Comrade Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell was murdered on August 12, 2015, at California’s New Folsom State Prison. He was a veteran and much loved leader of the Prison Movement against oppressive prison and social conditions. On behalf of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC), I would like to share some thoughts in his honor and memory, and to also point out important lessons our movement must learn and carry on from his legacy.
Enough has been reported about circumstances surrounding Comrade Hugo’s death for us to conclude that he was set up by California prison officials and assassinated by their inmate lackeys. But by murdering him, the pigs have given our struggle yet another martyr and hero whose memory and example will inspire us today and for generations to come, just as his own comrade and mentor George L. Jackson’s has.
In death as in life, Hugo stands out as a shining example of one transformed by a love and dedication to the cause of the oppressed and to “serve the people,” that only a conscious revolutionary awakening and practice can bring.
He was confined in California’s inhumane solitary confinement units for 43 years. Places whose primary purpose was to break the will and sanity of those who dared to oppose the oppressive order and divisive prison culture created and cultivated by our captors. But Hugo was never broken.
He had been a leader, alongside Comrade George, of the first wave of the Prison Movement (of the 1960s-70s), that was based largely in California’s prison system. Following Comrade George’s own assassination by prison guards on August 21, 1971, Comrade Hugo faced the system’s backlash against, and suppression of that movement. Which included an unprecedented wave of construction and expansion of “super-maximum” security and solitary confinement prisons and units across the U.S.; places designed and used to isolate and torture participants in that movement and those with the potential to revive it in the future, including Hugo.
Ironically, it has been resistance against these very places and their torturous conditions that sparked today’s second wave Prison Movement, again based largely in California, and which comrade Hugo, in his advanced years and even while in uncertain physical health, joined and helped lead without hesitation. He continued to set the example, as he had for decades, of practicing and building unity and giving freely of himself, to the cause of all oppressed people regardless of nationality or race.
Today’s movement has united tens of thousands of prisoners in three historic hunger strikes (in 2011 and 2013), to end racial and group conflicts, and has prompted prisoner-initiated lawsuits, all of which have won broad and international public support for prisoners and opposition to the widespread use of torturous solitary. As a result, prison officials in California and across the country have been induced to change their policies on the use of, and to release many prisoners from, solitary. Comrade Hugo was among those released, but with sinister designs.
Just within two weeks after he was released and secretly transferred to New Folsom, he was killed.
Since his death an outpouring of letters, articles, and poems from both prisoners and non-prisoners, have paid tribute to his memory and the infectious love and integrity he extended to others.
It was this love and his political awakening that gave him the fortitude to endure the system’s cruelest oppressions in its failed attempts to crush his spirit, and inspired him to struggle relentlessly to transform himself into a revolutionary “new man,” to embody in himself the principles and morality of the future cooperative people-centered, not property-centered, society and world that our broader revolutionary struggle aims to create. As he stated in 2013:
“In 1967 when I joined the liberation movement in San Quentin, one of the goals was to build a new man, the way Brother Malcolm X showed we could. We don’t know how long it will take to create that new, beautiful world. It might take generations. But if we continually work at it and try to create the new man in ourselves, we can achieve a personal freedom. I go through different changes to stay human for I will never get used to isolation and desperation.”
We must hold comrades like Hugo aloft as standard bearers of the sort of character, consciousness, commitment, and love that we must cultivate within this struggle for the elimination of all forms of oppression against all peoples and not merely for those who look like us or have similar backgrounds.
Like Comrade George, who founded the first prison chapter of the original Black Panther Party, Comrade Hugo came to the struggle from the streets. They were not from the traditional layers of the working class (proletariat), nor academia, not any privileged strata of society. Instead, they came from the criminalized element that many in society look down on and reject as social pariahs, predators, and the “underclass” – the “lumpen proletariat” – whom Karl Marx recognized as politically malleable and thus “as capable of the most heroic deeds and the most exalted sacrifices as the basest banditry and the foulest corruption.”
Comrade Hugo represented that “heroic” element, while those who were used to kill him represented those subject to the “foulest corruption.”
