Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN-09) hosted a forum featuring an ex-Black Panther member implicated for torturing and killing a suspected police informant, as well as speakers who praised imprisoned cop killers. The May 10 congressional forum focused on Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), an illegal and secret FBI program that surveilled, infiltrated, and disrupted political groups such as the Black Panther Party (BPP).
“The brunt of the program with its most outrageous abuses were reserved for people of color, particularly Black Americans. The Black Panther Party was literally in the FBI’s crosshairs,” asserted Cohen. “The United States was born of dissent, and alternative perspectives should be welcomed, not neutralized, and protests should be encouraged. We may disagree, but every American has the right and freedom to speak their mind, to petition their government, to protest to be engaged and active in civic life, and contribute their energy and efforts to pursue a more perfect union. The FBI attempted to snuff out minorities and minority viewpoints.”
The forum was inspired by the newly-released movie, “Judas and the Black Messiah.” The film dramatized how the FBI targeted and assassinated the Black Panther Party Leader Fred Hampton in 1969. Cohen called Hampton an “amazing individual” and a “legend.”
The implicated ex-member, Ericka Huggins, was praised by one of the hosts, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), as an exemplar of the leadership and strength of Black Panther Party women. In 1969, the same year as Hampton’s death, a 19-year-old named Anthony Rackley was suspected of being an FBI informant and tortured, interrogated, and murdered by the BPP chapter that Huggins was leading. An audio tape presented at trial relayed Huggins interrogating Rackley in the two days leading up to his murder. Huggins’ BPP chapter poured boiling water on Rackley and beat him with a stick repeatedly to coerce a confession.
The jury deadlocked 10 to 2 for Huggins’ acquittal.
Huggins discussed how she noticed police and FBI surveillance almost immediately after she’d joined the BPP. Cohen stepped out of the meeting as Huggins described her husband’s murder, and her arrest later that same day (not for Rackley’s murder). She didn’t mention the accusations against her concerning Rackley’s murder.
Hampton’s then-fiancee, Akua Nijeri, and son, Fred Hampton Jr., were also present. Also in attendance were Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, civil rights activist Nkechi Taifa, former FBI special agent and current Brennan Center for Justice member Mike German, and the Washington Post reporter that broke news of COINTELPRO, Betty Medsger.
The speakers praised cop killers serving life sentences, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Mutulu Shakur, and H. Rap Brown.
The Tennessee Star requested comment from Cohen’s spokespersons about the decision to host these speakers. They didn’t respond by press time.
Other congressional leaders in attendance were Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) and Bobby Rush (IL-01). Rush co-founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and is portrayed in the film discussed in the forum.
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