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PORTSIDE  June 2011, Week 1

PORTSIDE June 2011, Week 1

Subject:

Geronimo "Ji Jaga" Pratt Dies at Home in Tanzania

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Date:

Sat, 4 Jun 2011 20:14:13 -0400

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Geronimo ji-Jaga Dies at 63

By Sharon Kyle
L.A. Progressive
June 3, 2011

http://www.laprogressive.com/law-and-the-justice-system/geronimo-jijaga-dies-age-63/

Geronimo ji-Jaga, also known as Geronimo Pratt, passed
away on June 2, 2011 at the age of 63. He was known in
most circles as Geronimo Pratt a high ranking member of
the Black Panther Party but actually changed his name
to Geronimo ji-Jada in 1968. In an interview with Tavis
Smiley (see video below), ji-Jada talks about his name
change and the meaning of the name.

Geronimo ji-Jaga was arrested and convicted for the
murder of Caroline Olsen, a young woman whose death
occurred 350 miles away from where ji-Jada was at the
time of the murder. Olsen, a 27 yr old teacher, and her
husband were shot during a robbery in Santa Monica.

Olsen's husband, Kenneth, survived the shooting and
initially identified another man as the shooter. But
this information did not help Mr. Pratt (the name used
during the trial).

A factor that lead to his conviction, according to
reports that came out during the second trial, was that
the Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted him in a
COINTELPRO operation, which aimed to "neutralize Pratt
as an effective Black Panther Party functionary."

The story of Geronimo Pratt's conviction and
imprisonment was chronicled by journalist and author
Jack Olsen who believed that what happened to Geronimo
Pratt was a textbook case of abuse of the American
criminal justice system for political ends.

After serving two distinguished stints in Vietnam and
earning a Purple Heart, Pratt returned to the States
and entered college on the G.I. Bill. While in college
he became a leader of the Black Panthers in Los
Angeles. It was then that he was targeted by the FBI's
counterintelligence program which lead to him being set
up and convicted for the highly publicized 1968 Santa
Monica murder.

Famed attorney, Johnnie Cochran defended ji-Jaga in the
original trial back in 1970 but due to key evidence
being repressed, ji-Jaga was ultimately convicted and
spent 27 years in prison, eight of which were in
solitary confinement. He was freed in 1997 when his
conviction was vacated. He was working as a human
rights activist up until the time of his death.

He passed away after suffering a heart attack in his
adopted country, Tanzania, on June 2, 2011
_________________________

Civil Rights era icon Geronimo "Ji Jaga" Pratt Dies at
Home in Tanzania

By Martin G. Reynolds
Oakland Tribune
June 3, 2011

http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_18202004?source=most_emailed&nclick_check=1

Elmer Geronimo "Ji Jaga" Pratt, the former Black
Panther Party leader who was released from prison in
1997 after serving 27 years for a murder conviction
that was later overturned, died of natural causes June
2 in a small village in Tanzania where he has lived
part time for many years. He was 63.

Pratt's death may have been brought on by a bout of
malaria, which worked against his existing high blood
pressure, his close friend and longtime attorney Stuart
Hanlon said Friday by phone from his office in San
Francisco.

Hanlon was informed of Pratt's death by friends of the
former Panther who were with him at his home in
Tanzania, an East African country bordered by Kenya and
Uganda.

Pratt was convicted in 1972 in connection with the 1970
robbery and slaying of schoolteacher Caroline Olsen,
27, in Santa Monica. Pratt maintained he was in Oakland
at a Black Panther Party meeting when the shooting
occurred and that FBI agents and police hid and
possibly destroyed wiretap evidence that would prove
it.

His lawyers, which included now-deceased defense
attorney Johnnie Cochran, blamed his arrest on the
politically motivated COINTELPRO campaign by J. Edgar
Hoover's FBI against the Black Panthers and other
perceived enemies of the U.S. government.

The break Pratt's case needed came with the disclosure
that a key prosecution witness hid the fact he was an
ex-felon and police informant.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey
granted Pratt a new trial in June 1997, saying the
credibility of prosecution witness Julius Butler -- who
testified that Pratt had confessed to him -- could have
been undermined if the jury had known of his
relationship with law enforcement. Pratt was freed
later that month.

After his release from Mule Creek State Prison in
Amador County, a federal judge later approved a $4.5
million settlement in Pratt's false-imprisonment and
civil rights lawsuit.

During his lengthy incarceration, Pratt became a symbol
of the turbulent 1960s, and he gained the support of
activists and politicians including former Assembly
Speaker Willie Brown, then-Rep. Ron Dellums (D-
Oakland), the NAACP, Amnesty International and many
others.

"What happened to him is the horror story of the United
States," Hanlon said Friday. "This became a microcosm
of when the government decides what's politically right
or wrong. The COINTELPRO program was awful. He became a
symbol for what they did."

Pratt was born Sept. 13, 1947, in Morgan City, La., a
small town about two hours from New Orleans. The
youngest of seven children, Pratt was raised as a Roman
Catholic by his mother and his father, who operated a
small scrap-metal business.

"He had Southern, rural roots, hardworking parents who
sent all of their kids to college," Hanlon said. "He
goes to the military, fights and is a decorated soldier
in Vietnam, comes back, becomes a football star in
college.

"That would be an American hero," Hanlon said of
Pratt's life up to that point. "It was different
because he was black and he became a Panther and then
the road went the wrong way."

Hanlon said Pratt had been spending half his time in
the small Tanzanian village of Imbaseni and the other
half in Louisiana. When asked why he chose to spend so
much of his time on another continent, Hanlon said, "I
think he felt he had tasted the worst America could
give and it wasn't very good."

Hanlon described Pratt as "one of my two or three
closest friends in the world." And that his case
"defined me as a lawyer."

David Hilliard, former Black Panther Party chief of
staff who recruited Pratt into the party to help
provide leadership to the Los Angeles chapter, said
there are former Panther exiles still in Tanzania, and
that Pratt likely felt comfortable there. He had helped
to get an irrigation system installed in the village he
adopted as his part-time home.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) at the time of his
imprisonment was in the state Legislature. She said she
remembers using her position as the chairwoman of the
state's Black Caucus as a way to bring Pratt's case to
greater prominence. She said much can be derived from a
man who held his head high despite the injustices he
endured.

"I'm really sad," Lee said when reached by phone. "This
is a tremendous loss. His life was about seeking
justice for those who had no justice. All the work that
was done, by many, that ultimately proved he was
unjustly incarcerated, he finally achieved the justice
for himself that he so deserved."

Lee said she sees troubling similarities with the
forces at work during the COINTELPRO era and now, and
said the nation should look to Pratt's legacy with
caution and concern.

While the government must have the tools in place to
protect the nation's security, Lee said -- referencing
the Patriot Act that provides broad powers to
authorities for gathering information on potential
threats -- there must be a balance with civil
liberties.

"We have to be vigilant now and very concerned about
unwarranted government intrusion. We don't want us to
go back there."

Hilliard said Pratt "symbolized the best of human
spirit. His spirit of endurance, his strength, his
service to his people. He's very positive and a real
example for young people who want to look into the
direction of Che Guevara, Malcolm X and the leader of
our party, Huey P. Newton. He is one of the true heroes
of our era. He dedicated his life to service of his
people. There is nothing more honorable than that."

The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times contributed
to this report.

___________________________________________

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