Beloved political prisoner Hugo ‘Yogi Bear’ Pinell, feared and hated by
guards, assassinated in Black August after 46 years in solitary
by Dr. Willie and Mary Ratcliff
Black August adds another hero and martyr to the roll.
By some accounts, it was his first day on the yard after 46 years in
solitary confinement when Hugo Pinell, affectionately known as Yogi Bear,
was assassinated Aug. 12. The news sparked a victory celebration by
prison guards on social media: “May he rot in hell” and “Good riddens”
(sic), they typed. Yogi was the only member of the San Quentin 6 still in
prison, and his role in the events of Aug. 21, 1971, the day George
Jackson was assassinated, has earned the guards’ incessant enmity ever
“This is revenge,” declared his close friend, fellow Black Panther veteran
Kiilu Nyasha, on Hard Knock Radio Aug. 13. “They hated him as much as
George Jackson. They beat him constantly, kept him totally isolated for 46
years – no window, no sunlight – but they could never break him, and
that’s why they hated him.
“The only way he survived was that this man was full of love.”
Isolated in the Pelican Bay SHU from 1990 to 2014, Yogi supported his SHU
comrades’ campaign to end solitary confinement. He participated in the
hunger strikes and applauded the Agreement to End Hostilities, authored by
16 of his comrades, Black, Brown and White, and dated Aug. 12, 2012, three
years to the day before he was killed. It has nearly erased racial
violence from California prisons.
The comrades who conceived and wrote the agreement were following Yogi’s
“There was a time in the prison systems throughout the United States,”
according to a story headlined “The Black Panther Party and Hugo Pinell”
in The Black Panther newspaper of Nov. 29, 1971, “when the prisoners
themselves were divided, not only white against Black, but Latinos against
Blacks. This – the result of racism in every area of U.S. society – was
particularly apparent in California prisons.
“Blacks and Latinos fought, stabbed and killed each other in the yards,
cell blocks and dining halls of every prison camp from Tehachapi to Tracy.
This is always the case when the racist white prison guard, under
administration orders, pits one man struggling to survive against another.
“It is the easiest way for the prison to assure almost absolute control
over its inmate population. After all, only an idiot would believe he
could control 100 men with one man, unless the 100 were divided. Quite
often men were paid to start fights between two men. …
“(B)rothers and sisters across the country inside the maximum prisons
began to awaken to the fact of their oppression. They began to realize, as
Comrade George Jackson would say, that they were all a part of the
“They began to realize that there was no way to survive that special
brand of fascism particular to California prison camps except by
beginning to work and struggle together. … The prisoner class, especially
in California, began to understand the age-old fascist principle: If you
can divide, you can conquer.
“There are two men who were chiefly responsible for bringing this idea to
the forefront. They helped other comrade inmates to transform the ideas
of self-hatred and division into unity and love common to all people
fighting to survive and retain dignity. These two brothers not only set
this example in words, but in practice.
“Comrade George Jackson and Comrade Hugo Pinell, one Black and one Latino,
were the living examples of the unity that can and must exist among the
prisoner class. These two men were well known to other inmates as strong
defenders of their people.
“Everyone knew of their love for the people, a love that astounded
especially the prison officials of the state. It astounded them so
thoroughly that these pigs had to try and portray them as animals,
perverts, madmen and criminals in order to justify their plans to
eventually get rid of such men.
“For when Comrades George and Hugo walked and talked together, the
prisoners began to get the message too well.
“In a well-planned move, the state of California and the U.S. government
carried out the vicious assassination of Comrade George Jackson, field
marshal of the Black Panther Party, on Aug. 21, 1971. Their plans to
slaughter Hugo Pinell are now in full swing.”
What happened on New Folsom Prison’s B yard on Aug. 12, 2015?
In California, the prisons are abundantly funded, but the billions of
taxpayer dollars are spent in secret, as the media are prohibited from
covering prisons. So the stories coming from the mainstream media about
Yogi so far are based on press releases from CDCr, the Corrections
Department, not from reporters who go inside to hear from prisoners.
Highly paid prison guards and their CCPOA (California Correctional Peace
Officers Association) are called the most powerful lobby in the state.
Guards at New Folsom, located in a suburb of Sacramento, the state
capital, likely exert much of that influence. Is that why Yogi was sent
there after more than 23 years at Pelican Bay?
