Friday, August 28, 2015

Shaka At-Thinnin : Assassination of Hugo Pinell

 The Black August Organizing Committee is the above-ground public organization that came into existence in the community in August 1979 after the death of Khatari Gaulden. One of the bravest spirits in the contemporary and historic black movement, Khatari was murdered by San Quentin prison guards in August 1979.

After Khatari sustained head injuries while playing football on the concrete yard in the adjustment center at San Quentin, the guards refused to take him to an outside hospital for treatment, claiming security concerns. Even though the prison guards and administration knew his head wounds were much too severe to treat there, he lay in the prison infirmary for hours until it was too late to do anything for him - while the administration simply waited for him to die.

Our brother Khatari died at the hands of his captors like so many before him. At this point, the need for total understanding of the situation faced by African prisoners in California had reached critical proportions.

The concept of Black August originated in prison by political and conscious prisoners standing firm in the fight for liberation. It is a direct response to the ever-increasing need of African prisoners to form an effective, principled and political unity to combat realistically the war of racism and genocide against the African community and the black liberation movement. Also to wage the struggle on behalf of the recognition of African political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war in the united states.

The commemoration of Black August is to increase understanding of the connection between the injustice and oppression in the community and in prisons. We felt only then would people become interested in what really goes on in prisons and begin to address the problem in its entirety.

The Black August Organizing Committee was formed by African men and women to expose and combat racism, police brutality and the oppression of African people. The name Black August represents a political ideology based on the history of militant African resistance in this country exemplified by men and women like Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, George Jackson, Jonathan Jackson and Khatari Gaulden.

The month of August is designated as a time to pay special tribute to fallen African freedom fighters, many of whom were killed during that month, and to commemorate the revolutionary heritage they represent. The organization developed inside California prisons, and as members have been released, Black August has continued to develop and strengthen its work on the outside within the African and other progressive communities. Because Black August has been a revolutionary force and has been effective in its work, its members and supporters have been targets for repression.

During the summer of 1981, the Black August campaign initiated various activities designed to create awareness and community involvement. This included an all day people’s fair, a number of programs and house meetings organized to present the historical significance of Black August to the community and a demonstration at the gates of San Quentin on Aug. 22, demanding an end to guard brutality and racist attacks, a stop to all new prison construction, and freedom for all political prisoners and prisoners of war. The success of these activities and the growing public response to Black August’s organizing over the summer represented a new phase of support for African men and women inside prison and signified a step forward in the redevelopment of the prison movement in the community.

On Sept. 20, 1981, a young African man was murdered by a security guard at a Pay ‘n Save store in Berkeley over the alleged theft of a bottle of Tylenol. Black August members responded immediately to this attack by joining the community in organizing a 12-hour-a-day picket line in front of the store to protest the murder. The community demanded retribution for the victim’s family, the immediate disarmament of security guards in the store and legal support for the security guard to be financed by the Pay ‘n Save administration as admission of their responsibility in the murder.

For over two weeks, Black August members maintained a steadfast role on the picket line until Pay ‘n Save was forced to comply with all of the demands. It is for this reason that guards in supermarkets and most other stores no longer carry guns.

In the wake of the successful boycott of Pay ‘n Save, the California Department Of Corrections and local police agencies coordinated their efforts to criminalize the Black August Organizing Committee and thereby eradicate the legitimacy and respect generated for Black August members in the Bay Area. After months of surveillance of Black August and its supporters, the CDC, its Special Services Unit and the local police began to take steps to suppress the organization’s activities. On Oct. 16, 1981, these agencies broke into the homes of four Black August members under the guise of “parole searches.”

While tearing apart the homes of friends and families of Black August members, the state further terrorized the community by holding guns to the heads of little children as they conducted these searches. Three Black August members, Jasiri, Msemaji and Hashima, were arrested and imprisoned on unnamed “parole violations.” Hashima was released on Oct. 17, then rearrested along with Black August member Sadiki in San Jose on Oct. 21 and held for a so-called parole violation. Hashima was again released the following day.

On the afternoon of Oct. 21, 1981, newspaper and TV headlines alleged a plot by Black August members to assassinate top CDC officials and charged Black August with crimes ranging from mail fraud to the formation of execution squads with “hit lists.” The vicious media campaign that ensued portrayed Black August members as everything from gangsters, thugs and paid assassins to pimps, child molesters and international drug pushers.

After two days of these false accusations, even the CDC spokesman had to publicly admit that there was absolutely no basis for any of the allegations. During this period, Shaka and other Black August members’ homes remained under intense police surveillance. Due to the fact that Shaka was not a parolee, the “break and entry” under the guise of parole search was not a viable alternative for the CDC in his case.

