“The War Before: The True Story of Becoming a Black Panther, Keeping the Faith in Prison & Fighting for Those Left Behind”
New York, 2010
Everyone wants to leave a legacy, whether through procreation or by creating a tangible testament to their existence. For some, it’s art, music, storytelling or writing. For others it’s the founding of an organization or the creation of a product.
For Black Panther Safiya Bukhari, who died in 2003, the bequest included an ongoing community organization, the Jericho Movement to free US political prisoners; a daughter and grandchild; and an astute collection of essays written to encourage the always-uphill battle to win freedom and equality for the world’s disenfranchised and impoverished people.
In “The War Before,” a collection of 22 edited commentaries, Bukhari gives readers a sense of what it was like to be a Panther and captures the exhilaration of establishing free breakfast programs and health centers in low-income communities of color. She also explores Panther excesses, from rigid rules to over-the-top posturing and pontificating. At the same time, the anthology reminds would-be or burned-out activists of the sheer joy that comes from resisting civic wrongs.
It’s an important, inspiring book.
That said, there are small lapses in which rhetoric dominates, and some topics – such as the split between East Coast and West Coast Panthers that was fomented by the US counterintelligence program, or Cointelpro – could have been more fully discussed.
Still, “The War Before” is a fascinating look at the making of an activist, and it captures the spirit of a tumultuous era in which thousands joined Bukhari in believing that a domestic insurrection was not just possible, but imminent.
Editor and former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn’s introduction to the book gives readers a bit of the backstory. Among the tidbits presented are these: Bukhari – originally named Bernice Jones – was reared in the Bronx, one of ten children in a devoutly Christian, middle-class household. In college, she joined the Eta Alpha Mu sorority and, as part of her initiation, was required to travel to Harlem. There, she and several friends encountered a member of the Black Panther Party (BPP) selling newspapers, and learned of the feeding program that had been established. “The women went to the church where the breakfasts were offered, to see for themselves,” Whitehorn reports. “Safiya liked what she saw and kept coming back. It was at that time that she began to notice how badly the community was treated by the police.”
By early 1969, Jones/Bukhari was hooked. She dropped out of school and began working in the Harlem BPP office, immersing herself in the study of political theory and learning to do community organizing. She also got involved with comrade Robert Webb and gave birth to a daughter. “In those years,” Whitehorn writes, “revolutionaries usually saw ourselves as too busy making revolution to engage in standard family life.”
As the year progressed, the demands on the cadre became more intense, and after BPP members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered in December 1969 – killed by government agents hell-bent on destroying the BPP – many activists, including Bukhari, concluded that underground organizations were needed. Placing her daughter with her mother, Bukhari vanished. Whitehorn chronicles what happened next:
In December 1973, [Bukhari] was arrested and charged with plotting to break prisoners out of New York City jails…. The charges were soon dismissed. Then she was hit with a subpoena to testify before a grand jury that was preparing charges against other Black radicals. She couldn’t bring herself to testify against her political associates. Safiya left her family and friends to continue her work underground. She stayed under for almost two years, until 1975, when she was arrested at the scene of a grocery store shooting in Norfolk, Virginia.
Bukhari was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 40 years. While imprisoned, her health began to deteriorate, but her requests for medical care were ignored. She somehow escaped from the prison in late 1976. Although she got the health care she needed while on the lam, she was eventually recaptured, and spent the next four years in solitary confinement. Finally, after eight years and eight months, she was granted parole and released in 1983.
Bukhari’s attention subsequently turned to publicizing the existence of political prisoners here at home. She also worked to develop support networks for those locked inside. Her essays on this topic are searing.
So are her reflections on the BPP, written with the obvious benefit of hindsight. In “On The Question of Sexism Within the Black Panther Party,” she places male chauvinism in a wider context. “The destruction of our culture, which started with the stealing of our language, religion, and children, was completed when we began to measure our own worth by how many women the Black man could pleasure at a time and how many children we could have,” she writes. “Since Black men had been stripped of their manhood in every way but the ability to pleasure women and make babies, the sexual act soon became the standard by which the Black man measured his manhood. This is the root of the sexism that is plaguing our community.”
This is not to say that Bukhari condoned sexist behavior. She didn’t. Among the Party’s Eight Points of Attention, she continues, was the injunction that men should not “take liberties with women.” That this was part of the written mandate impressed Bukhari, and she notes that BPP women often worked “right alongside men, being assigned sections to organize just like the men, and receiving the same training as men.” Nonetheless, she recognized that many male Panthers “brought their sexist attitudes into the organization.” Worse, she was highly aware of the fact that they were rarely, if ever, ordered to change their ways.