“Once a man declares that he will retain his dignity, that he will not
forfeit his manhood, then he has in essence declared war against the
prison,” The Black Panther reported on Nov. 29, 1971. “He has declared war
upon the guards, who operate on the smallest amount of intelligence and
human understanding, and upon the prison and state officials, whose every
move is planned and calculated to help in this government’s last feeble
attempts to quell the desire of the people to see power returned into the
hands of the people. Hugo, from the very beginning of his imprisonment,
made that declaration.”
Yogi’s enemies were not his comrades in the prisoner class – though he
reportedly died at the hand of one or two prisoners, said to be white,
though their race is unconfirmed. He was no threat to other prisoners. It
was the guards who loathed him and loath the Agreement to End Hostilities,
which he exemplified and set in motion over 40 years ago.
Did they have him killed to demolish the agreement, to rekindle all-out
race riots? Riots are job insurance for guards.
Several of the authors of the agreement have also been transferred to New
Folsom, where they have been educating other prisoners to understand and
wield its power. A prisoner on the C yard, Hakim Akbar-Jones, P-85158,
wrote this to the Bay View in July:
“Let this be understood: At CSP Sacramento on the C yard, the End to
Hostilities Agreement is in full effect. Even though the summertime is
here, there is rhythm and harmony amongst respective class members. There
are diligent efforts made on all fronts to work hand to hand in solidarity
to build a better future amongst the prison class. With this said, we
stand fast and salute all conscious guerrilla revolutionaries whose
concepts have been brought forth and come to fruition, those in solidarity
who support the movement, thus bringing on and creating positive change
for the oppressed.”
Does this sound like a place where Hugo Pinell, the legend, the giant
amongst conscious guerrilla revolutionaries, would not be protected? Did
the other prisoners even know that Yogi would be joining them on the yard
on Aug. 12?
What else are the guards afraid of?
Three initiatives are underway that could empty the SHUs and empower the
remaining prisoners, and the guards, fearing for their jobs, are fighting
them. A reasonable assumption is that the guards expect that the
assassination of Hugo Pinell will see a return of the bad old days of
racial violence to “justify” filling the SHUs and guaranteeing job
security and top pay for guards:
Black Guerrilla Family – According to family members of prisoners who have
been negotiating the hunger strikers’ demands with CDCr administrators
since the hunger strikes began in 2011, CDCr has decided to remove the
Black Guerrilla Family from the list of eight prison gangs because it’s a
political not a criminal organization, but reportedly the guards and their
CCPOA are furiously opposed. If BGF is not a prison gang, then all the
Black prisoners “validated” as BGF “gangsters” would have to be released
George Jackson University – Abdul Olugbala Shakur (s/n James Harvey)
recently settled a suit to legitimize George Jackson University, which
25,000 prisoners signed up for when he and other prisoners and outside
supporters founded it years ago. Guards are adamantly opposed to the
distribution and study of books that prisoners might find mentally and
spiritually liberating and have prevented the prisoner-led institution
from taking root. Though the settlement terms have not yet been revealed,
guards are undoubtedly fearful.
Class action lawsuit to end solitary confinement in California – Currently
in settlement talks with CDCr are the attorneys for the plaintiff class of
prisoners who have been held in the Pelican Bay SHU for 10 years or more.
The attorneys are led by Jules Lobel, president of the very prestigious
New York based Center for Constitutional Rights, the public interest law
firm that also represents many of the hunger-striking prisoners at
Guantanamo Bay. The New York Times is giving the case multi-media
coverage, including a recent video showing some of the plaintiffs
describing how they survive the torture of long term solitary confinement.
If the case doesn’t settle, trial is set for December.
These initiatives, bolstered by the awakening in the court of public
opinion to the evils of mass incarceration and solitary confinement, are
driving efforts by California prison guards and their “union,” CCPOA, to
demolish the carefully constructed Agreement to End Hostilities and revert
to racial warfare that divides and conquers prisoners of all colors so
that the guards can rule over them as cruelly as they want without getting
their hands dirty.
