising consciousness re the plight of indigenous and Chicano peoples in the U.S. Julia, who has lived in France since she was four, would provide audiences with a detailed report on Mumia's case and the breadth of international support he has for a new trial to prove his innocence. I would speak last and invite questions from the audiences to allow the panel to respond and facilitate further discussion. Since Mumia and I are on the same page, I tried to represent him by painting a global picture of our revolutionary movement and objectives, in addition to exposing the spiraling prison industrial complex, death row and prison populations, etc.

We spoke to standing-room-only crowds in Caen and Amiens, in northern France. In the former, mostly teachers and other professionals attended, while in Amiens and Geneva the interest came largely from a younger audience of students and activists. Even with the obstacle of translating between English and French, the question and answer periods were lively and fruitful for the audience and the speakers.

In Geneva, a demonstration ended in front of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Mary Robinson, and in a public conference. Unfortunately, Yroko, Omari and I missed the demo, but were present at the evening event where our panel plus a guest speaker from Amnesty International addressed a very multi-cultural audience. 

We spent two days there and had a successful press conference with reporters from major dailies present. Lauren later sent me the newsclippings from Le Courrier, Tribune de Genève, and movement tabloid Aujourd'hui No. 74. Both major dailies reported Amnesty International's support for Mumia and Leonard, citing a letter dated November 16, 2000 to President Clinton by its Secretary General, Pierre Sane, stating "All the legal channels open to Leonard Peltier being exhausted, we are firmly convinced that an act of clemency is not only opportune, but necessary, in the name of justice." But of course we know that Clinton refused to grant the pardon. After all, the LPDC didn't contribute millions of dollars to his enrichment.

One of the highlights for me in Geneva was the opportunity to lunch with a Libyan national who answered some hard questions. When I asked him (through a translator) about housing in Libya, e.g., he said "If you live in it, it's yours." He also noted that there was no evidence against the Libyans then on trial in the Lockerbie case, that the evidence pointed to Iran wherein the motive is clear. The U.S. had shot down an Iranian commercial jet killing nearly 300 civilians, numerous children among them, and never compensated
the families. This could well have been a retaliatory strike. (See Alexander Coburn's post-trial editorial [alternatively: his article in 2010 in Counterpunch])

A lack of wheelchair access made the trip very difficult for everyone. In fact, I often felt such a burden (had to be lifted in and out of the van), I wondered if my participation was worth all the trouble. I didn't miss too
many opportunities to speak out about the lack of accessibility, touting our ADA of '90, and urging them to liberate the disabled in Europe. However, I must say that all the cities we visited were immaculately clean and very beautiful. I found Amiens especially charming. It was such a pleasure to walk and roll through clean city streets with no homeless folks sleeping in doorways or pushing shopping carts.

From Switzerland, we drove to Southern France, Lyons, Montpellier, and Dijon. The French/Swiss countryside was surprisingly green and lush for winter months, making the scenery that includes centuries' old houses and castles very beautiful.

At the University of Montpellier (20,000 students) we were very well received even though we arrived late. We ran overtime and had to move from one classroom to another with considerable delay, which I thought would cause us to lose the audience. But they all stayed with us and had lots of questions; one of the most common was on the presidential debacle. I expressed delight that the UNdemocratic electoral process was finally being exposed; that if Bush won he would “organize” women, and provide a wake-up call to all oppressed Americans to get busy. On the other hand, a Gore win might have lulled folks into a false sense of well being.

The day after arriving back in Paris, Bobby and I were interviewed separately by Dennis Brown of Radio France International reaching some 126 stations worldwide. They were edited into two 24-min. programs. I was asked to send back a few samples of my programming here; and I left him a CD I had with me of Mumia's commentaries ("Man is the Bastard" that includes "Black August," etc.) to sample as well. Incidentally, Lauren called me to the window at the radio station and there brightly lit with its 2000 flashing lights was the Eiffel Tower close by and so magnificent. It really is "all that."

On route back to the hotel from RFI, we were stuck in a traffic jam for 2 1/2 hours due to a subway strike. We tuned in to a public radio station where Bobby and Julia were to be on live. We heard the DJ stalling, playing KRS-One, and other progressive hip hop artists, waiting for them to arrive because they were stuck in traffic too. They made it and did a great job. It was soooo good to hear advocacy for Mumia and Peltier going out over the airwaves of Paris.

December 2nd, the day of the major rally, we were apprehensive about the turnout because it was raining off and on, as it had through most of the tour. When we finally got to where the march was starting, my mind was blown. Thousands of people of all colors from all over France and Europe had gathered led by a humungus banner hand-held by some 20 or more people and stretching across the wide boulevard. Julia, Bobby, Yroko, Omari, an Afro-Frenchman, Andre, in a manual wheelchair, and I (in a motorized chair) were positioned in front of the banner and behind two flatbed trucks carrying sound and camera people. One woman walked alongside the sound truck with a mic leading the chants in complete harmony. I cried tears of joy on hearing thousands chanting in cinque, "Liberez Mumia, Peltier and tous les prisonniers politiques!" and "Abol le peine du mort" or "Bush, Clinton, assassins!" (Free Mumia, Peltier. and all political prisoners; abolish the death penalty; and Bush!Clinton! murderers!).  I was chanting in French too after a few blocks of marching. When we got to the U.S. embassy, our "panel" spoke to the crowd. I shouted the names of as many political prisoners as I could recall off the top to the Paris throng: "Liberez Mumia, Peltier, Hugo Pinell, Ruchell Magee, Chip Fitzgerald, Warren Wells, Marilyn Buck, Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Assata Shakur, et tous les prisonniers." After the rally ended, peacefully, a group of young Afro-European men who had come all the way from Amsterdam videotaped an interview asking me lots of questions.