While Bukhari did not consider herself a feminist, the presumption of male superiority rankled her, and she fought it at every turn. Then again, her standards for everyone – male and female – were extremely high, and when people failed to meet her expectations she sought to understand the psychological and material factors that made it difficult for them to do so.
In “We Too Are Veterans: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Black Panther Party,” she lambastes the government repression that not only left many Panthers dead, but also led to psychic trauma in those who survived. “We had not just mouthed the words ‘revolution in our lifetime,’ but had believed them,” she confesses. “We sincerely believed the Black Panther Party would lead us to victory.” Instead, activists like Clark and Hampton, Timothy “Red” Adams, Fred Bennett, Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, John Huggins, Little Bobby Hutton, Twymon Myers, Sandra Pratt, Robert Webb, and Anthony “Kimu” White were murdered. This reality, in addition to “the constant shoot-outs, the infiltration and set-ups that left you leery of strangers or of anyone getting too close or acting too friendly,” took a terrible toll on the BPP members left to bear witness, Bukhari concludes.
“As I looked over the list of PTSD symptoms, I recognized myself,” she writes. “And the first step in resolving the problem is recognizing that it exists.”
Indeed. To her credit, Bukhari refused to wallow in bitterness and chose to focus her energies on the self-help that comes from fighting back. As the founder of the Jericho Movement , a coalition of religious and secular groups working to win amnesty for US political prisoners, Bukhari worked tirelessly to plan rallies, protests and speaking tours before her untimely death.
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s touching afterword posits Bukhari as someone who never lost sight of the big picture. She knew, he writes, that “it comes down to organizing. It comes down to the people.”
The Bukhari that Abu-Jamal recalls knew that the movement was bigger than any one person, but still understood that one person could get the ball rolling and make an impact. Those who knew her, he adds, frequently commented that she was the hardest-working person they’d ever met.
“The War Before” will remind Bukhari’s friends and family of what the planet lost when Safiya died eight years ago at age 53. Likewise, it is sure to stir those who are reading her words for the first time.
Radiation is expected to continue spewing for months from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that suffered a meltdown following an earthquake and tsunami in March, but despite grim reports from Japan, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has quietly stopped running extra tests for radioactive material in America’s milk, rain and drinking water.
The EPA initially ramped up nationwide testing in the weeks following the disaster in Japan, and radioactive materials like cesium and iodine-131 were detected on US soil. Citing declining levels of radiation, the EPA has abandoned the extra tests, even as reports from Japan indicate that the Fukushima plant continues to emit radiation and the disaster is one of the worst in world history.
The EPA posted a statement online saying it would return to routine testing on May 3, but the agency did not send out a press release. The media widely ignored the change, even as Japanese officials admitted just weeks later that they were battling a full nuclear meltdown.
In March and April, samples of milk, rain and drinking water from across the country tested positive for radiation from the Fukushima plant. The radiation fell in rain across the US and was absorbed by plants and dairy cows.
The EPA insisted that the radiation levels were too low to cause public health concern, but Truthout identified gaps in the agency’s data and nuclear critics said the EPA has failed to acknowledge that even small amounts of radiation could be dangerous.
Now the EPA has returned to routine testing of milk and drinking water once every three months and testing rainwater once a month. The EPA continuously monitors background radiation with more than 100 air filter monitors, but nuclear critics say more testing should be done.
“The Fukushima disaster is unlike any nuclear accident we have ever had,” said Dan Hirsch of the nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap. “We haven’t had anything that has gone on for a year, and that is what the Japanese authorities are predicting – if they’re lucky. It might even take longer. The fuel has melted through, there are breaches at the containment structures, and there are constant radioactive releases.”
Radiation levels in the US have declined, according to the EPA, but the agency has not released data on samples taken after April 30, making the results nearly two months old, according to data sets made public by the agency.
The EPA typically releases test results two to four weeks after a sample is taken, and the EPA has not released new data on milk since May 24. On June 1, the EPA reported that the radionuclide cesium-137 was detected in one sample of drinking water, and two weeks later the same round of samples were clear of radiation.
“The easiest way to not have any concern over data is to have no data at all,” said Hirsch, who is critical of the cozy relationship between the US government and the domestic nuclear industry. “I think the system is there to say they have a system, but not to report any data that would undermine public support for nuclear power.”
The EPA says it’s prepared to accelerate its testing if necessary, but so far, its air monitoring system shows no cause for concern.
