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Interview With Dhoruba Bin Wahad: *Black Panther* Veteran and 19-year political prisoner + Black Panthers (1968) documentary

ab021Veteran Black Panther and 19-year political prisoner Dhoruba Bin Wahad (formerly Richard Moore) won his freedom in 1990 after a New York State judge found that the FBI had suppressed evidence that could have helped clear him of his 1971 attempted double-cop murder charge. Since his release, he has returned to outspoken political activism, and has been particularly vocal against the War on Drugs.


With his newly-organized "Black Coalition on Drugs", he advocates decriminalization and "harm reduction" strategies. After 19 years in prison - seven of them in solitary confinement - Dhoruba Bin Wahad has no apologies and no regrets. He spoke to us a week after speaking at the Cures Not Wars rally against the Drug War in New York's Washington Square Park

BW: Have you seen the flick Panther? What do you think of it?

DBW: Yeah, I saw Panther. I mean, everybody hates the movie who
has some political consciousness. I see this movie in the context
of my own experience,
rather than in the context of where we're
at now in 1995 in terms of the consciousness of African American
people and people in general about radical alternatives. One of
the things that people don't realize is how effectively radical
analysis has been removed from the debate around issues that
affect people's lives. There are very few radical or
revolutionary alternatives presented in debates around issues.
This is a direct consequence, of course, of the
Counter-Intelligence Program. The FBI's Counter-Intelligence
Program effectively changed the political landscape of this
society. It delegitimized militancy, it delegitimized
revolutionary consciousness. And the way it delegitimized that
was by criminalizing revolutionaries and criminalizing the
movement. And the criminalization process is continuing today in
the African American community.
For instance, you can talk about the War on Drugs. The face
of the War on Drugs in America is the face of African people, its
the face of Latinos. Its the face of people of color - that's the
face of the quote-unquote "criminals" who are the targets of this
War on Drugs. And this image, this illusion, is perpetrated by
the mass media, which plays upon people's emotions to gain
support for the War on Drugs. For instance, we have this new term
"narcoterrorist", which combines fear of a drug-ridden society
with the image of people who hate America and just want to kill
Americans. And the face of "terrorism" is usually Islamic
fundamentalists, or foreign revolutionaries. And of course the
ability of the state - and I think this is the bottom line - to
control the democratization of technology is directly contingent
upon its capacity to get the masses to subsidize and support
their own repression through the creation of foreign or domestic

BW: What do you mean by the "democratization of technology"?

DBW: Because of the giant strides of technology, especially in
the realm of organizing information through computers and
electronic media,
this technology is readily accessible to
anyone. You can buy a PC and CD ROM system and tune in to some of
the most sophisticated levels of organized information in the
world. You can tap into mainframe information banks. This was
unheard of as little as 20 years ago. As young people come up in
a society that's increasingly dependent upon information, if they
have this kind of access they could influence debates, they could
begin to think for themselves, they could begin to search out
other like-minded folks.
This you see in its most bizarre form in the right wing's
use of the Internet. They were building bombs on the Internet!
But this same technology means that people all over the world can
exchange information and have access to the same type of
information. Information is intelligence, the ability to make
intelligent decisions.

BW: OK, so how is this process of the democratization of
technology being controlled?

DBW: Its being controlled in a whole host of ways. You've noticed
the recent brouhaha of the Clipper Chip? We know that technology
is the modern means
by which the rich utilize the labor of the
poor to transfer wealth to themselves. Technology is now very
important in criminal law enforcement. It is very important in
the state's ability to control its own vast bureaucracy. So the
state is completely dependant on technology, and of course the
state is a creature of the rich. So, they are trying to control
who has access to certain types of information. They say they
have to write new laws to deal with freedom of speech in the
electronic age. There's security concerns, where you might access
someone's business files or bank account. They're moving away
from cash to plastic, so they'll have to have a more efficient
way of identifying people. They want one universal number, maybe
your Social Security number. Look where we're moving. We're
moving to restrict people's access to certain basic resources
unless they go through a certain type of electronical processes.
And I don't want to sound like someone who's afraid of
technology - I'm not. What I'm saying is that what people don't
understand is that the organization of information is a
revolutionary phenomenon that is happening right now as we speak.
And as long as this organization of information is in the hands
of a system which has had a history of utilizing its military,
its police forces and any other tools at its disposal to control
its people, to usurp people's rights, their lands, their lives_we
should be very suspicious, at the minimum, of this process; we
should question this process. And its happening on a multiplicity
of levels under different guises.
For instance, you would not be able to create Robocop if you
didn't have the justification for Robocop. The War on Drugs, the
war against so-called terrorism, have managed to divert millions
of dollars which would have gone into the defense industries of
the United States and other European nation-states into the
police and security apparatuses. Remember all the billions of
dollars that were spent during the Cold War to develop the atomic
bomb and the security apparatus to maintain it. Meanwhile, in all
of the Third World nations, you have reactionary regimes tied to
European nation-states like the United States, France and
Britain, who are carrying out genocidal policies against their
own people, who are depleting their own natural resources in
order to maintain a certain economic level in the developed
nations. So even between North and South, between haves and
have-nots, this is being carried out. So, this is the point.
Increasingly domestic policy is translated into U.S. foreign
policy, in culture, in terms of training military and police, in
the development of infrastructure and institutions - they're all
beginning to mimic the European nation-state model. And with
that, of course, is this inherent ideology that the citizens of
the state are potential subversives.

