When I walked through the doors of the Shabazz Center for the Spirit of Mandela Tribunal that took place on October 22-25th, I was not greeted by police or any other capitalist/white supremacist security force. Instead, after checking in, I was greeted by brothers that felt like my dad, like my uncles, like my high school track coach or my barber. These men were the Zulu Warriors, brothers who had made the trek from Atlanta to Washington Heights to protect this sacred space for the weekend. Brothers who came to offer protection to the house that Betty Shabazz built, while those who strive to continue her husbands legacy worked upstairs to follow through on the mission of charging the US, once again, with genocide against it’s African and Indigneous captive nations.
December 2021 will mark the 70th anniversary of the historic campaign for human rights launched a few years after the United Nations was formed. At that time prominent African leaders and their allies brought a petition to the U.N. that boldly stated: “We Charge Genocide!” Here in the house that Betty built, a new tribunal was set to reassert this charge and relate it to more recent efforts with an updated analysis on the 21st Century situation.
On October 23, 2021, the five counts brought against the US were the following:
- Racist police killings of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
- Hyper incarcerations of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
- Political incarceration of Civil Rights/National Liberation era revolutionaries and activists, as well as present day activists.
- Environmental racism and its impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
- Public Health racism and disparities and its impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
What was the tribunal?
Think of a tribunal like a people’s court. They are as old as basically every indigenous society in existence. In this instance, the people, being Black, Brown and Indigenous came together to present the charges listed above. They invite the accused party, here being the US, to send a representative to defend itself and make counterclaims. The US sent no such representative but the show went on without them.
Testimony and evidence was presented before a jury selected by the tribunal. This is an important factor because as we know, in amerikkkan courts, Black and Indigenous people rarely have the opportunity of being judged by a jury of our peers. What’s also important to note about the 2021 Tribunal is that it expanded the definition of “peer”, to include African and other oppressed people from around the world. This combats the dominant conditioning that suggests that Africans in amerikkka or “Black Americans” as we are sometimes called, are somehow separate from other colonized nations of the world. The tribunal jury selection also acknowledged that there are populations of people who have fled their home countries for lives in the US because of the destabilizing conditions that colonialism and US imperialism have caused in their homelands. This set the stage for a panel of jurists from India, South Africa, Eritrea, Haiti, Wampanoag here on Turtle Island, and Puerto Rico, which was also acknowledged as a nation that is struggling for sovereignty away from the colonial rule of the US empire.
Land acknowledgement and invitation of our ancestors are traditions that are important to indigenous (including African) societies all around the world. Looking at our pasts, we understand that justice and spirituality often work hand in hand. The first night included prayers and libations across faith practices, First Nations drumming and a host of other musical and artistic tributes. Former political prisoner and member of the Black Liberation Army, Jihad Abdulmumit took the stage to set the tone for the weekend to come. He reminded us that we have spent far too much time “begging our slavemaster” for freedom, and that it was time to “develop new mechanisms to free ourselves”. The room was filled with the high spirits of our elder woman warriors like Amina Baraka and Queen Mother Warrior Pam Africa, who reminded us that she will continue to fight for Mumia Abu Jamal, one of this country’s many prisoners of war. Puerto Rican patriot and former political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera shared the history of Puerto Rico’s struggle for independence and how his involvement saw him imprisoned by the US for 32 years.
The following two days of the tribunal were all about business. Chief People’s Attorney Nkechi Taifa gave the prosecution’s opening statement around 10 AM on Saturday, and from there the tribunal began to run down it’s various charges. Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, sent in video testimony on the charges related to police killings. Legal scholars and experts presented evidence to attest to the connection between mass incarceration, ICE detention and genocide against Africans and other colonized people in the imperial core. The standout moment of the day was first hand testimony from Jalil Muntaqim and Sekou Odinga, verifying the existence of political prisoners (something the US denies) and their treatment behind bars. The next day saw a similar structure, including evidence and testimony on environmental racism and the health inequities forced upon us.
On Monday, the jury came back with a verdict which was read before representatives of various United Nations conventions. After hearing from over 30 witnesses and receiving hundreds of documents, the Panel of Jurists found the US government and its subdivisions GUILTY of genocide and gross human rights violations, saying in short:
“After having heard the testimony of numerous victims of Police Racism, Mass Incarceration, Environmental Racism, Public Health Inequities and of Political Prisoners/Prisoners of War, together with the expert testimonies and graphic presentations, as well as the copious documentation submitted and admitted in the record, the Panel of Jurists find the US and its subdivisions GUILTY of all five counts. We find grounds that Acts of Genocide have been committed.”
Why does this matter?