Community response to the attacks on Black August was immediate. Hundreds of people signed petitions demanding the release of the arrested members, and a demonstration was held in front of the Oakland Parole Department.

As it became increasingly apparent that Black August had real roots in Berkeley and Oakland and that its members and supporters would not be easily intimidated, the CDC made its next move. On Nov. 12, 1981, Hashima and Shaka were arrested and charged with murder and assault. Bail was set at $250,000 - and a new phase of the attacks on Black August had begun.

The trial forced government agencies to produce evidence that proved Shaka and Hashima were on the Pay ‘n Save picket line when the incident occurred. After the Berkeley Police Department was forced to admit they paid a so-called witness for his testimony in a trial, that served to increase the awareness of underhanded government and police tactics. The frame-up ended with the jury voting 11-1 not guilty. The jury as a body went to the district attorney’s office after the verdict and pleaded with him to leave Shaka and Hashima alone because they were obviously innocent.

It is important to understand the historical context for the California Department Of Corrections’ repressive move against Black August, because it is part of the ongoing strategy of COINTELPRO, a program of so-called domestic counterinsurgency designed by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI in the late ‘60s in response to the resurgence of the Black nationalist movement. The explicit purpose of COINTELPRO was and is to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate type organizations and groupings, and their leadership, spokesmen, membership and supporters,” according to a memo from J. Edgar Hoover dated April 25, 1967.

The government was prepared to use any means necessary to achieve its goals, including police infiltration to disrupt organizations, media campaigns against progressive leaders and organizations, criminal frame-ups, false arrests and assassinations of prominent leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and El Haj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X ).

In the COINTELPRO tradition, these same activities are being carried on today by the CDC and its Special Services Unit working hand in hand with other government and prison agencies in their attacks on the Black August Organizing Committee. Technically, the SSU is the law enforcement liaison branch of the CDC, but, in reality, it is a secret police agency whose express function is the surveillance and control of the political activities of prisoners within the California institutions and of parolees and other ex-prisoners and their associates in the community.

Though the main focus has ever been those who at some point have been captives of the California penal system, with new government mandates and funding, these agencies have been upgraded to target anyone who expresses an active interest in the plight of political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war. The friends and families of anyone in prison anywhere in the United States who have shown themselves to be conscious of their duty to struggle and be about the business of liberation, as opposed to being unconscious parasites, will feel the tactics of oppression directly. Be it subtle behind the scenes moves like making it impossible to maintain the basics of food, clothing and shelter or be it blatant out front extermination operations that literally destroy a whole neighborhood in the ongoing effort to silence a few standing firm in their convictions, principles and determination not to let loved ones rot in captivity with no voice being given to the injustice and inhumanity of it all.

The bottom line has not changed from the beginnings of Black August until now. Though folks who look like you slam doors in your face and refuse to believe, awareness must be spread consistently and the need to resist made plain over and over again. Distractions abound and fight to keep us focused on mundane trivialities that serve to keep us open to all things harmful to us.

With all the new laws in effect, it is a simple thing for the rumor mill to run with lies and misdirection. It is what they do best. In prison, it is an everyday policy to use paid informants, frame-up conspiracies, criminal charges, special unit isolation and even assassination by methods ranging from subtle changes in medication to set-up racist attacks where the guards watch until the job is done before interfering.

In our communities, which for us are only minimum security prisons, the same pattern can be seen in the deaths and illnesses of those who have always stood for the right of the people to fight oppression. The means of resistance are slowly being taken away from those who would use them as rights. And freedoms so long thought to be guaranteed by folks long dead are modified or simply done away with.

Black August in essence is the beacon that stridently warns of the need for a course change by comparing the lives of those who have gone before - the deeds done, the paths chosen and not abandoned - with the mindless way we are being cut down in this time without a whimper. No one wants to live in the past, but the reminder must be there to keep the connection strong and the purpose in line with why we began.

Today, oppression is at such a level, it permeates all we do and say. Black August is one ideology that must remain true to its origins. The attacks on Black August are not merely a local issue. They are part of the overall war being waged against African people in this country.

Police brutality and state sanctioned murder in the African community is rampant. With 2.2 million people locked away from us in government sponsored holding pens and the number increasing daily, the need for Black August remembrance - which must ultimately lead to resistance - should be apparent.

We must begin by keeping our promises to those gone and those left behind in our struggle for freedom. We must take the arrogance from our positions on nothingness. We must begin to follow through on even the smallest of our voiced commitments or leave them unvoiced. From the beginning, we must stand firm in our convictions and principles. Liberation is still the goal!

Shaka At-Thinnin is chairman of the Black August Organizing Committee. Email him at RoyBoomba@

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