The Immolation of Lesane Crooks

“If fault is to be found, it does not rest in the bureau alone. It is to be found, also, in the long line of attorneys general, presidents, and congresses, who have given power and responsibility to the FBI, but have failed to give it adequate guidance, direction, and control.” -Senator Frank Church

On November 11th, 1975, the late former senator Frank Church held a hearing on the crimes committed by the FBI’s COINTEL program. Curtis Smothers who was a member of the Senate Select Committee’s Minority Council, uses a memorandum written by a Mr. Sullivan for J. Edgar Hoover, to provide an insight into their strategy for combating Dr. Martin Luther King.

“The plan here is to completely discredit Dr. King by “taking him off his pedestal and reduce him completely in influence.” The thinking was that this would not be a terribly difficult task. The memo indicated, for example, that “this can be done, and will be done. Obviously, confusion will reign, particularly among the Negro people. The Negros will be left without a national leader of sufficiently compelling personality to steer them in the proper direction.” So, the FBI decided that, if they were going to take King off his pedestal, it was a part of their task to find, and bring into prominence, a new “national Negro leader”.

The FBI had written letters to Dr. King trying to pressure him into committing suicide. Smothers also revealed that these actions were not restricted to national figures such as King, but ordinary citizens also.

“A COINTEL effort against a White female who was involved as an officer in what is defined as a local black activist group. The way to discredit, or neutralize, this leader was to take attention away form activities of the group by creating another kind of distraction. The distraction read as follows…”

“Look man, I guess your old lady doesn’t get enough at home. Or she wouldn’t be shucking and jiving with our Black men in action, you dig? Like all she wants to integrate is the bedroom, and us Black sisters ain’t going to take no second best for our men. So lay it on her, man. Or get her the hell out of (blank) …”

It was signed, “A Soul Sister”, and succeeded in its goal of providing a distraction to steer her energy away from subversive activities. They also hounded an actress into suicide by spreading personal information about her interracial sex life.

The late senator Phillip Hart perfectly summarized the real reasons for the targeting of ordinary citizens. “Anonymous letters, drafted by bureau offices in the field, sent to headquarters in Washington, approved, and then put in the mail, intended to break up marriages. Not of Dr. king, but of Mary and John Jones, because one or other was thought to be a dissenter. (They) Might’ve dressed strangely, or showed up at meetings in company of others who might’ve dressed strangely.” They were upsetting the status quo.

Countless organizations were infiltrated, including women’s liberation groups and minority-led labor unions. FBI agents would acquire press passes and pose as reporters, bug homes, and compile thousands of pages of information for the explicit purpose of sabotaging the movements, should it be necessary.   

When asking why the FBI would do something like this, Deputy Associate Director of the FBI James Adams attempted to place the blame on the exigent circumstances plaguing American society.

Tower: “How is it that you came to believe that you had the authority to neutralize or disrupt these organizations rather than proceed against them frontally through prosecuting them for law violations?”

Adams: “I guess you would have to say, in a position like this, that it’s just like the Smith act of 1940, which is designed to prevent revolutionary groups from advocating the overthrow of the government. And then subsequent interpretations as to the constitutionality of it, leaves us with a statute still on the books that prescribes certain actions, but to have the degree of proof necessary to operate under the few remaining areas is such that there was no satisfactory way to proceed.”

Church: “What you’re saying, Mr. Adams, is that you didn’t operate within the law because the law didn’t give you sufficient latitude.”

Adams: “In our review of the situation, we see men of the FBI, recognizing, or having a good faith belief that there was an immediate danger to the United States… They felt they had a responsibility to act. And having felt this responsibility, did act… We can see good evidence of their belief there was a threat. We had cities being burned, we had educational institutions being bombed, we had deaths occurring from all of these activities. We had a situation that we didn’t know what the end was going to be… We don’t know if, ultimately, this might bring the destruction of the country. All we know is we had an extremely violent time.”

In the summer of 1992, racial tensions had flared up once again. Los Angeles was burning to the ground. The citizens were paying for the sins of the LAPD’s Hammer program, which began as an effort to gentrify the city for the 1984 Olympic games and mutated into militarized raids on African American neighborhoods. By 1990, the program had put 50,000 people behind bars. Many of those individuals experiencing police brutality. In this environment, peace officers with questionable morals were allowed to racially discriminate, harass, and assault minorities with impunity. LAPD Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, who has since been blamed with encouraging the culture that sparked the riots, defended the program in an interview with PBS. When asked if the communities had expressed gratitude for the department’s actions, he responded:

“Sure. The good people did all the time. But the community activists? No. Absolutely not. We were out there oppressing whatever the community had to be, whether it was blacks, or Hispanics. We were oppressing them. Nonsense. We’re out there trying to save their communities, trying to upgrade the quality of life of people…”

The Rodney King verdict was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Also in 1992, then attorney general William Barr kept himself busy. He authored a report titled The Case for more Incarceration; in which he argued for an increase in the United States incarceration rate with mandatory minimums, new prisons, and the abolition of parole. He launched a program through the DEA to surveil international calls from innocent Americans. He capped off the year advising lame duck President George H.W. Bush on the pardon of six Reagan administration officials who had been found guilty on charges relating to the Iran-Contra scandal. Many saw the pardons as the completion of a government cover-up. Barr and Bush being former CIA officers, the agency implicated in the scandal.