This tribunal was first proposed by our revolutionary elder, Jalil Muntaqim, while he was incarcerated. Muntaqim’s incarceration came as a consequence of being a conscious African who was aware of the genocidal conditions his people faced on this land, and loving us enough to get involved in the struggle to do something about it within the ranks of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army. He was incarcerated for 50 years. One year after his release, and on the week of the 55th celebration of the founding of the Black Panther Party, he and several of his contemporaries were able to unveil a platform that allowed them to turn the gun on a genocidal nation that for decades, has labeled them as the “terrorists”. The verdict came down on the same day that it was announced that political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz would be granted compassionate release.
No one present was under any delusions about the practical usefulness of the United Nations. We understand the financial strings that the US pulls there, as well as their standing on the UN security council, surrounded by other murderous nations, like France. But the case for the tribunal’s relevance is much more than something symbolic. First of all, it’s an organizing tool that helps us to create an unfiltered analysis of our conditions for ourselves. “Genocide” is not a word that is popular when describing the conditions of Africans in the US, and as Jihad Abdulmumit pointed out, it’s because what we experience is a genocide that has been long and slow and drawn out, although with it’s moments of intensity and it’s peaks.
Over 500 years in this country should have more than demonstrated to us by now that this place has no intention to do right by us. Capital is what runs the order of the day here— from business, to courts, to education, to medicine. If we have any hope of surviving we must begin to think seriously about building alternate institutions that we control. This strategy has already been outlined for us many times in the past, and is being seen today in movements like Community Control of the Police, which itself is a stepping stone toward community control of all institutions like hospitals and schools.The Spirit of Mandela Tribunal, in that sense, was a display of our imaginations at work. It took varying skills that belong to people in our communities and refashioned them toward a revolutionary aim. We need this kind of practice that trains our minds away from professionalism as a capitalist goal and gets us into the habit of thinking like nation builders. These are the lessons that my organization, the Lowcountry Action Committee, are working toward putting into action following this event. Our survival programs could always use support.
The tribunal was also a necessary first step towards the internationalism which will be needed in our struggles toward independence from this settler colonial state. In an episode of the podcast, Hella Black, Jalil Muntaqim talks about how it’s an opportunity to create international solidarity to help the rest of the world understand our fight here in the United States.
If it is understood that Africans in the US, a group that at no point in history have chosen to be part of the genocidal and psychopathic US empire, are under attack by that very same empire, then our right to fight for our national liberation, independence and national identity is unquestionable. This means that we reject the hope of becoming “Americans”, no matter how many of us long to possess it as an identity. We are Africans/New Afrikans, who belong to the African Nation. This means that if we seriously understand our position here on this land and what will be necessary for us to survive here, we have to see our struggle as one for national liberation, connected to the liberation of our homeland, Africa. Our fight is not about civil rights, or the ability to vote in bourgeois elections, or representation or any of these assimilationist distractions we are taught to want. Since the very first African brought to these shores, we have been fighting for self determination— freedom to decide who we are and where we are going, outside of the control of European colonial domination.
We must understand that we are preparing to live through the collapse of the largest and most evil empire ever known to man. For those of us that will embrace the challenge of remaining in this part of the hemisphere to fight through that collapse, we must always remember that Africans inside of the core have a very specific duty to fulfill, and that duty is to free the land from European capitalist domination, and to ensure that no vestiges of the Euro-American settler state known as the USA are left standing when we are through. Every national liberation struggle around the world depends on our ability to complete this task. And we must always remember that once we begin to organize toward the completion of this task, we will have fully resumed our roles as the internal enemy of amerikkkan empire. In a moment where we remain 13% of the US population, not having seen substantial population growth in close to 30 years and with more of us behind bars than ever before, we are going to need land, allies and a plan. This means international alliances that are willing to trade with us for food, medicine and other essentials. Allies that are willing to exchange currencies and risk US sanctions. The first step toward building that kind of solidarity is standing up on the world stage and declaring our right to sovereignty, and our unconditional support for the liberation struggles against this empire which have already bypassed us in other parts of the world.
We can not afford another summer of protests that reduce our struggles to a single person or a single issue. It is a good thing whenever we show up in the streets en masse. But the fact that it is usually for singular isolated events demonstrates that we have not really started to understand things here for what they are. Because people who know they are facing genocide, move like people who are facing genocide. A proper analysis helps us to see that it’s not just a little police brutality here, a little poisoned water there or a few Black people dead from giving birth here and a “lil” Hurricane Katrina there. It’s prolonged and intentional genocide. We must continue internationalizing our fight. For every evil we face here domestically, there is another evil of equal or greater proportion being exported. The verdict of the 2021 Spirit of Mandela Tribunal is a reminder of our right to fight back differently. Don’t ignore it. Internalize this verdict until we have developed further mechanisms to free ourselves. We are our own liberators!