Passing of Giants of the Human Spirit: Ten Days When Death Came Calling, Part Twelve
June 15, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry
Remembering Afeni Shakur – Part I
In conclusion, for history’s sake, and as a tribute, I want to record Afeni Shakur’s appeal to the Black community – to show up and claim their rights. It is a shining testimony of her commitment, concern, courage, and brilliance. She had been acquitted of outrageous charges. Some attorneys had taken a class action suit on the behalf of Afeni and others, about which they knew nothing. She wrote the following to alert Black people of the development. It is, as I have said, very interesting and informative, and it was so like Afeni to be concerned about everybody.
Sisters and Brothers:
I am writing to inform you of a most immediate crisis which affects our liberation movement. I am also writing to solicit your support in responding to this crisis. As you may know, I was a defendant in what has come be known as the “Panther 21” Trial. This was a case involving twenty-one members of the Black Panther Party who were arrested on April 2, 1969. Our trial lasted some twenty-five months of hearings and trials, startling testimonies were revealed, which painted a factual picture of the New York City Department Intelligence Division, then known as BOSS (Bureau of Special Services).
A testimony revealed that undercover agent, Gene Roberts, had been on assignment since Malcolm X’s OAAU days, and had in fact, been photographed by LIFE magazine giving Malcolm X mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after he was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in 1965. Gene was one of Malcolm’s bodyguards, which led to his later appeal in the Black Panther Party. His credentials were impeccable.
Another key witness against us was police undercover agent, Ralph White, or Yedwa Sudan, as he was known to fellow Black Panther Party members. Yedwa helped clean, paint, and open up the Harlem office of the BPP in 1968 and was one of the original members. His initial assignment from BOSS was to report on everyday occurrences of the Harlem community. Some of the police reports he filed gave an interesting look into what was important to the NYPD: “April 19th, walked down 7th Avenue from 110th Street to 135th Street… nothing out of the ordinary occurred.”
Sometime, in 1971, immediately following our acquittal, a group of attorneys filed a class action suit challenging the legality of BOSS’ activities since its inception before 1955, until the present. In 1973, the suit was certified in a class action. I found out about this suit sometime in November or December 1980 from an attorney not connected with the case. In February, I was notified by the attorneys who were intended to represent me, that they had signed a proposed settlement of the suit and Judge Charles Haight in Southern Distruct Court at Foley Square wanted me to hold a hearing on possible objections to the settlement. Once I read the settlement, I had many objections! I was also angry that the Black people’s right to oppose this settlement, which goes beyond the scope of file collection, was being give away by a group of Caucasian lawyers.
Other lawyers have expressed objections to the settlement and at a hearing held April 16th before Judge Haight approximately sixteen very bright Caucasian attorneys expressed their objections in the name of their clients (including the CPUSA, CPNY, National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, National Conference of Black Lawyers, the Peace Committee, the Socialist Workers Party, The Puerto Rican Socialist Party, etc.) Not one lawyer represented the Black community, the Black Liberation Movement, Black historians, Black educators, the Black church, etc. I, however, who am not an attorney, was the only Black person at the bar among that sea of white intelligentsia attempting to speak on behalf of all of us. I asked that we – the Black people – be:
1) Declared a sub-class
2) That the settlement be rejected in totality and since the NYPD had admitted to no wrongdoing, that testimonies be solicited from Black activists, historians, etc., to prove illegal activity by NYPD
3) That since political activists and their surviving families (including Betty Shabazz), knew nothing of this suit, our interest could not be protected in this proposed settlement
4) That a determination be made about the crucial charges of illegalities and files be retained until Blacks could obtain them
5) That notice about the suit be placed in a more suitable place than the New York Times
Although I am personally satisfied that I did as good a job as I could have done, I am not satisfied that I was able to adequately represent the interest of the Black community covering a span of over 25 years. I was personally appalled that no Black attorney represented our collective interest. Our community/people were represented by the efforts made by the National Task Force for Cointelpro Litigation and Research, which including the filing of formal papers any my court appearance.
Judge Haight has said that he will hold additional hearings although he has not determined the time or form these hearings will take. I am asking you to come to a meeting on Sunday, May 18, 1981, at 7:30pm at 243 West 125th Street, Room 12, to discuss a common strategy for these hearings. Please call my office telephone number: 212.222.7800, and discuss this crisis with me if you cannot be present. Also, please contact as many people as possible about this question since the class has been defined as: “All individuals/residents of the City of New York and all other persons who are physically present in the City of New York, and all organizations located or operating in the City of New York, who engage in or have engaged in lawful, political, religious, educational, or social activities, and who, as a result of these activities, have, been, or are now or hereafter may be subjected to or threatened by, infiltration, physical and verbal coercion, photographic, electronic, and physical surveillance, provocation of violence, recruitment to act as police informers and dossier collection and dissemination by defendants and their agents.” As you can see, from the definition of class, all Black people in New York City or who have ever done any work in New York City are affected by this suit. Thank you for your attention.
Good-night, sweet princess; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
… to be continued.