Friday, July 9, 2010

Oscar Grant, Juanita Young, Fred Hampton Jr. & Lynne Stewart

We, the crowd gathered at Judson Memorial Church last night, hadn't yet heard about the "involuntary manslaughter" wrist-slap verdict in the Jan. 1, 2009 Oakland, Cal. police murder of Oscar Grant. If someone had announced the news, my guess is that we would have ended the event with a march into the streets to protest this latest in the long, endless succession of racist outrages in which killer cops get away with murder.

How can I be so sure? Because the event was a fundraiser/rally for Lynne Stewart, the wonderful, courageous people's lawyer who is now a political prisoner railroaded into jail for the crime of representing her clients, and it was a rip-roarer. People rose to their feet time after time as speaker after speaker, including more than one who personally knows the reality of racist police violence all too well, spoke truth to power, speaker after speaker calling out their praise of this activist and advocate for justice and struggle.
How beloved is Lynne Stewart? Among the speakers was one who'd come up from D.C. for the program, one who'd flown in from Los Angeles, one who'd flown from Chicago. All to lend their voices to the movement to free her.

Juanita Young from the Bronx also spoke. New York police murdered her son Malcolm Ferguson 10 years ago--and because she has been a leader in the anti-police-brutality struggle ever since, the NYPD has targeted her for continuing harassment. Their campaign against her is futile. She won't stop. And last night she said she won't stop fighting for Lynne Stewart either, because Lynne Stewart has never stopped fighting for the oppressed.

After his inspirational remarks, I introduced myself to and took a picture of another speaker. He raised his fist for my cell phone camera, but the shot didn't work out so you'll just have to take my word for it that this was Fred Hampton Jr. He'd flown in from Chicago because, he said, that's how deep is his respect for Lynne Stewart. Fred Hampton Jr. is of course the son of Fred Hampton, the brilliant young leader of the Black Panther Party assassinated by Chicago police in a hail of bullets in the early-morning deep-night hours of December 4, 1969, as he slept in bed next to Akua Njeri, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with Fred Jr. So, as the person who introduced him last night said, Fred Hampton Jr. was literally born into the bloody struggle against police repression and murder.

Brother Fred Hampton Jr. has followed in his father's footsteps, making the struggle for justice and liberation his life's work. He too has paid dearly. In the early 1990s he was framed on gun possession charges and spent nearly 10 years in prison. Currently he chairs the Prisoners of Conscience Committee, and in this capacity has been tireless in his efforts on Lynne's behalf.

A couple weeks ago I posted a brief blog post about Fred Hampton after I'd had a dream about him. In that post I also took note of a recent Young Adult novel that has to do with what it was like for the children of Black Panther Party activists. Well, what it was, has been, and is like for Fred Hampton Jr. is honoring the legacy and carrying forward the work. Since my own photo from last night didn't come out, here's another one of him.

Lynne Stewart, who is 70 years old and dealing with several health issues, has a court date next week at which the government will try to increase her sentence. Hence last night's gathering, to build support and raise money for her defense fund, as well as next week's mobilization which includes a march, rally and vigil and then an effort to fill the courtroom in her support.

That's it. That's right. This is not about books, not today. Just life, real life, and the fight to make it better.