Geronimo ji Jaga was a freedom fighter who spent almost three decades behind bars in the united states, as a New Afrikan prisoner of war.
In 1968, Geronimo returned to the U.S. as a decorated war veteran after three years in Vietnam. Originally from Louisiana, he moved to Los Angeles, enrolled at UCLA, and joined the Black Panther Party. Geronimo became head of the LA Panther chapter at the beginning of 1969, after the previous chapter head, Bunchy Carter, was murdered by a rival group that was being manipulated by the FBI. Geronimo immediately became a target of FBI and police repression. He found himself accused of having participated in robberies and fomenting insurrection against the government, bogus charges but nevertheless very effective as a means of harassment. He spent most of the next two years in court or in jail. During this time his wife was killed, maybe by the police, maybe by a rival faction of the Panthers – the case was put into the cops’ “we don’t give a shit” pile – he wasn’t even allowed to view her corpse or attend her funeral. As a result of this repression, Geronimo began working with other people to build the clandestine structures of the Black Liberation Army.
Finally, in 1972, after the process of degeneration in the Panther Party had gotten really bad, the State figured the time was right to make their final move, and Geronimo was arrested for the murder of a white woman in the town of Santa Monica. This woman had been playing tennis with her husband and they were both attacked and she was killed, not for any political reasons that we know of, just an anti-social crime. Geronimo’s lawyer at the time told him not to worry, because he had a rock solid alibi: at the time of the murder Geronimo was in Oakland, which is 500km away from Santa Monica. But things had gotten really bad in the Black Panther Party by this time, and almost everyone at the meeting in question were a part of Huey P. Newton’s faction, which Geronimo opposed. As a result, Newton forbade anyone from testifying on Geronimo’s behalf – as such, he had no one left to vouch for him. His only ally at that meeting was Kathleen Cleaver, but she was in Algeria, and the FBI made sure she would stay there, sending her fake letters purporting to be from sympathetic Panthers, warning her that it was too dangerous to come to the u.s. to testify.
Despite this fact, the cops knew that Geronimo was at that meeting, because they had the whole thing under surveillance. But they refused to turn over their surveillance logs, and what’s more, an FBI informant took the stand and said that Geronimo had confessed to him. When this informant was asked if he was working for the FBI, he lied and said he was not. Geronimo was found guilty. Despite the fact that relatively quickly it became publicly documented how he had been framed, and that eventually some of the Panthers who had been at that Oakland meeting came forward to vouch for him, he remained in prison.
Geronimo was never paroled, despite the fact that at the time of his conviction, most murderers served average sentences of 10 years. He was denied parole precisely because he continued to insist that he was innocent, because insisting that you are innocent is taken as a sign that you have not been rehabilitated.
Geronimo’s final release from prison in 1997 came through the tireless organizing that occurred around his case and the ongoing work of his attorneys, including Johnnie Cochran and Stuart Hanlon. Geronimo won a writ of habeas corpus in an Orange County Superior Court that threw out his conviction. The judge ruled that prosecutors had withheld vital evidence regarding a witness who could have cleared Geronimo of the charges. Later, Geronimo, again represented by Cochran, won a $4.5 million settlement of his civil rights suit against the FBI and the city of Los Angeles. Following his release, Geronimo worked to spread the message about the need to struggle against all forms of racist oppression and to fight for the release of all political prisoners.
Eventually he moved to Tanzania, where he died on June 2, 2011.