In the middle of this incredibly productive year, Barr launched a vaguely reported and seldom talked about program. In what The New York Times called “the largest single manpower shift in the bureau’s history”, Barr reassigned 300 of the FBI’s counterespionage agents to assist several police departments in their war against gangs and violent criminals. Essentially, thanks to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, these dedicated cold warriors were injected into the black hole of tax-payer cash and police corruption known as the “war on drugs”.

Gangster rap provided the soundtrack to the racial powder keg in LA. The artists of this genre were considered dangerous to the fabric of American society by most in the political elite. Officer Gregory White, of the L.A.P.D., who works in a special gang unit, explains that gangsta rap is a legitimate concern of law-enforcement agencies because it often involves criminal activity. “Rap is a way to launder dirty drug money,” he says. According to White, some record companies provide fronts for the gangs. But he adds that it is rap music’s virulently antipolice rhetoric that is considered particularly pernicious.

There were a few rappers who used the platform to express their political opinions and overall distrust of the system. Among this select group was Tupac Shakur, whose debut album 2pacalypse Now held a more militant attitude towards the socioeconomic disadvantages experienced in Black communities. In Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective on Tupac Shakur, by Karin L. Stanford,we can see why Tupac might have been considered a greater threat to the establishment than any of his contemporaries.

“In 1986, Tupac relocated to Baltimore with his family. Right away, he noticed the dire circumstances of Black people residing in the city. Tupac said, “As soon as I got there, being the person that I am, I said, ‘No, no, I’m changing this.’ So I started a Stop the Killing Campaign, a Safe Sex Campaign and AIDS Prevention Campaign and everything” (Jones & Spirer, 2002) … Demonstrating his support of class-based strategies to enhance people’s lives, Tupac also affiliated with the Young Communist League… Tupac became known for his ability to plan events, organize people, and raise their political consciousness.”

The essay continues with the testimony of Darren Bastfield, a friend of Tupac, who remembers his passion and tireless pursuit of new recruits.

“In high school, Tupac began to formalize his politics, and actively participated in several grassroots organizations to which he gave his full energy and creativity. He would speak of the activities of these organizations freely, occasionally sporting related buttons on his clothing and showcasing various leaflets, flyers, and other material. A number of us from the school found ourselves at meetings on more than one occasion.”

The crux of my argument can be found in a brilliant profile written by Connie Bruck for the New Yorker, called The Takedown of Tupac (June 1997).

“Tupac was not only propagating insurrectionist rhetoric in his lyrics but acting it out as well. The phrase “Black Power” had been “like a lullaby when I was a kid,” Tupac recalled in a deposition he gave in 1995 (in a civil suit in which it was charged that some of Tupac’s lyrics had influenced a young man who murdered a Texas state trooper). He remembered that when he was a teen-ager, living in Baltimore, “we didn’t have any lights. I used to sit outside by the streetlights and read the autobiography of Malcolm X. And it made it so real to me, that I didn’t have any lights at home and I was sitting outside on the benches reading this book. And it changed me, it moved me.”

His relationship with the male figures inside of the Black Nationalist movement was a complicated one. Tupac had witnessed his mom sacrifice everything for the movement, only to be abandoned by the males in her life when she needed them most. When she was battling alcoholism and crack addiction. The war had been lost. And Afeni was stuck mourning the death of an ideological movement that meant the world to her. But Tupac also acknowledged the system’s role in the destruction of his family.

“There are no Shakurs, black male Shakurs, out right now, free, breathing, without bullet holes in them or cuffs on his hands. None.”

The article talks about the many male role models that were ripped away by the government’s war against the Black Power movement.

“The leaders of the black nationalist movement to which the other Shakurs belonged had been virtually eliminated, largely through the efforts of the F.B.I. In 1988, Tupac’s stepfather, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, who had received a degree in acupuncture in Canada and used his skills to develop drug-abuse-treatment programs, was sentenced to sixty years in prison for conspiring to commit armed robbery and murder. Tupac’s godfather, Elmer (Geronimo) Pratt, is a former Black Panther Party leader who was convicted of killing a schoolteacher during a robbery in Santa Monica in 1968. He was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. His conviction was reversed a few weeks ago on the ground that the government suppressed evidence favorable to him at his trial (most significantly that the principal witness against him was a paid police informant).”

