2 May 2014

Black Panther in Prison for Decades

Free Albert Woodfox!

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

The Partisan Defense Committee has added Albert Woodfox, the last of the Angola Three still incarcerated, to its class-war prisoner stipend program. Along with Herman Wallace and Robert King, Woodfox fought the vicious, racist and dehumanizing conditions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and courageously organized a Black Panther Party chapter at the prison. As retribution, authorities framed up Woodfox and Wallace for the fatal stabbing of a white prison guard in 1972 and falsely convicted King of killing a fellow inmate a year later.

The sadistic jailers went after the Angola Three with a vengeance. For over 42 years, Woodfox has been locked down in Closed Cell Restricted (CCR) blocks, the longest stretch in solitary confinement ever in this country. The now 67-year-old man is confined in a two-by-three-meter cell 23 hours a day. According to his lawyers, he suffers from hypertension, heart disease, chronic renal insufficiency, diabetes, anxiety and insomnia—conditions no doubt caused and/or exacerbated by decades of vindictive and inhumane treatment. Wallace was also confined to solitary until last October, only to die three days after gaining his freedom. King, who spent 29 years in isolation, won his release in 2001. (For more, see “Herman Wallace, 1941-2013,” WV No. 1032, 18 October 2013.)

Woodfox first encountered the Black Panthers in New York City, where he had fled after escaping a New Orleans courtroom during his sentencing on armed robbery charges. Caught by police and hauled back to Louisiana’s dungeons, Woodfox had become a Panther member before he was shipped in the summer of 1971 to Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S. Named for the country of origin of the chattel slaves who at one time toiled in the fields of the plantation on which it is built, this institution worked its prisoners, overwhelmingly black, into the ground on its farm. The merciless all-white guards overseeing this forced labor were known as “freemen.” Among their political activities, Woodfox and Wallace organized inmate work stoppages and other protests, infuriating prison administrators.

The subsequent murder trial of Woodfox and Wallace was classic railroading. The prosecution failed to produce any physical evidence linking the men to the murder. A bloody print found at the scene was used as evidence, even though it did not match any of the accused. Since the trial, it has emerged that the main “eyewitness,” Hezekiah Brown, was bribed by prison officials to give statements against the men and that the state withheld evidence that other testimony was perjured. Still other witnesses have retracted their testimony.

So transparent is the frame-up that the slain officer’s widow, Leontine Rogers, has joined Robert King and others in demanding the release of Woodfox. In a recent interview with Amnesty International, she stated that after reviewing all the evidence she believes the Three to be innocent. Rogers said: “I feel like the state is pursuing them because they need to blame someone and they think they are doing justice. But what they have been doing is an injustice.”

In February 2013, Woodfox won a reversal of his murder conviction for a third time (the first two had been subsequently overturned by higher courts). But Louisiana attorney general James “Buddy” Caldwell immediately appealed that decision. Angola warden Burl Cain also is on a crusade to keep Albert Woodfox in torturous conditions for the rest of his life. In 2008, attorneys for Woodfox asked Cain to assume, if he could, that Woodfox is not guilty of the killing. Cain responded, “Okay, I would still keep him in CCR.... I still know that he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism.”

Woodfox joins 18 other class-war prisoners in the PDC stipend program, including internationally renowned prisoners like Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Under the program, which was initiated in 1986, reviving a tradition of the early American Communist movement, these brave men and women, who are behind bars for standing up to racist capitalist oppression, are sent monthly stipends. Other recent additions to the stipend program include the Tinley Park 5, a group of anti-racist militants thrown into prison for dispersing a meeting of fascists outside Chicago in May 2012. Two of them, Alex Stuck and John Tucker, have now been released.

We reiterate our call for Woodfox’s immediate freedom and encourage our supporters to take up his cause and write to Albert Woodfox #72148, NIA #3-CCR, David Wade Correction Center, 670 Bell Hill Road, Homer, LA 71040.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1045, 2 May 2014)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.