Police kept a very low profile throughout the march; I didn't notice any until we got to the U.S. Embassy where we were greeted by an enormous military contingent. Several of us had to wait for Sylvain and Lauren to bring the van back to pick us up. So we saw the police vans leave and there must have been nearly ten vans including an army truck. Talk about overkill!

It is also interesting to note that the established press in Paris is similar to that of the U.S. in that there was absolutely no coverage of the march. Imagine! Nearly 5,000 people marching through Paris in the rain
shouting and chanting in unison and not a word about it in the media.

The last day, our day of rest, Yroko, Omari and I managed to get to Le Louvre and see the Egyptian exhibit and old masters' and French impressionists' paintings including the Mona Lisa. The Egyptian sculptures, artifacts, jewelry, etc., dating as far back as 3,000 BC, were magnificent and testimony to ancient African greatness. This most famous museum is awesome -- beyond my wildest imagination. It would take days, perhaps a week to see it all. And I ran out of juice just seeing a little of it. On leaving, with my wheelchair light flashing, we found the only restaurant that was accessible in the area and it was Mexican. With a straight face they ask if you want smoking or non-smoking, then put you one table away from the smokers. It appeared that every other person in Europe smokes.

In summary, I learned that globalization is already a fact of international life. Traveler's checks are obsolete; I could use my ATM card everywhere in Paris and the ATM machines would spit francs right out of my U.S. checking account. I saw more people of color in Paris than one normally sees in downtown San Francisco, and, needless to say, MacDonald's, etc., are ubiquitous. Anti-American feeling is strong, so it wouldn't be too hard to win European solidarity for our efforts to transform this capitalist/imperialist system. Immigration is as big a problem in Europe as it is here, which made me feel more keenly the need for open borders and revolutionary globalization. I.e., if the corporations can freely move all over the globe, then people (the corporate employees) should be just as internationally mobile.

The 11 ½ hour flight home made me never want to fly again. I don't know how I would have survived it had it not been for the showing of Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon, which I saw twice before landing at SFO, December 4.

Pelican Bay

After sufficiently recuperating from this grueling journey, I resolved to go and see about our Yogi Bear, who unlike Mumia and Leonard, has been all but forgotten. As some of you know, Hugo Pinell was one of the San Quentin Six charged with assault, murder, and conspiracy in the wake of the August 21, 1971, tragedy. In what is believed to have been a prison administration setup, Soledad Brother George Jackson was assassinated in an alleged escape attempt during which three guards and two inmate turnkeys were also killed.

Labeled "the most dangerous prisoner in California," Yogi was convicted of assault on two guards in the State's longest trial ending in 1976. The six prisoners were forced to bear 30 lbs. of chains at every court appearance, which in itself is unconstitutional. Yogi is the only defendant to remain locked down. He's been in prison for 37 years now, most of them in solitary confinement, the last 11 in the notorious torture chamber in Pelican Bay known as the SHU (Security Housing Unit), a hi-tech, windowless monstrosity designed to drive people insane.

Ida McCray and Lesley Phillips helped me rent an accessible van and make the long drive to Crescent City on the 27th of January for my appointment with Yogi on the 28th. I definitely got my batteries recharged on seeing our brother in such great shape. Yogi has lost all his color (11 years without sun) but none of his strength both physical and spiritual. He is truly amazing. We were all inspired to work harder for his release and that of all our POW's. Yogi's lawyer, Lisa Short of Portland, Oregon, is back to work on his case and will accompany him to his next Board appearance in April, 2001.

It's imperative that we struggle hard for the release of our warriors who put their lives dead on the line for their people -- us! Although Yogi was first incarcerated when he was only 19 for a criminal offense, he came under the influence of W.:L. Nolen, George Jackson, Howard Tole, et al., who were struggling to transform the criminal mentality into a revolutionary one.

These soldiers who formed the Black Movement behind the walls, made it safe for other Blacks to walk the yard in the Sixties when brothers were commonly subjected to stabbing and assaults by racist inmates in collusion with racist guards. Yogi saved lives. But by intervening in guard-prisoner assaults, he subjected himself to the wrath and enmity of the Administration as well as the Aryan Brotherhood and the Mexican Mafia, suffering untold beatings, stabbing and tortures, but always fighting back and standing strong. He's one of our unsung heroes who has sacrificed so much for our liberation. He turns 56 on March 10. Enough is enough and too much is too damned much. He has maxed out on all his convictions, and the only thing
keeping him in prison now -- especially since he has had no infractions for 17 years -- is pure vengeance. ("Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.") 

I urge you to write Yogi and let him know you support his release. His address is as follows: Hugo L.A. Pinell, A88401, D8-214, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, Ca., 95531-7500. [as of January 2014: FB3-125
P.O. Box 290066, Represa, CA 95671, USA]

You may write Leonard Peltier, who is serving his 24th year in Federal prison and is in failing health, at 89637-132, P.O. Box 1000, Leavenworth, Ks. 66048.  [ USP Coleman I, P.O. Box 1033, Coleman, FL 33521, USA] 

Mumia Abu-Jamal, nearly 20 years in prison, can be reached at AM 8335, 175 Progress Drive, Waynesburg, Pa. 15370-8089.  [currently at: SCI Mahanoy, 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932, USA]

Mumia and Leonard were activists and leaders targeted by COINTELPRO and framed for murder We must accelerate our campaign for their release and that of all our POW's and political prisoners.

For more information on Mumia and Leonard: