While the United States supposedly champions the right to political freedom for others abroad, Conway and dozens of other political prisoners are still incarcerated at home for their political beliefs…
by Benjamin Woods
Conway and his supporters have consistently asserted that he has been imprisoned since 1970 because he was an effective organizer in the Baltimore Black Panther Party. He, along with two other suspects, Jack Johnson and Jack Powell, were convicted of the murder of a white police officer and of the attempted murder of another officer, after the officers responded to a domestic violence call.
Although there is a signed confession, a jailhouse informant, and police identification, there is no physical evidence that connects Conway to the murder. (Sound familiar?) Although Jack Johnson confessed to the crime before the trial began, he stated that he was tortured and forced to sign the confession.
So, contrary to the mainstream media’s attention and coverage of the issue, forced confessions did not start with Amanda Knox. In the same way, torture of Black Panthers is not without precedent. (For more on this, check out the “Legacy of Torture” documentary.)
A jailhouse informant, who Conway protested having to be placed in a cell with, claims that Conway confessed to him that he committed the murder. After looking at two decks of pictures, in which Conway’s picture was conveniently the only one to appear in both decks, another officer identified Conway as the killer. Surprise, surprise.
With all of this circumstantial evidence, how could Conway have been kept in prison for almost 41 years? It’s simple. He was a victim of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO).
One of the stated goals of COINTELPRO was to “disrupt, discredit, and otherwise neutralize Black Nationalist hate-type organizations.” Neutralization meant illegal surveillance, infiltration, imprisonment, forced exile, and even assassinations.
For example, on Dec. 4, 1969, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered in a hail of bullets by the Chicago Police Department. William O’Neal, Hampton’s bodyguard and government infiltrator, supplied the CPD with a layout of the victims’ apartments and drugged Hampton to ensure that he wouldn’t fight back.
Another victim of COINTELPRO, the late Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt, spent 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was convicted of the murder of a white tennis instructor in Los Angeles, and the key witness was an FBI informant.
Eventually, Pratt was able get a hold of the memos showing that the key witness lied about his relationship with the FBI, but only after Pratt was falsely imprisoned almost three decades.
While the United States supposedly champions the right to political freedom for others abroad, Conway and dozens of other political prisoners are still incarcerated at home for their political beliefs and/or actions.
Conway’s supporters are asking everyone to call and write letters to the Maryland Parole Commission to demand his freedom. This is the chance for those of us on Howard’s campus to support a man who struggled for us long before we were even born and to pay him back for over 41 years of hard work in the Black Liberation Movement.
Benjamin Woods M.P.S. is a PhD Candidate at Howard University. His blog FreetheLand provides political and cultural analysis of historical and contemporary events as they relate to people of African descent.