Burning Spear News
Justice AmeriKKKan style - Africans jailed for white man’s crime!
This article was first published in the May-August 1992 issue of The Burning Spear.
CROSS CITY, Fla. — The work that was done by the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (NPDUM - later known as InPDUM)* throughout the U.S. after the Simi Valley verdict around the Rodney King case proved without a doubt the importance of NPDUM’s existence. But nothing proves the significance of the organization more than the struggles it has been leading in this northern Florida cracker town.
Cross City is a brutally colonialist town of 2,000 people — 1,500 North Americans and 500 Africans.
It is a city which, more than most of Florida, went untouched by the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and early ‘60s.
It is a plantation city where most African employment comes from the watermelon farms, pulp wood hauling, lumber mills and the surrounding prison system industry.
The median household income — the point where half the income is higher and half lower — is $15,380, with both African and white households included.
It is a poor city in Dixie County that was built by what the Miami Herald describes as “lumber barons” in the early part of this century.
The colonized African community is known as the “Quarters,” an obvious reference to slave quarters, which like those in Cross City are separated from the plantation but close enough for the black labor to be easily obtained and exploited by the white ruling and owning classes.
The housing in the African community of Cross City consists of rickety wooden shacks or trailers resting on cement blocks which, when stacked in front of the door, also serve as steps.
The African neighborhoods are connected to each other by winding dirt roads which have never known asphalt or any other kind of paving.
Cross City is in Dixie County. It is a hard place in a neighborhood of other hard places like Taylor, Gilchrest and Levy counties. But Cross City stands out; even hardcore colonialists in the neighboring counties speak of Cross City with an element of awe in their voices.
NPDUM comes to Cross City
The African working people are standing up in Cross City today.
It may never be the same here again, ever since the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement came to town to organize our people.
NPDUM came to help overturn the rotten and repressive conditions white power has imposed on us here, and to help the people prepare for the eventual struggle for national liberation which will have to be waged from cities like Cross City, too.
The issue that brought the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement to Cross City was the case of the “Cross City 5,” five young African men who have been locked up since January of this year on the frame-up charges of third degree murder, riot, felony criminal mischief, hurling a deadly missile, and battery.
Prohibitively high bail for each of the five was set at $50,000.
Although the five men had been locked up for nearly three months before NPDUM came to town, nothing had been done to defend them.
They were about to be railroaded into the notorious Florida chain gang as surely as if they were sitting in an Amtrak station.
This is a classic case of white power colonial justice, the justice that is meted out to Africans throughout this prison of nations called the U.S. in one way or another.
Often it is not as flagrantly offensive as this case, for fear of mobilizing the resistance of our people against the entire rotten system.
What occurred on January 11,1992
On January 11 at about midnight a young North American named Jody Akins, the son of a wealthy and influential local, entered the African community of Cross City armed with a 22 semi-automatic rifle and several clips of ammunition, and was apparently drug crazed.
In his own words, he came to “kill up some niggers” who he claimed sold him some soap instead of crack.
Crowds of Africans who were leaving a popular night spot called ‘The Classic Tiffany” were attracted to Akins, who was waving his rifle and shouting, “where are the badassed niggers?”
Akins’ hand was shoved, causing him to barely fail shooting one of the young men who would become the Cross City 5.
Then another brother, Lonnie “Poppa Clean” Harris, took the gun from the rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth anti-black Akins.
This act later resulted in Harris’ parole being revoked and him being re-imprisoned for a previous “offense” because taking the weapon placed him in possession of the firearm with which Akins was attempting to kill him and anyone else in the crowd.
A sister in the crowd snatched the clip from the rifle and waved it in the air so that the crowd could see that Akins was unarmed.
His rifle was then returned to him — something that would have been unthinkable had an African been disarmed by whites under similar circumstances.
Akins jumped into his pickup truck and plowed it into the crowd, obviously attempting to kill the sisters and brothers present.
In fact, the Miami Herald (April 22) quoted Akins as saying: “All I was looking for was a standing mother fucking nigger [who] I could hit about 50 miles an hour.”
When Akins was unable to kill anyone with his truck, he reloaded his rifle with extra clips and began firing wildly into the crowd. Most of the people began to scatter when Akins brandished his newly loaded weapon, but Akins did find himself a “standing nigger” to kill.