BW: What has all this to do with movie Panther?

DBW: The movie Panther - even though it is not an accurate
portrayal of the Black Panther Party - shows how the police were
very brutal and racist and functioned
in a way that was above the
law because they had a mandate to terrorize the African American
community. And it shows that the way that we dealt with that was
to organize in our communities around those issues that related
to people's lives. And we showed that we were ready to stand fast
against that type of repression, and indeed, if necessary, kill
in our defense of these ideals. And three, that drugs - hard
drugs, heroin - were introduced into the African American
community for political reasons, to control, to misdirect and
ultimately to defuse the development of revolutionary
consciousness. These three messages come across clear in the
movie. And it is for those reasons that I appreciate the movie.
What it didn't show was that the consequence of developing a
revolutionary consciousness would inevitably mean that you were
going to become the targets of the state. And once you became the
targets of the state, there were no holds barred. And the way
they went about doing that, of course, was to first demonize the
Black Panther Party in the minds of white people, so the police
would be seen as having a difficult time at best, and therefore
you couldn't be too critical of how they act. And that plays, of
course, off of the racist mentality that underlies this society,
especially among white males, in relationship to black people and
black males.
For instance, when we something like Rodney King happen, the
jury can come back and acquit these individuals because they
rationalize, "Well, this was a big, black dude, you know, he just
wouldn't lay down, they had a hard job, so they had to do what
they did, how else were they gonna survive in that ghetto, so
what?" So once you realize that we are going to struggle against
these conditions by any means necessary, that means that there
are going to be those of you who are going to be framed, who are
going to be murdered, who are going to be forced into exile.

BW: That's what happened to you.

DBW: That's what happened to me, and that's what happened to
Mumia Abu Jamal. That's why Mumia Abu Jamal is on death row.
Which of course brings us to another issue
- the death penalty in
this country. And if we really deal with the death penalty in
this country, and its administration and its purpose, we can only
conclude that the death penalty does not protect its citizens. In
fact, it legalizes the murder of citizens under the guise of
protection and law enforcement. In those states which have the
death penalty, homicide is not appreciably deteriorated. But the
new Omnibus Criminal statute significantly increases the crimes
that are punishable by death. And they make struggle by the
oppressed - when defined as terrorism - punishable by death as a
means of intimidating those who would stand up against tyranny.
This is what happens, you get electrocuted, you get a lethal
People are beginning to participate in this frenzy. With the
new election of Congress, you had this right-wing upsurge in the
United States, with the Newt Gingrich gang. This is an indication
that people in this country, especially white people, are
completely baffled by the machinations of the national security
state. They are creating a society that will have nothing to do
any more with democracy, if it ever did. Just yesterday in the
newspaper, Giuliani was praising Mussolini!

BW: You did 19 years in prison for attempted murder of two New
York City police. And in the interim, new evidence came to light
indicating that you had been framed. How did that new evidence
come to light, and what is your current legal status?

