The following is a transcription of Chairman Omali Yeshitela’s statement at a press conference held on May 10, 2023.
Uhuru! My name is Omali Yeshitela. I’m Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP).
First, I’d like to express my appreciation to Comrade Akilé Anai for hosting this press conference, to you who have come out, and to the incredible attorneys who are representing us in this case.
I’d like to begin by just giving a bit of background on some things that have transpired. Most of you are aware that on July 29th my home and offices of our movement in two states came under attack by the FBI.
They came in armored vehicles, used flashbang grenades and drones to terrorize the communities that we live in…with the cooperation of local police organizations. [The FBI] would threaten the [lives] of my wife and myself with laser targeting devices mounted on assault weapons and pre-dawn raids.
Most of you know something about that. This was when we came to learn that some indictment was pending against a Russian national, and that our names were mentioned in the indictment.
This is when we heard that there existed a search warrant that they utilized to steal properties from our homes, our offices; that they use as the basis of utilizing battering rams to break down doors; that they use as the basis for–after leaving my home in North St. Louis, the most economically depressed sector of St. Louis, mostly African people live there–and then going to South St. Louis, which is where the majority of the white people live in St. Louis, and attacking our office there that was [the] headquarters for the African People’s Solidarity Committee, where Comrades Jesse Nevel lived in an apartment upstairs.
After battering the doors down, they went upstairs and they threatened at gunpoint, handcuffed Jesse and his wife, Amanda Carlozzi, and then, at the same time, this coordinated attack went to the home of Penny Hess and her housemate, Comrade Kitty Riley. And they used the same tactics, they handcuffed people, etc. They occupied our properties for hours on end. So, most of you know something about that.
We were characterized as “unindicted co-conspirators” in a case revolving, they said, around a Russian national who was not in the country. But we were alerted by FBI agents that this was going to be “big news,” which is why you’re here now. Apparently that was part of what this was about. So, I wanted to just bring us up to date on that. On May 2nd, I attended a hearing in Tampa, Florida Federal court, after having learned that the indictment had come. After nine months we were actually indicted.
I was handcuffed, put in leg irons. I had a mugshot taken of me and something similar happened to Comrade Penny Hess on that day; it would occur later for Jesse. I was taken before a judge and we made not guilty pleas to the absurd charges that we had to deal with and released on what is characterized as the “least restrictive bail” that they have for someone who has not been convicted of a crime, and which required me to turn over my passport–both existing passport and expired passports.
[It] required me to guarantee that there were no weapons in the house that I live in, that I have to notify the court or this entity associated with the court every time I want to make a move. Anytime I’m going some place, I have to get permission.
I know there are lawyers behind me… and I I don’t have access to earphone for them to say “shut up” or anything like that, but–which is really important because, as many people are learning, there’s no such thing as privacy anymore in this country–that we’re being listened to and watched every place… so one has to be careful of what one says. I wanted to also indicate that there’s been, I think, a bit of a misunderstanding about my connection to Russia–I know because my first and most significant contact I have had with Russians was when I was in Berlin, Germany.
I’m talking about being in the United States Army [shortly before being discharged after being identified as a Garveyite]. I’m talking about being in Berlin, when the Berlin Wall was created. I’m talking about being in one of the first U.S. military tanks that was in the military combat-related situation with Russians. I was in one of those tanks. I was there in early 1961, when the Berlin Wall was created. So, that’s something that’s not been mentioned at all.
I just thought that that should help to give some clarity, and that’s the relationship that I think is worth mentioning. I also want to say that my crime is my absolute belief in free speech. I have been arrested in this city; this building that you’re sitting in now is one that was attacked by more than 300 law enforcement officials after the 1996 assassination by [a] police organization of TyRon Lewis, and there was a concern that we were having a meeting here and there was an indictment.
The grand jury was meeting to deal with an indictment of the cops who had killed TyRon Lewis. And we had a meeting scheduled at that same time, here in this building. And this building, after the police arrived and first pepper sprayed me in the face, outside the building, had a grand show of force with several police cars with their weapons out of the doors–here, right here in this building, in this city.
This is before the city was declared to be “paradise” by people who don’t live in the Black community. Because the police had drawn a huge crowd outside, and because we were going to speak about the fact that the state refused to indict James Knight and Sandra Miner for killing TyRon, 18-year-old TyRon Lewis, down the street there.
And the police attacked this building. The police first sent a message to me, who was inside the building, that we had five minutes to get out of the building. Or because they had declared our meeting, being here, an illegal assembly, and if we were not out they were going to use tear gas in the building. And within seconds of that announcement, tear gas began to fill this building.
The configuration of the doors were a bit different at that time. It’s been re-configured since. Tear gas came into this room because of what I was going to say. Because [of] what they thought I was going to say. Because of the issue of speaking out. I was arrested in this city, they say, for verbal abuse of a policeman.
They handcuffed me for that and jailed me for that. In every instance it’s been a free speech question. I was arrested in Gainesville, Florida, some four days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, some eight days after being released from prison on bail for tearing down the mural that–there seems to be a consensus today–was a racist mural, that nevertheless gave me five years in prison for having torn it down.
I was in Gainesville, Florida, and at that time I made a speech and part of that speech said that the bullet that killed Martin Luther King had just killed non-violence. I was arrested for that, they said, because it was inciting to riot, despite the fact that no riot occurred. They said I thought about a riot. They said I had to want a riot to occur for that to be something that jailed me.
I was out on bond something like a month after that arrest. And after getting out on bond, I was out for six hours. And then the sanitation workers in St. Petersburg, Florida went on strike. And the Attorney General for the State of Florida met with my bondsman and they came off my bond so that I could not come back to St. Petersburg Florida, where the sanitation workers were on strike, because of what I might say.
In every instance it’s been a question of free speech that I’ve been attacked for, that I’ve been assaulted for. And so the thing is that every arrest that I’ve had up to now has been around free speech issues. And this is no different.
I was handcuffed in the back seat of a police car and beaten with clubs, and got to a court and the cop was exonerated for the fact that, despite the fact I was handcuffed, he said that when taking me to jail, I leaned out of the window and was saying something to somebody outside the window, and so for my own protection, they beat me. They clubbed me, almost unrecognizably, and then I went to jail for that.
I have been shot at by assassins for what I do. My house has been firebombed in Oakland, California. Shot at in San Francisco, California. And so, my basic point is that every confrontation that I’ve had with the state in my life has been around free speech. It’s a free speech question.
I believe in free speech and I learned about free speech in the United States. I was a relatively good student as a young person; they taught free speech. They taught that these are the basic principles enshrined in this country. And I believe in free speech, and if I didn’t believe in free speech, I would never have said anything because they killed black people for talking in this country. They killed black people for whistling in this country. They killed Emmett Till for the accusation that he whistled at somebody. Free speech, free speech, free speech! And free speech has to be afforded to black people. If it’s not afforded to us, then there can be no free speech for anybody. And this is something that everybody should understand.
The assault on free speech, the assault on basic democratic principles, is one that’s always made against someone or some group that is assumed to be unpopular.
This is the way they open the door to an assault on the right of anybody to speak. Because there’s an assumption that this is unpopular speech. Yes, I believe that African people should be free. Yes, I believe that Africa should be free. Yes, I believe that this country was founded on the genocide of Indigenous people and the free, stolen labor of black people.
Yes, I’m going to say that but I should have a right to say it! I was taught that when I went to school, and I believed it when I went to school. And if I am guilty of anything, it is in believing in the principles that were taught to me all my life when I was in school. If I’m guilty of anything, that’s what I’m guilty of.
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