24-year-old Royce Rutledge just happened to walk out of the Classic Tiffany at the time. Although he had not even been involved in the confrontation with Akins, he offered a standing target and Akins shot him down in cold blood.
Response by the police
Several attempts were made to get the police to come to stop Akins.
One young woman had twice gone the quarter mile to the police station to report the rampaging, armed white man since the first shot had been fired by Akins and he had been disarmed.
Another woman, Denise Strong, alternated attempting to comfort the bleeding Rutledge, holding his head in her lap for awhile, then going back to the police station to get help.
The reluctant police — who have the well-deserved name of “pigs” in the African communities throughout the U.S. — finally arrived 45 minutes after first being notified.
But when Robert Lee, a notoriously vicious cop, got there he only stood with his hands in his pockets.
Rutledge was pronounced dead on arrival when he finally reached a hospital.
Robert Lee was later questioned by the Miami Herald about the community’s accusation of his complicity in Rutledge’s death.
He was reported to have menacingly told the reporter, “If you want to keep you and me at peace, that’ll be all [about that].”
Akins was arrested later that night. Some accounts say this was after he fired on some white people in the woods and they fired back, hitting his car several times.
The frame-up of the Cross City 5
Akins was charged with first degree murder. But the real designs of the white capitalist colonialist State were revealed when the Cross City 5 — Benny Walker Jr., Gary Washington, and Michael, Eugene and Tommy Lee Carter — were arrested and charged with third degree murder.
These charges were based on the totally false and utterly ridiculous claim by the white people’s State that Akins was provoked into killing Rutledge by the Cross City 5!
They claimed this even though the filthy-mouthed colonialist cretin came armed into the “Quarters” and made several attempts to inflict death and pain on our people.
Here’s the deal: With the third degree murder charge against the Cross City 5 in place, the first degree murder charge against Akins could be cancelled out.
Akins, the one-man lynch mob who murdered Rutledge, could go scot free, absolved of any responsibility, because the Cross City 5 “made” him do it.
The state of Florida provided the Cross City 5 with a single lawyer, a private attorney who had previously been a state prosecutor.
During the three months they had been jailed prior to the arrival of NPDUM, she only visited the young men twice, briefly.
The lawyer had never heard their stories about what happened on January 11, nor did she show them the statements the police said they made before they had a lawyer.
NPDUM brought to Cross City
This was the state of affairs when NPDUM was called on.
The Uhuru Movement has a long history of resistance in the state of Florida, especially in neighboring Gainesville, Florida.
Twenty years ago the Party led a successful struggle to free Pitts and Lee in Pensacola, Florida, another backwards north Florida city.
Pitts and Lee had been locked up on Florida’s death row for 12 years for the murder of a white man that another white man had confessed to.
The Party’s efforts in that case contributed to the defeat of the strategy by a sector of the Democratic Party to initiate a Southern presidential campaign. This was to be through the new-South, Florida governor Reubin Askew, opening the door for the election of Georgia Governor James Earl Carter to the presidency using the same strategy.
The Party’s Pitts and Lee campaign played a role 20 years later in bringing NPDUM into Cross City.
It just so happened that Denise Strong, the young woman who attempted to comfort the dying Rutledge on January 11, 1992, still had a poster from the Pitts and Lee struggle on her wall at home in neighboring Otter Creek.
Her father had been a friend of a man involved in that struggle. She knew that man as “Mister Joe,” as she referred to Chairman Omali at the time.
She had been 12-years-old, but she remembered The Burning Spear.
She dug up an old copy, got the phone number and called the national office of the Party in Oakland.
In 1991 the Party had built the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement to deal with struggles just like this one.
NPDUM is a mass, Party-led organization built to allow the maximum number of people of all nationalities to unite with the struggle of African people for liberation from U.S. domestic colonialism.
NPDUM was built to expose and defeat the decades-long counterinsurgency that had broken the back of the Black Revolution of the Sixties. The State counterinsurgency then imposed the violence-wracking drug economy upon our desperate community, along with the bogus “war against drugs” used to abrogate all the democratic rights of our people.
The other important task of NPDUM is to defend the national democratic rights of our colonized people. This is with the clear understanding that self-determination is the highest possible expression of democracy in our struggle against colonialism or foreign and alien rule by our white former slavers.
As a new mass organization we could not depend on an existing NPDUM organization in Cross City, or in any of the neighboring counties for that matter.
The closest stable NPDUM organization was 185 miles away in St. Petersburg, Florida.
It was from this location that the Uhuru Movement went to work.
Response of NPDUM
On March 20, a week following the initial contact with the young woman about the Cross City 5 case, NPDUM had Denise Strong come to Tampa, Florida, the city adjacent to St. Petersburg.
There she appeared on a popular local talk radio show with St. Petersburg NPDUM President Alvelita Donaldson and Chicago-based Akua Njeri, NPDUM’s national president.
Later on the same day, the young woman spoke at an event organized by the Tampa National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.
These efforts were designed to alert the African community of Florida to the case of the Cross City 5 and to end the isolation of the case and the 5.
The events were also a part of a confidence-building effort designed to let the African people of the Cross City area come to an understanding of the importance of organization and to let them know that they were no longer alone.
Training sessions were held on how to organize the community. A leaflet was put out announcing a March 30 meeting in Cross City to which NPDUM organizers would come to speak to the people and help with the organizing.
The training and arrangements were done mostly by phone between NPDUM organizers in St. Petersburg and Otter Creek where Denise Strong was living.
St. Petersburg NPDUM organizers went into Cross City with the following objectives:
- To bring African people in Cross City into political life;
- To win the African community to the position of political independence from U.S. colonialism and unity with the call to defend the national democratic rights of African people and expose the counterinsurgency;
- To build a Cross City branch of NPDUM as an instrument of struggle for the people of Cross City; and
- To free the Cross City 5.
Excerpt from NPDUM report
The following is an excerpt from a report by Party leader and NPDUM organizer Junis Wilson (Gaida Kambon) who has led the work in Cross City:
“In Cross City the industry is watermelon plantations, lumber mills and prisons. Employment for African people is reserved to the watermelon or cucumber plantations and the prisons.
“In Chiefland, 35 minutes away from Cross City, a workforce made up of mostly young African women leave their children early every day to travel to the plantations where they hoe the fields all day.
“There is no pay standard. They are forced to take what the cracker gives them after they have completed the day’s work. On the day we were there a sister complained that she worked eight hours in the field and was paid only $27.00 instead of the $40.00 she was promised for the grueling labor.
“The economic relationship between the plantation workers and the plantation owners, which is called capitalism, was founded on the genocide of the Native (Indigenous) people, the theft of their land and the forcible dispersal, enslavement and colonization of millions of African people.
“The U.S. government leads capitalism worldwide. Worldwide it is called imperialism. It is a bloodsucking system which causes all economic development to benefit the white ruling class State and society at the expense of our impoverished African people.
“Simply put, this theft of labor and resources by the plantation owner is responsible for the misery that this sister has known all her life. It is the reason she lives in a rundown trailer or shack while the cracker lives in a comfortable home.
“In Cross City, watermelon harvesting is the only job for the youth. African men and women work in the prisons as overseers. Levy and Dixie counties are also prison counties.
“Because of the counterinsurgency against African people, prisons are a lucrative business.
“Just like during our enslavement by Europeans, when black bodies were a commodity that built and maintained the U.S. economy and economies around the world, the hoarding of black bodies in prisons is now providing the economic underpinning for entire white communities throughout the U.S.
“There is vigorous bidding for prisons by rural white communities that are experiencing economic hardship. There is even privatization, where, like the Africans enslaved on the plantation, the prisoners are owned by individual white men or corporations that own the prison.
“In Cross City the inmates are used to replace wage laborers. They clean the parks and collect the garbage. This way the city gets away without having to hire the people from the community.
“Dixie County is fully represented in the government statistic of one in four African men between the ages of 17 and 28 having a relationship to prison in its many forms. In the ‘Quarters’ a large number of Africans are doing long prison terms, long probations, on parole or awaiting trial.