DBW: It came to light as a consequence of a long struggle to
prove my innocence. In 1975, four years after I was captured. I
filed a suit in federal court,
in the Southern District in New
York. At that time they had the Church Committee hearings on
government excess as a consequence of Watergate and all that
stuff, and it was revealed that the FBI had carried out this
massive Counter-Intelligence Program in the African American
community and especially against the Black Panther Party. So when
I heard this - knowing that I was innocent, of course - I knew
that the FBI must have information about my case and I filed my
suit. They danced around for five years, and then in 1980, the
federal judge ordered the FBI to turn over all of their documents
that they had on me and the Black Panther Party in New York. And
they turned over 300,000 pages. And when we went over these
documents we found material that indicated that they were working
with the New York City Police Department every step of the way
and that at major junctures in the investigation into the
shooting, they had been present, and that they had taken in the
same information. But, unlike the New York City Police
Department, they didn't make like they had lost theirs. Because
they needed their information to be accurate. So I got some of
these documents. They were heavily excised, heavily deleted. But
after fighting over each deletion, we got enough evidence to go
back into state court and overturn my conviction. That was
another three-year process.
So in 1990, I was released as a consequence of this. I was
the first and only member of the Black Panther Party leadership
to overturn a conviction based on evidence received from the
Counter-Intelligence Program.

BW: Is there going to be a retrial?

DBW: No, they surrendered.

BW: How's your case going? Are you still suing the FBI and the
New York State prison service?

DBW: Well, yes. They're starting to surrender too.

BW: You think they're going to settle?

DBW: Yes, I do.

BW: How did you survive 19 years in prison?

DBW: Shawshank Redemption! [Laughs]

BW: I didn't see that one.

DBW: Its actually quite a good movie. How did I survive? Doing
chin-ups, man. "Drink plenty of water and walk slow" - that's
what they say inside.
Don't let it get you. I survived by
focussing my attention on the struggle, on the outside.

BW: There's a scene in Panther where the Panthers raid a heroin
warehouse. You were involved in similar incidents.

DBW: Yeah, there was a place that the police let operate in
Harlem; it operated with their knowledge, and their pay-offs. We,
the Black Liberation Army,
the underground in the black
community, had a policy of anti-heroin interdiction. A lot of
these guys who I grew up with in the South Bronx who were selling
heroin - they knew that what they were doing was having a
debilitating effect on the black community. They knew it wasn't
right, but they were just in it for the money. So the only way
that you could deal with these individuals was to deal with them
on a level that they could understand. They understood violence.
They understood intimidation. They understood controlling
territory. So we had to wage that type of struggle with them. Of
course, they had the police on their side.
So we would try to identify where they hung out, where their
processing places were, and we would knock them off. The most
heinous drug dealers, of course, we would have to try to make an
example out of. I can't go into that.
But the police used the drug dealers as their network
against the black underground. They would tell them, look, you're
not dealing any drugs here unless you give us what we want. So
they would use their network of drug dealers and informants in
order to get information on the Black Liberation Army.

BW: Tell us about the work you're currently doing in Africa.

DBW: I'm trying to set up a Database Institute for the
Development of Pan-African Policy. Which basically hopes to
embody Kwame Nkrumah's axiom
that before Africa could achieve
economic unity it first must achieve political unity. And I think
that one of the keys to organizing the African American community
here is to organize Africans everywhere, internationally, around
a common vision and a common perception of the African condition.
So I'm trying to set up an institute that will develop policies,
programs, and ideas, and bring together people from the African
diaspora around the world.
We have NGO status in Africa. We are trying to train
Africans in the diaspora and Africans on the continent into a
common language and a common organizational network, and
organizing information through the Internet. It'll be a database
institute much like the RAND Institute, much like any other
institution that studies problems and presents solutions and
analyses to heads of governments and people in positions to make
these policies into viable programs. For instance, we have a
center that studies the contemporary political, social and
geographical problems of Africa, and presents its findings to the
various governments in the Organization of African Unity.

BW: What's your take on Ibogaine, the African psychoactive plant
that purportedly interrupts addiction?