Hirsch wants the EPA to broaden its efforts and test food and agricultural products for any bioaccumulation of radioactive material in plants, animals and livestock. Hirsch also said that the EPA did little testing for strontium 90, a dangerous radionuclide with a 20-year half-life and the ability to mimic calcium and accumulate in bones.
The EPA claims that the levels of radiation it did detect in recent months were not high enough to raise public health concerns. But how high do radiation levels have to be before the government takes action?
For food products like milk, the EPA relies on Derived Intervention Levels (DIL) set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). DILs provide agencies with guidelines – not mandates – as to when the government should take action to keep food contaminated by radioactive material out of the hands of consumers.
A DIL “does not define a safe or unsafe level of exposure, but instead a level at which protective measures would be recommended to ensure that no one receives a significant dose,” according to the FDA web site. The DIL for iodine-131, one of the radioactive materials released from Japan, in food products like milk is set at 170 becquerels per kilogram. That number is 1,500 times higher than another government standard, the Maximum Containment Level for iodine-131 in drinking water, which is set by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“[DILs are] a guidance as to when an emergency action should taken to intervene, but these are in no way to be considered safe levels,” Hirsch said.
Hirsch said that DILs are “very inflated” and meant for emergency situations like the detonation of a dirty bomb or a nuclear meltdown. DILs help officials with “triage” during an emergency, but according to the EPA, the only emergency is thousands of miles away in Japan.
Prior to the First Intifada in December 1987 Israelis used to boast about their “benign” occupation—indeed, the “most benign occupation” in the world. Following the outbreak of the First Intifada, that mantra disappeared from the discourse. But, when things are looking bad on the PR front and you’ve got nothing else to pull out of your hat, I guess it’s time to bring it back. The “benign occupation” trope (again, without using those words) has been a key Netanyahu talking point in discussing the “economic miracle” of the West Bank. They lapped it up in Congress last month.
Presumably even Ethan Bronner doesn’t have the chutzpah to use those words, but the meaning of his front page article in today’s New York Times is clear. Here is the opening:
GAZA — Two luxury hotels are opening in Gaza this month. Thousands of new cars are plying the roads. A second shopping mall — with escalators imported from Israel — will open next month. Hundreds of homes and two dozen schools are about to go up. AHamas-run farm where Jewish settlements once stood is producing enough fruit that Israeli imports are tapering off.
As pro-Palestinian activists prepare to set sail aboard a flotilla aimed at maintaining an international spotlight on Gaza and pressure on Israel, this isolated Palestinian coastal enclave is experiencing its first real period of economic growth since the siege they are protesting began in 2007.
“Things are better than a year ago,” said Jamal El-Khoudary, chairman of the board of the Islamic University, who has led Gaza’s Popular Committee Against the Siege. “The siege on goods is now 60 to 70 percent over.”
The article’s title in the paper I received this morning was “A Construction Boom in Gaza’s Lingering Ruins.” It now appears online as “Building Boom in Gaza’s Ruins Belies Misery That Remains.” Either way, the takeaway is the same – what is freedom or liberty or self-determination when you’re lucky enough to have Israel as your occupier/overlords?
Around 10 am on Saturday 25 June, Palestinian shepherds were grazing their sheep and goats in the Meshakha Valley when they were attacked by 11 settlers who came over the hill from the nearby illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on, armed with stones and knives.
Israeli soldiers watch as settlers attack Palestinian shepherds in the South Hebron Hills (photo: Operation Dove)
Some of the settlers were masked as they ran toward the shepherds throwing stones, yelling blasphemies against Islam and stating that internationals were now not present to protect them. According to Shaady from Maghayr al Abeed, a settler attacked his donkey with a knife, and when he attempted to stop the attacker and protect his donkey, he was then hit by stones in the back and torso. Blows that took his breath away. Shaady has a huge welt on his back and bruising as a result of the attack.
Sheep and goats were also pummeled with rocks and the shepherds were forced to run to protect their flock. The shepherds were chased for several hundred meters. According to the Palestinian shepherds the soldiers saw the incident and refused to get involved. After the attack, Israeli soldiers were seen greeting and shaking hands with the settlers as they walked back into the trees of the outpost of Havat Ma’on.
Shaady stated that “we need all the people of the world, Europe and America, to see who is the aggressor and how the Palestinians are being treated by the settlers.”
[Note: According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations, the International Court of Justice, and several United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements and outposts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal. Most settlement outposts, including Havat Ma’on (Hill 833), are considered illegal also under Israeli law.]