“Even the black chief of police was arrested and is awaiting trial on perjury charges, stemming from a situation where he has become dispensable and is thrown to the wolves. The NAACP leadership [in Cross City] is also locked down on drug charges.
“Tied to the prisons are the drugs and the war on drugs. As in all the African communities throughout the U.S., in Cross City the war against African people is also waged under the cover of drugs and the war on drugs.
“Everywhere we turned in the community we were hit in the face by the casualties of the crack cocaine war against African people. There were grandmothers raising grandchildren, crack babies, terroristic drug busts, drug frame-ups by the police and half of the community in prison doing long prison terms.
“The only thing invisible in the drug war was the redneck who is controlling the drugs.
“The only evidence of the cracker who owns the crack was the amount of crack in such a small community, the inability to distinguish even the penny-ante drug pusher from the rest of the impoverished community and the number of private airplanes and airfields out in the middle of nowhere, which struck us as we approached the area.
“The presence of NPDUM organizers in Cross City served as a catalyst that sparked a new understanding for African people in the Quarters that was rapidly being transformed into a politically active community.”
March 20 meeting
“The first meeting was held in Pepper’s Community Center which was named after Adolphus Pepper, the African city councilman.
“The dilapidated city-owned community center is located in a shabby little playground with a basketball court. Such courts are strategically used throughout the African colonies by the oppressive U.S. government as a place for young African men to vent their frustrations, which would otherwise serve as the driving force for them to organize against their oppression.
“Thirty-five to forty Africans showed up for the first meeting. A mixture of old and young people stood along the wall because the community center was equipped with only six chairs.
“This was the first time that the community had come together to sum up the January 11 incident and to vent their outrage and hatred for the rednecks and the traitor neocolonialist police chief.
“They spoke with hatred of the treachery of neocolonialism. Uncle Tom police chief Marcel Dawson, who is the uncle of one of the Cross City 5, also sent his own son, a crack-cocaine addict, to prison for 40 years!”
Challenges in the Cross City struggle
None of this is to say that the struggle in Cross City is an easy one.
It is not.
The people are extraordinarily vulnerable to political and economic terror and the threat of such terror.
The Cross City 5 are themselves wavering back and forth, from a stance of non-collaboration to one of trust in the system and the lawyer.
This is the same lawyer who would not even visit them until the Uhuru Movement’s work caused her lack of attention to the case to be exposed in the Miami Herald.
This is the lawyer who derisively accused the Uhuru Movement organizers of being similar to Akins’ lawyer who wanted to exonerate Jody Akins.
This was because we demanded that the Cross City 5 were not guilty of anything, contrary to her view, but consistent with the bourgeois concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Three of the Cross City 5 are related to a suspended chief of policeman, Tommy Lee Carter. Eugene and Tommy Lee Carter Jr. are Tommy Lee Carter’s sons and Michael J. Carter is his brother.
So three-fifths of the Cross City 5 come from situations where there is an obvious outstanding faith in the colonial justice system.
This class differentiation may explain their wavering. Opportunism may also be a factor.
They were steadfast in their stance before the Uhuru Movement turned the situation around for them, mobilized the community and the local, state and national media, and forced their lawyer, Angela Ball, to see and listen to them.
Moreover, since almost every African in town is somehow tied to the prison system — on parole, probation, etc. — or related to someone who is, the community is extraordinarily vulnerable to extortionist pressure.
Such pressure has been coming fast and heavy since the arrival of NPDUM organizers and the display of political activity by the community.
Despite this pressure, the Uhuru Movement has organized several demonstrations at the courthouse and has packed it whenever court appearances were made by any of the people involved in the case.
We have exposed for the people — who stood and turned their backs on the judge — the difference in how the judge acts when the people are conscious and organized and how he acts when the people are unorganized and face the power of the white people’s colonial State alone, as individuals.
The Akins trial
On June 22 the trial of Jody Akins began with the jury selection process.
The Ku Klux Klan was out in full dress, along with the largest assortment and fullest range of police organizations imaginable.
These police organizations included various levels of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which had set up a command post and assumed policing responsibilities for Cross City for the duration of the trial.