There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Tupac Shakur. But in 1994, in the words of Bruck, “Whether by happenstance or not,… something occurred that could not have been better designed to remove Tupac from circulation—and that would ultimately lead to his undoing. A 19-year-old named Ayanna Jackson claimed that she was forced to perform oral sex on Tupac while Jaques “Haitian Jaques” Agnant partly undressed her and grabbed her from behind, and that they then made her perform oral sex on Agnant’s friend while Tupac held her. Indictments were handed down on sex-abuse, sodomy, and also weapons charges (two guns were found in the hotel room), and Agnant’s lawyer, Paul Brenner, who had represented the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association for many years, moved that his client’s case be severed from his two codefendants’, on the ground that only Tupac and Man Man had been charged with the weapons offenses, and that therefore the indictment was improperly joined. The prosecutor did not oppose the motion—something that Tupac’s lawyers say is highly unusual—and the judge granted it.

It was apparently after Agnant’s case was severed that Tupac became convinced that Agnant was a government informer and had set him up. Tupac’s suspicions were, inevitably, shaped by the experience of his extended family; “Jacques didn’t smell right to me,” says Watani Tyehimba, who considers himself particularly attuned to the presence of undercover agents because of his long history with the Panthers and what he learned from COINTELPRO files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.”

On November 30th, Tupac was shot walking into a studio in Times Square.

“When he returned to the courtroom, bandaged and in a wheelchair, he was acquitted of the three sodomy counts and the weapons charges but, in an apparent compromise verdict, convicted of two counts of sexual abuse—specifically, forcibly touching Ayanna Jackson’s buttocks. Bail was set at three million dollars… (and) sentenced to a term of not less than one and a half to not more than four and a half years in prison. A few months after Tupac was sentenced, Jacques Agnant’s indictment was dismissed, and he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors. When I asked Melissa Mourges, the assistant district attorney who had tried the case against Tupac, why Agnant had been dealt with in such a favorable way, she said that Ayanna Jackson was “reluctant to go through the case again.” Jackson had, however, brought a civil suit against Tupac following the trial.

Agnant’s lawyer, Paul Brenner, believes that Tupac should never have been convicted. “It was a very weak case,” he says. “A lot went on” at Nell’s. Brenner suspects that the police planted the gun they found in the hotel room… What role Agnant, the police, or any other governmental entity may have played in the sexual-assault case against Tupac is conjectural. But this much is plain: once the gears of the criminal-justice system were set in motion, Tupac was penalized more for who he was—a charismatic gangsta rapper with a political background—than for what he had done.”

Then there was the beef with Biggie, which began while Tupac was in prison and under eerily familiar circumstances.

“At first, Tupac did not believe that Biggie, who had been a good friend of his, and who had come to visit him when he was recuperating from his wounds, had been involved in any way. “But when Tupac was in jail he was getting letters from people saying Biggie had something to do with it, he started thinking about it, it got so out of hand, it grew—and once it got that big, publicly, you had to go with it.”

Nick Broomfield, in his 2002 documentary Biggie & Tupac,also alluded to the FBI’s possible role inciting the beef. Mentioning their “policy to cause dissention within the Hip Hop movement.” And the FBI’s constant surveillance on both sides of the beef, which in both cases conveniently ended within hours of each rapper’s assassination.

No matter what role they played later in Tupac’s life, the COINTEL program helped pave the way for Tupac’s ultimate destruction.

“(Tupac) was out of his element. It was a completely different soldier mentality. He was fascinated by it because of the absence of a male figure who could say, ‘Leave it alone.’”

“He was always looking for a father,” Watani Tyehimba says, “in me some, in Mutulu some. But what he missed was one father with the good and the bad, not a composite.”

Tupac was born on the front lines of a war against the United States. In all wars where the men go off to war. The children are taught to fight. But Tupac was always fighting a losing battle. The state had won long before Tupac enlisted. The priorities of the culture were no longer aligned with those of Black nationalism. The culture had become polluted by hypermasculinity, greed, and materialism. No longer aligned with the quasi-socialist agenda of the 1970’s and 80’s. Tupac was a thorn that was easy to pull out. Not by murdering the man, but by having the system in place to murder his message. Most of today’s commercial artists only provide music for insular, self-indulgent introspection. Even when the artist produces work that could be considered subversive, they are still a walking, talking advertisement for consumerism. The kids will vibe to the words but follow the image. The image being that of a multi-millionaire rapper, living their best life inside of million-dollar homes, enjoying extravagant social engagements, and driving luxury vehicles. Tupac did all of these things. But he had the potential of giving dangerous political views mass appeal. Instead, they took him off his pedestal, and in his place installed a new “National Black leader”, one beholden to the corporatist agenda.

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