Veteran 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
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
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.