Afeni Shakur is best known as the mother of the hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur. What is less well known is that she was a member of the Harlem chapter of the Black Panther Party, a dedicated revolutionary who served time in jail for her political activities. Freedom Archives says her work “shaped the political discourse of Black Liberation movements in the 70s.” Visit their article on Afeni to hear excepts of her speaking.

In 1968, 21 members of the Harlem Chapter of the panthers were arrested on alleged bomb conspiracy charges, with bail set at $100,000. The following is part of a letter that Shakur wrote from prison in January 1970, decrying the colonial jail system and the entire U.S. state apparatus that has oppressed people of color since colonization arrived on this continent, and brought the first enslaved Africans shortly thereafter.

Featured image: Afeni Shakur speaks at a Black Panther Party Rally. Image via Freedom Archives.

By Afeni Shakur

We know that you are trying to break us up because we are the truth and because you can’t control us. We know that you always try to destroy what you can’t control. We know that you are afraid of us because we represent a truth of the universe. We are not being tried for any overt act nor for [the] attempt to commit any overt act–we are being tried for bringing within our minds the focusing of the ideas of centuries and trying to bring this knowledge into a workable plan to liberate our people from oppression. We are being tried only because we know you and because we are not afraid of you. We know of your history of lies, deceit and slavery. We know that you now have 80% of the world in slavery. We know how you turn nation against nation, tribe against tribe, brother against brother. We know that you are blood-thirsty, pitiless and inhuman. We have seen you justify the most inhuman crimes–the worst of which was the destruction of men’s hearts and minds. We know of your greed. We know that 10,000 army bases does not make this a “free world” except free for your exploitation and imperialism. How many civilizations have you destroyed?

In this country we know that we are not 2nd class citizens–we know that we are not citizens at all. We know that the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments did not liberate us–that they only legalized slavery and expanded the Dred Scott decision to include the Indians, Spanish speaking and poor whites. We know that things have not gotten any better–but only progressively worse. We know that this is the rich man’s courts, laws, and justice. It is his skies, and air–we can only look at it and breathe it if he says so. We know that wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized protected robbery. But you teach the poor workers to be honest. We know that the Almighty dollar which everyone is taught to revere is only guaranteed by slavery and exploitation. We know that we live in a world inhuman in its poverty. We know that we are a colony, living under community imperialism. The U.S. that we see is not one of freedom, beauty, and wisdom, but of fear, terror, and hate. This is a nation of your laws, run by your police, and based on protecting your economic strength. The poor are politically, economically and legally non-existent that is why in jail, 80% of the inmates are non-white and all are poor. Yet even your sociologists and criminologists admit that 80% of these are innocent.

We see that inhuman treatment but are told that we do not. We see men beaten to death in jail but are told that they died of “natural causes” but we are liars. Just as we are always presumed guilty. We heard the judge tell us that “The law didn’t apply to us,” but it isn’t in the record–and of course we lie. We are born criminals and liars. We know we are innocent but we are liars. The people know we are innocent but they don’t count. The prisoners know we are innocent but they too are liars. The guards and even the captains of the guards know we are innocent but they can’t testify. They will lose their jobs. We can prove we are innocent. But we wonder does it really matter. We can prove it in detail and we will, but just in general the charges against us in this indictment are ridiculous and are contradictory to our basic beliefs. We have never been asked as a people whether we wanted to be governed by your God, your laws, your justice, your customs, your speech, dress, and ethics. We do not. We have no respect for them. We have no respect for your laws, taxes, your gratitude, sincerity, honor and dignity–you have no respect for them yourself. You don’t respect us–thus we don’t respect YOU…