The Ancestors Take Home Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, Former Black Panther Leader
This broke late last night from Los Angeles. The former political prisoner Elmer Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt, himself a human rights activist working on behalf of political prisoners considered wrongfully accused and incarcerated, had been living peacefully in Tanzania, Africa, with his wife and child since his release. He is survived by three sons, a daughter, and two brothers and two sisters, one of whom, Virginia, announced his death here in the States.
Geronimo Pratt was godfather to the late Tupac Shakur, the rapper and the son (and stepson) of Black Panthers.
This is one good guy Johnnie Cochran did get off. Nothing yet about a cause of death or whether he was fighting a long-standing disease that killed him, although some sources suggest that it may have been malaria. Others say a heart attack, as Pratt did suffer from high blook pressure. It’s been 13 years since he was released. Too short a time to enjoy freedom in my view, but I hope that he did enjoy it and was happy in The Motherland. From the L.A. Times:
Elmer G. “Geronimo” Pratt, a former Los Angeles Black Panther Party leader who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit and whose case became a symbol of racial injustice during the turbulent 1960s, has died. He was 63.
Pratt died at his home in a small village in Tanzania, where he had been living with his wife and child, according to Stuart Hanlon, a San Francisco attorney who helped overturn Pratt’s murder conviction. Hanlon said he was informed of the death by Pratt’s sister.
Pratt’s case became a cause celebre for elected officials, Amnesty International, clergy and celebrities who believed he was framed by the government because he was African American and a member of the Black Panthers.
“Geronimo was a powerful leader,” Hanlon told The Times. “For that reason he was targeted.”
Pratt was convicted in 1972 and sentenced to life in prison for the 1968 fatal shooting of Caroline Olsen and the serious wounding of her husband, Kenneth, in a robbery that netted $18. The case was overturned in 1997 by an Orange County Superior Court judge who ruled that prosecutors at Pratt’s murder trial had concealed evidence that could have led to his acquittal.
Pratt maintained that the FBI knew he was innocent because the agency had him under surveillance in Oakland when the murder was committed in Santa Monica.
There will be more information forthcoming regarding this death, the second of a significant black public figure of the Sixties-Seventies era in a week. So far, I’ve been able to find the following:
Pratt was later awarded a $4.5 million dollar settlement by the authorities, but he did not settle with them, according to this 2003 interview with All Hip Hop.com:
[…]t was a suit I filed after getting the FBI’s documents years ago. They were clearly engaged in criminal activity against us yet we were held as criminal. To me, something is wrong with that, so I filed a suit. The FBI and the Los Angeles [police] admitting their wrongdoing and they gave us $4.5 million. I didn’t settle that. I wanted to go to trial because I got comrades in jail. I got Assata Shakur [Tupac’s aunt] in Cuba. I got Peter O’Neil (really, Peter O’Neal, exiled former Kansas City Panther chairman) in Tanzania. We wanted to use [the trial] as a platform as absolve them of any crimes that they were being charged with. So Mutulu, Set’s daddy [Tupac’s sister]; these freedom fighters, can come home. The lawyers didn’t understand that. I’m broke, I need money, right? But, f**k that, I need my comrades out of jail.
And yet malaria is a disease connected with poverty. If Pratt did die from the effects of malaria, it means he also died broke for the sake of his comrades and for a higher ideal.