Other police organizations included the Wildlife and Marine Patrol, the Fresh Water and Game Commission, the Florida Highway Patrol, FBI, and the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department along with the newly-subordinated Cross City Police Department and Dixie County Sheriff’s Department — all of whom seemed primarily interested in guarding the NPDUM organizers and intimidating the African population of Cross City.
The explanation for this display of military force is fear of an L.A.-type conflagration in Cross City in the event Akins was found not guilty of murdering Royce Rutledge.
The presence of a full array of white ruling class media — including CBS News and its news show, Street Beat—testified to the effectiveness of NPDUM in ending the isolation of the Cross City 5 and the African community in this backwater cracker town.
A Cross City branch of the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement was organized.
However, its leaders are under such tremendous pressure from parole authorities because of their political activity that we cannot be absolutely certain how and whether they will endure in their first venture into active political life.
Regardless, however, the situation in Cross City will never be the same again.
The people have had a taste of their own organized political power and this is the genie that can never be put back in the bottle again.
Whether or not the current set of locally elected NPDUM leaders will carry out their responsibilities to their community and their people, the fire has been lit and new leadership will emerge when necessary.
There are a thousand other battles to be fought in Cross City.
On June 26 as The Burning Spear was going to press, after nearly four days of trial, an all-white jury, all of whom are acquaintances of the influential Akins family, brought back a verdict of guilty of manslaughter, the lesser of three possible verdicts, in the case of Jody Akins.
Akins is the white man who came to the African community of Cross City on January 11 looking for “bad-assed niggers” before cold-bloodedly fatally shooting 24-year-old Royce Rutledge as he stepped out of a local night club.
The manslaughter verdict — which implies that extenuating circumstances contributed to Rutledge’s death — sets up the Cross City 5 as the ones responsible.
Manslaughter means there was no intent or malice involved, that the killing was done in passion because of provocation.
Moreover, Akins’ confession to police that he was only looking for a standing “mother fucking nigger” to run over with his pickup was also played for the jury during the trial.
The Cross City 5 were set up to take the fall for Akins almost immediately.
The fact that they were immediately charged with manslaughter automatically places the real responsibility for Rutledge’s death on them and not the white man who actually came to the African community armed, looking for Africans to kill.
Even Akins’ conviction is subject to reversal on appeal because the manslaughter verdict actually absolves him of ultimate responsibility for Rutledge’s death.
The argument of the defense during Akins’ trial was that Akins was badly beaten by the Africans (after his first attempt at murder was frustrated by an African pushing his hand away as he was pulling the trigger on a rifle aimed at his chest) and that he fired the shot that killed Rutledge while struggling for his life.
In fact, there is a possibility that the Cross City 5, whose pre-trial hearings were scheduled to begin on June 30, could get more time than Akins.
They are not only charged with manslaughter like Akins; they are also charged with riot, felony criminal mischief, hurling a deadly missile and battery.
During the trial every effort was made to intimidate the African population of Cross City.
Local members of the newly-organized NPDUM branch were threatened with imprisonment by their parole officers.
The local watermelon growers put the word out that they were watching and would deny work to Africans attending the trial.
This is just one of the ways the white owning class justice system works.
The police had also put out the word that busloads of Africans brought in by NPDUM organizer and APSP Central Committee National Secretary were waiting at the school ground to come in and riot if Akins was found not guilty of first degree murder.
Nevertheless, despite all these terror tactics, most of the people took a militant stance during the trial and after the verdict was announced.
NPDUM-led demonstrations in front of the court house preceded the verdict.
After it was announced, an enraged African community clearly communicated their understanding of what had happened with many calling for Akins’ head.
Even representatives of the usually vulturistic white ruling class media were forced to comment on the transformation they saw in the people, who marched through the community with NPDUM while chanting out their understanding, their outrage and their hatred for the local neocolonialist police chief. While the manslaughter verdict for Akins is a disappointment for many of the African people of Cross City and the local government has already begun to attempt to demoralize the people because of it, it is clear to most of the people that it was only the presence of the Uhuru Movement and the organization and mobilization of the people that prevented Akins from going free altogether.
It is also clear that the struggle in Cross City, long overdue, has only just begun and that most of the people will continue to struggle until victory is ours.
Follow the historic campaign to free the Cross City 5:
Supplemental coverage of the case of the Cross City 5: