Saturday, May 09, 2015

To remember my deeper commitments, and perhaps more specifically to renew enduring affinities and redirect my lesser attentions away from the nascent simmering of smaller ambitions, I turned yesterday afternoon to a file here from 1997 on the NY3: Herman Bell, Nuh Washington, and Jalil Muntaqim, three members of the Black Liberation Army convicted in 1972 for the murder of two New York City police officers a year earlier. Searching then online to see if Bell, Washington or Muntaqim had yet been released, I was shocked to find instead a cheap investigative expose on Herman Bell published 12 March 2015 in the always already disreputable London-based tabloid Daily Mail. Taking clear aim at Bell and no doubt responding obliquely to ongoing fallout from continued police violence against unarmed black men in the US, the inflammatory title of the tabloid article reads somewhat predictably: "EXCLUSIVE: Black Panther double cop killer sues for freedom because he plays the FLUTE."

Mugshot included in Daily Mail expose

From the fall of 1996 through spring 1997—while working with the Paterson Anarchist Collective, the NJ incarnation of the Anarchist Black Cross—I labored toward building an article comparable in scope and intensity to the Daily Mail feature, though the investigative article I imagined aimed at offering a militantly sympathetic view of the NY3: Bell, Washington and Muntaqim. Regretfully, the article never came together as I hoped it would. Repeated requests sent through various Department of Corrections offices here and there were effectively shut down each time and most every attempt I made to coordinate in-prison interviews was blocked. And so, after six or more months of struggling to conduct the interviews and complete the article, which remained nothing more than a small handful of notes coupled with a mass of research files, I shelved the endeavor, at the time only to attend to other matters, but in the end indefinitely.  

Herman Bell | Comstock, NY | 2002

Rather than return to the endeavor with some fantasy of completing it, what I would do here is simply present some of the research and ancillary materials that accumulated around the unfinished article. In conjunction with pamphlets, a newsletter, legal documents and an interview proof, I include here also part of a short but meaningful correspondence with the NY3. The correspondence with Herman Bell was particularly meaningful to me, and he is a figure I am always honored to have met and whose generosity and sensitivity I felt deeply moved by during visits to see him at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, NY. I was working somewhat closely with the Paterson Anarchist Collective at the time, visiting political prisoners whenever possible, tabling pamphlets and other literature at ABC-No-Rio and other venues. Comstock was more than three hours from Paterson, and so to abide by the prison's visiting schedule we would depart at 5:00 in the morning, and I recall at least once or twice sleeping in hungover while a horn relentlessly blasted outside my apartment window at 181 Wayne Ave in an effort to jar me from my idiot slumber. But more often than not I would wake when I heard the horn, throw my clothes on and jump into the car waiting for me. And the visits. Comstock where Bell was incarcerated also held other political prisoners and I recall now meeting David Gilbert, a former member of the Weather Underground, during one visit with Bell. Now at Auburn Correctional Facility, David Gilbert was arrested in 1981—along with Marilyn Buck, Judith Alice Clark and others—in connection with the Brinks Bank robbery. In one instance, during one visit to Comstock, after saying so long to Herman Bell, I was introduced to David Gilbert, and I remember it was his soft eyes that most struck me, a care which is not theater written into them. All their eyes struck me this way.

1. Untitled pamphlet contextualizing the NY3 conviction.
2. Text of NYT 13 May 1993 article titled 'Ex-Panthers Lose Retrial Motion."
3. 24 Oct 1996 letter on torture to Amnesty International Secretariat from Jalil Muntaquim's attorney.
4. 15 April 1997 letter from Jalil Muntaquim with extensive bio and legal history.
5. 28 April 1997 letter from Herman Bell on regulations regarding in-prison interviews.
6. Proof for pamphlet of 1997 MRR interview with Neil and Matt of the Paterson Anarchist Collective.
7. April 1997 Anarchist Black Cross newsletter.  

NB: The letters from Marilyn Buck and Sundiata Acoli in response to the February interview with the Paterson Anarchist Collective that appears in The Anarchist Black Cross Newsletter first appeared in the March 1997 issue of Maximum Rock-n-Roll. The remarks from Marilyn Buck on music and culture in her letter are instructive.