As violent crime has risen in Boston's poorer neighborhoods over the last several years, so has the prominence of the local chapter of the New Black Panther Party, a controversial advocacy group chaired by 32-year-old Boston native Jamarhl Crawford, a graphic designer, poet, performer and freelance writer.
Crawford spoke to the Dig from his Roxbury home.
A few years back, you described to the Herald your vision for the future of blacks as "liberation, self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship, knowledge and love of self." As local chairman of the New Black Panther Party, how are you working toward this?
First of all, lead by example. As the chairman, I try to live myself as an example of what liberation, self-sufficiency and these types of things would look like. Beyond that, I think the most important thing is speaking truth to power. You're talking about a grassroots struggle of disenfranchised people trying to make the system take notice and make some changes. In terms of speaking truth to power, the No. 1 tool of the oppressor is fear. And a lot of people don't get things, to simplify, don't get things because they're scared to ask. What we do want to do is advocate that each of these people have their own freedom, without restriction, to be able to determine their own course of action toward success, happiness and community.
The New Panthers have been denounced by the original Black Panthers. The Huey P. Newton (co-founder of the Black Panthers) Foundation characterized the New Panthers as "reactionary provocateurs who'd instigate activities counterproductive to the people's interest, causing mayhem and death," whereas they themselves provided, beyond street theater, food and medical care.
First of all, I must say that my answer is strictly my opinion. It's not the official version. I respect any of my elders who stood up to the system. But, I have to take logical opposition to the statements that have been issued by the elders. We were never this angry - where did the term "off whitey" and "off the pig" come from? Those were their terms. Now, they're basically going back and trying to retell a more pretty history. Before I joined the New Black Panther Party, I would have gladly joined the Black Panther Party. The problem is, it's defunct. The elders who started it are now, in my opinion, focusing more on lectures, warehousing of memorabilia, kind of like a museum of the Black Panthers.
Meanwhile, the conditions they sought out to combat are still here. And I don't know how one retires as a revolutionary, unless the revolution occurs and is successful. As far as violence, the Black Panther party suffered many deaths. And many imprisonments, some of which are still lasting today. To my knowledge, to date, we've lost no soldiers in the field, none of our members are imprisoned - and when I say imprisoned I don't mean a weekend, I mean a sentence - and I don't know of any violence that has occurred at the hands of any New Black Panther member. People would like to make us out to be some fringe element of yahoos, and that's just not what I've seen. Our national chairman is an attorney, for god's sake. This is not a thug, this is an intelligent, thinking man that is dealing with the issues of an intelligent people.
Myself, I believe that this war can be won without violence. But I'm not a Martin Luther King nonviolent person. I also believe in the right to defend yourself. Don't attack me, don't touch me, don't threaten me or those who I love. If you do that, we have a problem. But beyond that, I'm up for intellectual debate.
The thing is if we look in history, who are the ones who really had to be restrained? It's white people who have the history of violence. Black people didn't put on black sheets and get on horses and lynch their former masters. But that's what happened with the KKK. And to this day the KKK has never been [stopped], you know, it's been infiltrated by the government, but it certainly hasn't been stopped. I don't know any KKK members who are dead or in prison because of their political beliefs, like the Black Panthers. And you have all these offshoots of the KKK, Aryan nation groups, neo-Nazis, skinheads, so on and so forth, and all of them are free to operate however they want. Across the country, they have perpetrated hate crimes against black men, usually very small black men, women, children and homosexuals and Jews. The government would really be better suited to go after those people, because all the Black Panthers and organizations like ours want to do is simply change our communities.
You mentioned white supremacist groups and their attacks on Jews, and you also mentioned your National Chairman, Malik Zulu Shabazz. Khallid Abdul Muhammad, one of the key figures in the New Panther Party, denies that the Holocaust ever happened, has referred to Jews as "bloodsuckers ... that old hooked-nose, bagel-eating, lox-eating, Johnny-come-lately perpetrating a fraud." In 2002, Shabazz urged followers to "kill every goddamn Zionist in Israel. Goddamn little babies, goddamn old ladies." As the local chairman of this man's organization, do you share these views? It's pretty harsh.
Well, yeah. It is. "Hook-nosed, lox-eating ..."
You want the whole spiel?
No, no. I'm already quite familiar with it. How do I feel about it? Me myself, personally, I probably would not have used that language, but I would be an idiot if I pretended to be as intelligent as Dr. Khallid. There must have been a point to it. I can say that in some discussions, as an orator, you can use a lot of comments that are meant to evoke emotion. Sometimes in talks that I do, I use terminology such as nigger, cracker, whatever. These are to illuminate points of where those words came from, what those words mean in our society and such.