DBW: I've been one of the foremost advocates in the African
American community of a coherent policy towards the development
of Ibogaine.
I think if Ibogaine can do what people say it can
do, and what some preliminary studies indicate it can do, then it
can be of enormous benefit in a wholistic approach to drug
addiction. Again, we're talking about decrim, we're talking about
use of Ibogaine in a community-based setting in which the
community determines the agenda and the program.
It now costs between 7 and 10,000 dollars to detox a heroin
addict, just to clean them up before they can even enter a
recovery program. Now if Ibogaine could interrupt this addiction
in one or two treatments, and enormously reduce the time and
money spent, that means we could take hardcore heroin addicts in
off the streets, subject them to perhaps a one-week
detoxification program that's safe, that's community-based, and
get them into a program immediately.
I think the idea of treatment on demand is an essential
component of decriminalization. I think clean needles is an
essential component. All of these things go into a certain
mindset that is saying, here's an individual who is strung out on
these drugs, and this is what the community can do for him; if
you want to get rid of this physical addiction, we can do that.
You don't have to be a state dope-fiend maintained on methadone
for the rest of your life, OK? If, however, you can't make that
transition now, you aren't ready yet, you are not going to be
busted just because you're a user. You know? You can have access
to some type of treatment, you can get clean needles. I think
these things are important.

BW: What do you think of the "Zapatista" revolutionaries in

DBW: Look at Mexico's relationship to the United States. Here's a
full-blown peasant revolutionary movement that came out of
nowhere, nobody even knew about it.
That shows you how in touch
they were with the rural Indian population.
Increasingly in the Third World, and particularly in Latin
America, we see the browning of the population. The population is
browning again after the first wave of the European
conquistadors. Every state in Latin America is a European settler
state. Every one. Just like South Africa, just like the state of
Israel. And almost throughout the history of Latin America, only
those who resembled the light-skinned conquistadors were in
positions of power, up to the point where some of them even have
German names. But with the browning of the population, these
light-skinned descendents of the conquistadors are becoming
increasingly isolated. They are depleting their resources at a
phenomenal rate to maintain their position, while the descendents
of Indians and of African slaves are reasserting themselves and
reasserting their rights and reasserting their majority status.
The United States talks about democracy. But what kind of
democracy is there for the black kids in the shanty-towns in
Brazil? What kind of democracy was there for those who
"disappeared" in Chile and Argentina? And we can even see it
here. Increasingly, the immigrants from Latin America are looking
more and more Indian.

BW: What do you have to say about so-called "gangsta rap," and
people like Tupac Shakur, whose mother was a Panther but who has
obviously embraced a certain kind of nihilism?

DBW: We have to understand that the reason rap is so
controversial is that it reflects the reality of lower-class
black youth.
And this reality has come into conflict with the
black bourgeoisie, the black middle-class professionals who want
to portray themselves as the success story of African America.
Culture is a legitimate arena of the struggle for liberation.
Just like rock in its initial form was a music of rebellion, a
music that expressed the nihilism of white youth who were fed up
with this white mom-and-pop picket-fence reality that didn't
reflect the terror that was going on behind the picket fence...
you know? The rape and brutalization of youth behind the picket
So look at rap music and look at where it came from. It came
from out of the South Bronx. It came out of Brownsville, it came
out of Harlem. These were kids who had no place to go, who had no
movement to go to, because the Panthers were destroyed, to whom a
hero was nothing but a fish sandwich. So they would gather
together in the park or in the basement of vacant building and
they would play tapes and rap over the music, or they would go
get their mom's and pop's old records and scratch on them, and
they created a whole genre of music that was first attacked as
being transitory, irrelevant. But it was white males who
controlled the music industry that made gangsta rap - the 2 Live
Crew genre of rap, the misogynist rap, the homophobic rap - the
type of rap that was popular. They didn't gravitate towards the
positive rap, because most of the positive rap was black
nationalist, that reflected the ideology of organizations like
the Black Panther Party. You see? This genre of rap was
completely ignored.

BW: What's your message today to the kids in Bed Stuy and the
South Bronx?

DBW: The same message that the Black Panther Party called forth.
That they organize to defend the integrity of the African
American community on all levels,
and that they understand that
because violence is as American as apple pie, they have to
organize the community's capacity to carry out revolutionary
violence in its own self-interest. I say that with the proviso
that as long as we don't have control over law enforcement
agencies that brutalize and murder us, then we have to deal with
racist attack on that level.

BW: And what's your message to white folks who are going to be
reading this?

DBW: They have to really understand that the European
nation-state that they live in sees all of its citizens as its
and unless they stop the consolidation of those forces of
the rich who are in control of this state, that are determining
the parameters of debate, that are increasingly encroaching on
our democratic rights - unless they wake up and deal with this,
then all of us are going to be subjected to the same type of
repression and control. Fascism isn't just a word. It's the
organization of state power and finance capital into a system
that controls everybody.

Interview by Bill Weinberg

Black Panthers (1968) documentary







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