In early May, African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) Chairman Omali Yeshitela, 81, was shackled in handcuffs and leg irons after reporting to the Middle District Federal Court in Tampa for his arraignment in a courtroom packed with supporters.
Chairman Yeshitela faces federal charges after a lifetime of organizing dedicated to “the liberation for Africa and African people everywhere.”
Penny Hess, 77, and Jesse Nevel, 33, two white people working under the leadership of the APSP also face charges after organizing for decades in the white community for solidarity and reparations to the black community.
The “Uhuru 3” are charged with being unregistered “foreign agents” allegedly under the “malign influence” of the Russian government. Chairman Yeshitela’s lawyer Ade Griffin affirms the three are “not guilty and look forward to their day in court.”
The indictments came nine months after a militarized multi-city FBI raid used flash bang grenades, drones, armored vehicles, automatic weapons and scores of flak-jacketed soldiers to seize computers, hard drives, phones and files from seven homes and offices of Uhuru Movement leaders.
According to Mwezi Odom, Chair of the “Hands off Uhuru! Hands Off Africa!” campaign, “the charges are completely false and a concerning violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech for the black community and others who dissent from the mainstream view. These indictments recall the FBI’s COINTELPRO program which unleashed assassinations, false arrests, provocateurs and slander against the Black activists and leaders in the 1960s and 70s.”
“COINTELPRO”, writes the American Civil Liberties Union, “targeted numerous non-violent protest groups and political dissidents with illegal wiretaps, warrantless physical searches and an array of other dirty tricks… The FBI has a long history of abusing its national security surveillance powers. The potential for abuse is once again great, particularly given that the lines between criminal investigations and foreign intelligence operations have been blurred or erased since 9/11. As a result, intrusive surveillance tools originally developed to target Soviet spies are increasingly being used against Americans…”
African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) Chairman Omali Yeshitela, 81, is considered the primary target of the indictment. In the 1960s, he registered black voters in Florida as a field organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1972 he led the formation of the APSP and has spent the last 50 years traveling the U.S. and the world to build the Uhuru Movement with programs for black community education, food systems, healthcare, housing and economic development.
The other two defendants in the indictment are African People’s Solidarity Committee Chairwoman Penny Hess and Uhuru Solidarity Movement Chair Jesse Nevel. They are leaders of the white component of the Uhuru Movement, tasked with winning reparations from the white community under the leadership of the APSP.
Since the April 18, 2023 indictment was announced, voices from across the political spectrum have expressed outrage and alarm at this apparent attempt to increase the use of federal law to quash dissent in America. Prominent scholars, journalists, peace activists, community organizers, Anarchists, Socialists, Libertarians, Republicans and Democrats have spoken out in opposition to the indictment, calling it a dangerous precedent threatening everyone’s rights to free speech, assembly and association.
At a May 10 press conference, Chairman Omali stated that, “my crime is my absolute belief in free speech.” He said, “Every confrontation that I’ve had with the state in my life has been around free speech,” listing incidents where he was arrested, imprisoned, beaten, tear gassed, shot at and firebombed in attempts to silence him.
In 1966 he was arrested and convicted on felony charges for removing a racist mural from the wall of St. Petersburg, Florida’s City Hall. In Gainesville, Florida, he was arrested after a speech following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, for inciting to riot, despite the fact that no riot occurred. When the sanitation workers in St. Petersburg went on strike, the Florida Attorney General pressured Yeshitela’s bondsman to revoke his bond so that he could not return to St. Pete ”because of what I might say.”
Yeshitela was shot at in San Francisco, California in 1978. His house was firebombed in Oakland, California. In 1996, over 300 armed forces from various agencies surrounded the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, using tear gas, helicopters and a small plane to disrupt a community meeting taking place to discuss a grand jury’s failure to indict 2 police in the death of an unarmed black motorist.
Penny Hess, another of the Uhuru 3 defendants, joined Yeshitela at the May 10 press conference, declaring that “These indictments have no basis in reality but this is how this government has attacked black people who struggle for freedom and self-determination to have actual power over their lives.” She cited Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, who along with many other beloved black leaders, were accused of serving as agents of Russia when they fought for black rights.
Hess called on the press to “fact-check” the consistency and accuracy of the messages delivered by Chairman Yeshitela for over 50 years by watching his online video speeches, reading his books and perusing the pages of The Burning Spear newspaper whose archives are available from 1969 to the present day in the digital collection of the University of Florida.
Jesse Nevel, the third defendant among the Uhuru 3, joined Hess in denouncing and ridiculing the indictments. “The charges against the Chairman, Penny and myself are false. Anybody who knows anything about Chairman Omali Yeshitela would know that the notion that somebody else–a Russian or anyone–is behind the scenes pulling the strings for Chairman Omali Yeshitela and telling him what to say or do is such an offensive and slanderous allegation that to even dignify it with a response feels inappropriate.”
“I live in St. Louis, Missouri where the Uhuru Movement’s Black Power Blueprint program has brought life and hope back to the deeply impoverished north side, building community centers, gardens, farmers markets, housing and workforce programs for formerly incarcerated African people and trainings for doulas and midwives to address the genocidal rates of infant and maternal mortality faced by African women in this country.”
“Despite the government’s best efforts to scare away white people from supporting the African Liberation struggle, the Uhuru Solidarity Movement continues to grow under the slogan, given to us by our leadership, Chairman Omali Yeshitela, of ‘unity through reparations.’”
Opponents of the indictments have formed the “Hands Off Uhuru! Hands Off Africa! Campaign”, raising funds for the legal defense, organizing street protests and speaking out via social media.
More information is available at HandsOffUhuru.org.