In this we find the significance of his and Comrade George’s mission within the prison movement and the BPP-PC, to “transform the criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality” (to paraphrase Comrade George). We in the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC) recognize this as a fundamental principle of “Pantherism,” and it means remolding the lumpen proletariat. Which is by no means a trivial matter. In fact our success in reaching and remolding the lumpen is essential to the success or failure of our struggle against this oppressive system. Why? Because if we don’t transform or remold the class values and world outlook of the vast numbers of lumpen in favor of the broader revolutionary struggle, the Establishment will bribe, manipulate, and use them against the struggle and its organizers just as it did in assassinating Hugo and many other comrades.
They tried it for many years with Comrade George. As his editor Gregory Armstrong wrote in the preface to his book, Blood in My Eye:
“[Comrade George] paid a heavy price for his activities. When the prison couldn’t break him through solitary confinement, they attempted to have him killed by other inmates: ‘They were forced to frame me and set me up for the final kill.’ The word was out among white convicts: ‘Get Jackson. It will do you some good.’ Once he remarked that there had been twenty setups on his life inside prison. It got so that when he left his cell he was always ready to parry an attack.1
I’ve also faced the same pig games upon being interstate transferred from my home state of Virginia to the Oregon prison system in 2012, and then to Texas in 2013, where I remain.2
Indeed, it is standard operating procedure of police and prison “gang” unit officials to manipulate and instigate oppressed community youth to endlessly war with each other while regarding the pigs with fear and awe. In this manner the youth have been converted from struggling against the oppressive system and uniting to improve their communities, to fighting each other, destroying their own communities, and thereby giving the pigs the needed pretexts to justify the system’s increasingly militaristic and police state posture, occupation, surveillance, murderous violence, and mass imprisonment targeted against us all.
As Crips co-founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams observed in his 2004 book Blue Rage, Black Redemption:
“Yes, America, as unbelievable as it may seem, ‘hood cops, with impunity, commit drive-bys, and other lawless acts, it was common practice for them to abduct a Crip or Bounty Hunter and drop him off in hostile territory, and then broadcast it over a loudspeaker. The predictable outcome was that the rival was either beaten or killed on the spot, which resulted in a cycle of payback. Cops would also inform opposing gangs where to find and attack a rival gang, and then say, ‘Go handle your business!’ Like slaves the gang did exactly what their master commanded. Had they not been fueled by self-hatred, neither Crips, Bounty Hunters, nor any other Black gang, would have been duped.
“The hood cops were pledged to protect and serve, but for us they were not there to help, but to exploit us – and they were effective. With the cops’ Machiavellian presence, the gang epidemic escalated. When gang warfare is fed and fueled by law enforcement, funds are generated for the so-called anti-gang units. Without gangs, these units would not exist.”
The same games are played by prison officials to foment racial and gang violence inside US prisons.
Furthermore, it has been specifically admitted in response to Congressional investigations that the government has manipulated such groups to violently target and kill members of revolutionary groups like the BPP, in its efforts to destroy them and counter their struggles to help the urban poor meet their economic, political, social, and security needs that this racist, imperialist system will not, and cannot. This practice was exposed in Congressional investigative reports on the FBI-led Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) – a secret war waged against the BPP and other New Afrikan/Black civil rights and liberation groups. The report by Congress admitted:
“This report does demonstrate … that the chief investigative branch of the Federal Government, which was charged by law with investigating crimes and preventing criminal conduct, itself engaged in lawless tactics and responded to deep-seated social problems by fomenting violence and unrest….
“The select committee’s staff investigation has disclosed a number of instances in which the FBI [manipulated] violence prone organizations … in an effort to aggravate ‘gang warfare’ … equally disturbing is the pride which these officials took in claiming credit for the bloodshed that occurred …
“Approximately 28% of the [FBI’s domestic covert action] efforts were designed to weaken groups by setting members against each other or to separate groups which might otherwise be allies and convert them into mutual enemies. The techniques used included … encouraging hostility up to and including gang warfare between rival groups …”3
Remember, the German Nazis’ original armed enforcers and shock troops (the “SA” in full Sturmabteilung, also known as Storm Troopers or Brown shirts) came from the Freikorps, which was composed largely of Germany’s youth gangs and lumpen (poor unemployed and “criminal” street youth), whom the Nazis used to stir up racial discord and violence, attack and terrorize their political opponents and enemies, violently suppress revolutionary elements, and generally foment the social chaos and race-based hysteria, fear, and animosities that carried the Nazis to power.
