Monday, October 26, 2020

Dr. Alan Berkman's Case Revisited: Conclusion of book review

 Dr. Alan Berkman’s Case Revisited: Conclusion

The four chapters of Susan Reverby’s Co-Conspirator For Justice book’s Part 3 provide readers with a detailed look at what Dr. Berkman experienced in various U.S. prisons and jails, both before and after he developed life-threatening health issues in November 1985, six months after being arrested while still underground; and how, for a year, Dr. Berkman and the 5 other 1980’s Resistance Conspiracy Case co-defendants were in lockdown 23 hours a day. In addition, readers can also learn to what degree Dr. Berkman’s views about Movement-building strategies changed or did not change while he was imprisoned.

Dr. Berkman’s co-defendants in the Resistance Conspiracy Case eventually decided to settle the case “with guilty pleas and dropping of some of the charges” in 1990, so that the then-seriously ill Dr. Berkman “would be spared the pressure of a trial;” despite the excessively long sentences or additional sentences Dr. Berkman’s co-defendants received following their guilty pleas in the Resistance Conspiracy Case, according to Co-Conspirator For Justice. As one of Dr. Berkman’s co-defendants in this case (who was not released from prison herself until 2001) told Professor Reverby in a March 8, 2016 interview: “Our main goal was to get a deal for Alan so that he had a chance to get parole based on the other cases with lesser sentences. Every minute we thought about how we could get him better medical care.”

Dr. Berkman was finally released from prison in July 1992; and how he re-adjusted to the world outside and spent the remaining 17 years of his life, while continuing to confront and overcome some additional life-threatening health issues before his death in 2009, is what the final Part 4 of Co-Conspirator For Justice describes, in an emotionally moving way.

In the prologue to her Co-Conspirator For Justice book, Professor Reverby writes that she “really knew” Dr. Berkman “as a boy and young man,” but “wrote him only once when he was incarcerated” and “did not agree with his political tactics.” Yet her portrayal of members of the 1970’s and 1980’s May 19th and John Brown Anti-Klan Committee above-ground political groups and the underground groups, which Dr. Berkman was part of or supported, is more sympathetic and politically balanced than what one often finds in most other academic press or corporate media conglomerate-published book accounts of this period of U.S. New Left Movement history; or what one usually finds in historical narratives that make reference to the May 19th group, the BLA or the FALN in the newspapers, magazines and websites of historically politically competing U.S. left groups or sects or in corporate media news sources like the New York Times and New York Daily News.

But in its references to what happened during the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, unlike Dan Berger’s Outlaws of America book (that also describes what happened in the same decades, yet contains few references to Dr. Berkman’s significant role in Movement history), Co-Conspirator For Justice seems to rely more on white liberal-left academic or mainstream corporate media historical narratives than on 1960’s and 1970’s white counter-cultural underground press, African-American and Puerto newspaper accounts of what happened. And few articles written about the May 19th group and the BLA’s Oct. 20, 1981 action and subsequent-related trial proceedings from 1980’s U.S. radical left publications, like the now-defunct U.S. Guardian weekly newspaper, are cited in the this book’s footnotes.

In addition, only one sentence in the book contains a reference to Republic of New Afrika [RNA] above-ground organizer Ahmed Obafemi, whose political leadership the May 19th group activists generally followed in the late 1970s and 1980’s; and who was often a featured speaker at the late 1970’s and 1980’s public meetings organized by the May 19th group in NYC, in support of the BLA, the FALN and the granting of political prisoner or prisoner of war status and freedom for Dr. Berkman and other excessively sentenced anti-imperialist left and revolutionary nationalist movement activists or combatants. Yet as a posting about Ahmed Obafemi on the internet, for example, notes:

“Following his release from prison in 1976 until 1991 Brother Obafemi worked in the Harlem, New York community. He was a founding member of Freedom Now, a broad base coalition of organizations and individuals exposing human rights violations of political prisoners, which the government refuses to acknowledge, and has represented this coalition at the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland….Ahmed was also a member of other formations fighting against repression, namely the COINTELPRO Task Force on Research and Litigation, the New York Citizen’s Review Commission and the National Black Human Rights Coalition, which held a major rally for self-determination and reparations at the United Nations in New York three days after the liberation from prison of Assata Shakur. He was a key organizer of the grassroots movement that changed Lenox Avenue to Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, New York….”

Anti-imperialist left political activists on the Upper West Side and elsewhere in the USA who fear that a new case of political repression might develop in the current decade should, especially, consider checking out Susan Reverby’s well-written Co-Conspirator For Justice book (that also avoids using academic jargon).  And it might enable them to examine how at least one U.S. physician diagnosed the political repression cases of the 1970’s and 1980’s in the USA and elsewhere; and how his political response to the political repression cases of those decades affected the remaining portion of this U.S. revolutionary physician’s life.

(end of article, that was originally posted on Upper West Side Patch website) 

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