What I can say on the issue of Jews directly is this: I don't agree with the creation of Israel; it's a made-up state on other peoples' land. Now, I do believe that these people have a right to live like everyone else does, but one person's right to live should not outweigh another person's right to live. I can say this: The true children of the tribe of Israel, the true Hebrew, the people in the Bible, Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon, they were all black. So, I do have quite a contention with who it is who is termed a Jew. We really need a definition of terms. Because the Jews of today, so to speak, are basically white people. They're Europeans. Furthermore, Jews are the chosen people. If you say you are the chosen people, how do you get to be a chosen person? For me, these new Jews are not the Jews of the Bible; they are not the inheritors of Israel; they are not the beneficiaries of the covenant of God with Abraham. That was all black people, now it's all white people. That needs to be looked at.
As far as Dr. Khallid, I believe he was discussing the Jews' involvement in the slave trade, which has been disputed; people do not want to admit it, but everybody had a hand in the slave trade. It was the business of the day. But now, what I was going to get at, is the comparison of the Jewish holocaust to the African holocaust - in which 10 to 100 million Africans died, on the way here, not to mention those who died here, in slavery, and who continue to die in jail, by police brutality, inner-city violence, drugs, AIDS, all of these things. The African holocaust is the worst holocaust man has ever seen, but it won't be on page one of any newspaper. And that is very deep. Right now, in Africa, 30 million people are infected with AIDS: chemical and biological warfare, for those who aren't up to speed as of yet.
You consider AIDS to be a deliberate plot.
I believe that AIDS was created. I believe that a cure exists, and I believe there's no money in the cure.
What are you basing that on?
A lot of research that I've read. AIDS was, in my humble opinion, created in a laboratory quite some time ago, probably in the '20s to the '40s, released on the public maybe in the '70s.
Who released it?
I don't have the professor's name who was working on it, but basically the United States government, and I believe that AIDS started out as something used to target undesirables. And then I believe that it spread, and it jumped out of the little parameters they created for it. But who cares, anyway? If it gets any white people, it gets poor white people, or homosexuals, other less desirable groups. As long as the top of the pyramid is protected, everything is fine - then there have also been cases of very prominent people who have not died of AIDS.
Magic Johnson. You remember when Magic got AIDS?
Sure, but the gestation period for HIV is like 10 years, and that's before full-blown AIDS sets in. People can live well beyond that.
Well, that's great. People I know who have died of AIDS died real quick, in a hurry, and looked horrible. Magic Johnson looks like he could beat both of us up. That alone lets me know that something is happening in the private sector that is not happening in the public sector.
You released an album in the mid '90s under the name Uno the Prophet aka Nat Turner Devil Burner. On it was a song called "Kill Whitey," which contains the lyrics, "They think I'm on that kill whitey shit, but that would be too easy. I don't want to kill you. I want to enslave you, and separate you from your families and steal your religion and take your culture, and rob you of your language and your heritage." My question is ...
First of all, "Kill Whitey" is a parody. I was so bothered by the fact that I knew I could make a record called "Kill Niggers" and no one would bat an eyelash. "Kill Whitey" was my way of addressing the white supremacist system that says, "talk about yourself all you want, but you can never talk about me."
Really and truly, I don't believe that white people will ever understand what black people deal with, unless the same thing happened to them. Now, theoretically, I would love for that to happen. I really would. Because it would be fair. And people say, "How can you say that? You've got so much hate in your heart." No. Understand that what happened to us really did happen, and then understand what would happen if that was to happen to you.
People really need to understand what the ramifications of this is. I am an African man, who does not speak my language. I do not even know where I come from in Africa. I don't know my family beyond a couple generations, and this is directly due to slavery. There are white people who can trace their history all the way back to Ireland, Scotland, England; I can't do that. That is a fundamental erasure of a part of a person. How does a person become whole after that?
If you were granted unlimited funds and immunity from all human law, what would your ideal society look like?
Hmm, my ideal society.
And you can be as general as you want. We don't have to go town to town.
(laughs) I would want to start over. I would place everyone back where they came from, and give back to them the natural resources that are contained wherever they're at. And then we'll play global Monopoly: Do what you can with what you've got. Really, I would like to see a utopian society. All peaceful. That would basically be it. Everyone would be free to worship their own god, find a woman and have babies, man.