But as Frantz Fanon recognized, the power structure recognizes the lumpen are ideologically weak, and while they may therefore be manipulated so long as they remain politically ignorant and opportunistic, this also makes them unreliable and impulsive. For this reason they are typically bribed and used by the pigs, but once their purpose is served, the pigs violently repress and/or imprison them for the “crimes” they were used to commit.
This is what Hitler did to the SA. Once the SA served his violent ends, he turned on them and their leadership and used his well-indoctrinated elite “SS” corps (in full Schutzstaffel) to slaughter and “purge” the SA.
Those of us who live in oppressed communities and prisons see these tactics used every day by the pigs at all levels. But mainstream Amerika does not, and therefore suffers cognitive dissonance when the true murderous face of the overall police and prison establishment is put on display, as it has been of late, due to mass protests and social media exposures by the victimized communities.
It should be noted that the police response to these exposures has been to foment and “allow” a heightened level of violence and insecurity to reign in our communities, in efforts to silence and quell protests and make their own militaristic posture and murderous violence appear justified and needed to “control” our communities.
The BPP’s theoretical leader and co-founder Huey P. Newton understood the essential need to transform the lumpen from a force of mass reaction subject to the misuse and abuses of the pigs, into a revolutionary force that would instead serve their oppressed communities and expose the true role of the pigs within them. Comrade Huey grasped Frantz Fanon’s insights on the lumpen, that if those struggling to change oppressive conditions did not win the lumpen over to their cause, then the enforcers of that oppressive system would organize the lumpen against those fighting for change. Comrade Bobby Seale, who co-founded the BPP with Huey, pointed this out:
“Huey understood the meaning of what Fanon was saying about organizing the lumpen proletariat first, because Fanon explicitly pointed out that if you didn’t organize the brother who’s pimping, the brother who’s hustling, the unemployed, the downtrodden, the brother who’s robbing banks, who’s not politically conscious – that’s what lumpen proletariat means – that if you didn’t relate to these cats, the power structure would organize these cats against you.”4
This is why we must actively reach the lumpen, open their eyes, and remold their world outlook.
Recognizing this, we can understand why when the pigs could no longer keep Comrade Hugo locked away, isolated from the prisoner masses in solitary, they opted to kill him. He could not be allowed to awaken those in the general prison population, to transform their criminal, lumpen and “gangsta” mentality into a revolutionary mentality. This too is why since the first wave Prison Movement, Comrade George’s books have been increasingly banned from entering the prisons, especially California’s, as has my own book and NABPP-PC literature. The pigs want to nurture and preserve the gangsta and criminal mentality amongst us. They have worked actively to counter efforts to politically awaken the oppressed. And they have largely succeeded. This is why the system expended more resources and manpower on destroying the BPP than against any other group in U.S. history. And alongside its assault on this leadership, the gangsta and criminal mentality was promoted. “We” didn’t do this. The gangs didn’t do this. The pigs did! And BPP comrades saw it in the making. As BPP Comrade Geronimo Ji-Jaga (Pratt) reflected in a 1993 interview:
“Huey Newton gave a lecture on that one time and we had foreseen that this was gonna happen. After the leadership of the BPP was attacked at the end of the 60s and the early 70s, throughout the Black and other oppressed communities, the role models for the up-coming generation became the pimps, drug dealers, etc. This is what the government wanted to happen. The next result was that the gangs were being formed, coming together with a gangster mentality, as opposed to the revolutionary progressive mentality we would have given them.”5
Comrade Hugo represented the sort of political consciousness that officials need to ensure doesn’t take root amongst broad numbers of prisoners and especially not within the oppressed communities.