Operation Dove and Christian Peacemaker Teams have maintained an international presence in At-Tuwani and South Hebron Hills since 2004.
A complaint has been filed in the Superior Court of Ontario (Canada) against Alternatives International by Ms Cherna Rosenberg on June 2nd, 2011, concerning our support to the Canadian Boat to Gaza where she claims over a million dollars in damages.
The claim alleges that the actions of Alternatives International «are a step in the chain of conduct that ultimately leads to the rocket attacks that have traumatized the Plaintiff and caused her much suffering and loss». It matters to recall what is the project.
Freedom Flotilla-II named “Stay Human”, includes one Canadian Boat named Tahrir. This initiative comes from global civil society organizations representing dozens of international coalitions. It is in the wake of continued inaction from many governments to stop Israel’s human rights abuses that they have launched this initiative. This is an extremely important pacifist and humanitarian initiative to help Gaza people. It is a step towards breaking the illegal and inhuman blockade of Gaza, entering its fifth year, imposed by Israel.
It should be noted that nearly two hundred organizations and trade unions from Canada are supporting this initiative both politically and financially. Amongst the supporters are major trade unions in Quebec and Canada, community organizations, First Nations groups, women’s organizations from all over the country. You can see the names of all the organizations and individuals that support the initiative on the website of CBG.
Regarding the lawsuit, we believe that this attack is political in nature in spite of it’s being in the form of legal documents. Says the lawyer of Alternatives International: “I believe that Cherna Rosenberg’s claim against Alternatives International has no merit whatsoever. First of all, when considering the admissibility of George Galloway to Canada last year, the Federal Court of Canada found that even contributing funds directly to Hamas for humanitarian reasons does not make the donor a party to any crime. Moreover, Alternatives International is not supplying the Hamas authorities, directly or otherwise. In my opinion, it is absurd for Ms Rosenberg to claim anything, much less over a million dollars, from Alternatives International and its co-defendant. I have advised Alternatives International of my view that they should continue their important humanitarian work and not be deterred by what I regard as a frivolous lawsuit.”
In our ongoing solidarity campaigns for Palestinian rights we reaffirm our strong support to the upcoming thematic forum “World Social Forum in Solidarity with Palestine” in November 2012 in Brazil. We are an active member of the international steering committee of this initiative and are working closely with Palestinian civil society organizations and Brazilian host organizations and other international solidarity groups. We appeal to all international solidarity organizations to support and actively work to make this a great success.
- Feroz Mehdi, General Secretary Alternatives International
- Ronald Cameron, President, Alternatives, Montreal
- Gustave Massiah, President, Le Réseau Initiatives Pour un Autre Monde (IPAM), Paris
- Dr. Naim Abu Teir, President, Alternative Information Center, Jerusalem
- Refaat Sabbah, Director, Teacher Creativity Center, Ramallah
- Vinod Raina, President, Alternatives Asia, New Delhi
- Moussa Tchangari, Director, Alternative Espaces Citoyens, Niamey
- Pedro Ivo Batista, President, Associação Civil Alternativa Terrazul, Fortaleza
- Kamal Lahbib, President, Forum des Alternatives Maroc (FMAS), Rabat
Israeli bulldozers started on Saturday at night the destruction of the Ma’man Allah ancient Muslim cemetery, in occupied Jerusalem, as part of the Israeli plan to construct the so-called “Museum of Tolerance” on the cemetery ruins.
The Al Aqsa Foundation for Waqf and Foundation reported that the attack was initiated at 11 PM on Saturday at night when three huge bulldozers and two smaller ones, and twenty municipality workers, started the destruction of nearly 100 graves in the three remaining areas of the graveyard.
The destruction targeted the eastern side, the western side and the pool of Ma’man Allah, and aims at including the graveyard area, after its destruction, to be part of the so-called “Tolerance Museum” Israel is planning to build.
The work continued until dawn hours; the graves and the stones were loaded in trucks and were taken away.
The cemetery is in West Jerusalem and is considered one of the largest cemeteries in Jerusalem as it stands on an area of 200 Dunams (nearly 90 acres).
Representatives of the Al Aqsa Foundation went to the graveyard and documented the Israeli violation.
Several month ago, the Israeli District Court in Jerusalem, rejected an appeal filed by the foundation against the destruction of the graves.
In August of last year, Israel bulldozed nearly 300 graves after the foundation renovated nearly 1000 graves that were repeated attacked by extremist settlers.