To this end prison officials have applied a dual tactic of not only suppressing literature which would open prisoners’ eyes politically, but they’ve worked to portray “gangsta” values as revolutionary. In the void of revolutionary consciousness, various youth groups have been able to pass off lumpen behavior and ideas as resistance to “oppression” and even “revolutionary.” Often this has come from officials isolating the groups’ more conscious leaders and “allowing” apolitical and opportunist ones to rise in their place. As I’ve written elsewhere, many of today’s so-called gangs began with or at some point pursued noble aims of serving their communities, but were derailed and led down counter-productive paths.6 Indeed, on many, many occasions, after I’ve talked and/or shared literature on the NABPP-PC and the BPP with prisoners who belong to various groups, they express they’d joined those groups under the misguided belief that they were liberation groups like the Panthers actually were, and that they’d been falsely taught that the Panthers were/are criminal gangs.
This has come about, because the system has, since the 1960s and 70s, engaged in a campaign of disinformation, a program counter to the work of Comrades Hugo, George, and the BPP-PC. The system’s aim has been to transform the revolutionary mentality that gained prominence under their leadership back into a criminal mentality.
This is why we must, along with memorializing the life and memory of these comrades, also reclaim and consciously carry on their work and legacy of revolutionizing the values and practice of prisoners and our oppressed communities. In this way we give the highest honor and praise to their lives and sacrifices, and ourselves embody the values they exemplified and showed us can be lived by us today, in pursuit and reflection of the beautiful world we are building toward for tomorrow.
Dare to struggle, Dare to win!
All power to the People!
- George Jackson, Blood in My Eye (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1990) [↩]
- In 2009 the Virginia State Police in collaboration with federal agencies compiled an “intelligence” (sic!) report purporting to identify “terrorist threats” in Virginia. I, as co-founder of the NABPP-PC was identified as such a “threat” under the bogus profile of a Black Separatist and racial “hate group” – although we specially oppose both racial separatism and discrimination. The reason I was thus profiled was because (get this!), I’d had numerous articles published exposing officials’ abuses of prisoners. The report found this objectionable because my writings were receiving significant public attention and generating negative public views of the law enforcement (sic!) establishment. There was no concern about the abuses nor that they were the actual cause of the lowered public opinion. The report then criticized me – totally contradicting its bogus claim that I am a separatist – as a proponent of a “brotherhood of the oppressed” philosophy. Also, because the NABBP-PC aspires to carry on the work of the BPP. Recall, one of the tactics of the illegal FBI-led Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) against the BPP, was trying to discredit the group by falsely portraying it as an anti-white racist “hate” group. So this game rings familiar. Another of its dirty tactics, (most relevant here), was to try to violently incite other groups and gangs against the BPP and its leaders.
In this regard, following falsely profiling me as a Black racist, Virginia officials had me interstate transferred across the country in 2012 to the Oregon prison system, one of Amerika’s very few systems that has a predominantly white (and small Black minority) prisoner population. Oregon’s system also boasts over a dozen white supremacist prisoner groups.
After having spent 17 years in solitary in Virginia, I was immediately released to Oregon’s general prisoner population, whereupon officials began circulating false rumors to the white groups claiming I was the leader of an anti-white group that wanted to engage whites in a race war and that I was a sexual offender. (I’ve never been charged with, nor convicted of, any sex crimes.) Their intentions were obvious, but didn’t pan out as they’d planned. Instead of a racial clash occurring, I was able to politically engage many of the prisoners and groups, and link them up with the prison movement in California. Oregon prisoners joined the 2013 California-based prisoner hunger strike.
That same year I was interstate transferred again. This time from Oregon to Texas, where I remain, and where the same sort of pig games and bogus racial profiling of me continues. [↩]
- See Book III, especially of Church Committee, U.S. Congressional Report: Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, Report No. 94-755 (1976). [↩]
- Bobby Seale, Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1991), p. 30. [↩]
- Quoted in Mumia Abu-Jamal, We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, (Boston: South End Press, 2004), pp 237-238. [↩]
- See Kevin Rashid Johnson, “Kill Yourself or Liberate Yourself: The Real U.S. Imperialist Policy on Gang Violence vs. The Revolutionary Alternative,” http://rashidmod.com/?p=626; also, Panther Vision: Essential Party Writings and Art of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2015), pp. 97-131. [↩]