We call for a full independent investigation immediately
The Bay View, joining a consensus of prisoner family members and
advocates, calls for investigations into Yogi’s death at both the state
and federal level. We challenge California Attorney General Kamala Harris,
now a candidate for U.S. Senate, and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch
to demonstrate they believe this Black life – the life of Hugo Pinell –
matters. Harris, whose office acts as the attorney representing CDCr,
needs to counsel her client to reign in the guards, especially the gang
We also call for the full and fair investigation of all deaths in jails
and prisons, where incarcerated people are routinely abused and tortured
and even killed. Begin with Sandra Bland and Hugo Pinell.
Yogi’s attorney, Keith Wattley, says his family is planning a wrongful
Honor our fallen comrade
Long live Hugo Pinell, who showed us the power of the human spirit, that
love can survive and overpower hell on earth.
To anyone tempted to avenge Yogi’s death against another race, remember
the wisdom of the Panthers: “If you can divide, you can conquer.” Ever
wonder why the Bay View calls our prison section Behind Enemy Lines? The
prison system, not another prisoner, is the enemy that hopes you won’t get
Embrace Yogi’s spirit and read the words that follow from current and
former prisoners who loved him back.
Dr. Willie Ratcliff is publisher and Mary Ratcliff is editor of the San
Francisco Bay View. They can be reached at email@example.com or
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Written July 30, 2006 – Few of us know the name Hugo Pinell.
That’s because the last time it was in the newspapers was probably in
1971, or 1976, when he was tried as a member of the famous San Quentin 6,
six young Black prisoners facing assault charges stemming from battles
with prison guards at the notoriously repressive California prison.
Yet that wasn’t the beginning nor the end of things.
Hugo Pinell (known as Yogi by his friends) came to the U.S. as a
12-year-old from a small town on Nicaragua’s East Coast. If he knew then
the hell he would face in America, would he have left the land of his
birth? We’ll never know.
He came. And he spent the last 42 years in prison – 34 of them in
solitary! He hasn’t had a write-up in 24 years.
Now, his family and lawyer are seeking his parole after a lifetime in some
of the most repressive joints in America.
Why so long? Why so many years? The answer, not surprisingly, is politics.
Hugo was a student and comrade of the legendary Black Panther Field
Marshal, the late George Jackson, with whom he worked to organize other
Black prisoners against the racist violence and prison conditions of the
‘60s and ‘70s.
Consider this: When Hugo was sent to prison, Lyndon Baines Johnson was
president, bombing in the Vietnam War was intensifying and Martin Luther
King Jr. was still alive!
Of his introduction to the prison system, Yogi would later write:
“In 1964, a white woman accused me of rape, assault and kidnap. I was 19
years old. I turned myself in to the authorities to clarify the charges
against me, which I knew to be falsified. The deputies beat me several
times because the alleged victim was white, and the public defender and
the judge influenced my mother into believing that I would be sentenced to
death unless I pled guilty. At their insistence and despite my innocence,
I pled guilty to the charge of rape, with the understanding that I would
be eligible for parole after six months. When I arrived at the California
Department of Corrections, I was informed that I had been sentenced to
three years to life.”
California’s notoriously unjust indeterminate sentencing has led in part
to the present prison overcrowding that now threatens to bankrupt the
system. California’s prisons are roughly 172 percent over capacity, and
parole is a broken, nonfunctional agency.
That’s not just my opinion, but California State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los
Angeles, has called the present regime a “failure,” particularly the
Despite California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2004 promises of major
reforms of the parole system, which would lead to significant prisoner
population reductions, the incarceration rate has soared. Today, there are
a record 168,000 people in 33 state prisons, nearly double the rated
As Hugo Pinell seeks parole, California is spending $7.9 billion – yeah,
with a “b”! – in the next fiscal year, an increase of $600 million a year
for a prison system that has one of the worst recidivism rates in the
nation, 60 percent!
Clearly, the so-called “Correctional and Rehabilitation” Department has
failed in its mission to do both.
Support parole for Hugo Pinell; 42 years is more than enough.
Hugo Pinell – Rest in Power!
by Claude Marks
We are saddened by the news of Hugo Pinell’s death. Hugo Pinell always
expressed a strong spirit of resistance. He worked tirelessly as an
educator and activist to build racial solidarity inside of California’s
Incarcerated in 1965, like so many others, Hugo became politicized inside
the California prison system.
In addition to exploring his Nicaraguan heritage, Hugo was influenced by
civil rights activists and thinkers such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King
as well as his comrades inside including George Jackson. His leadership in
combating the virulent racism of the prison guards and officials made him
a prime target for retribution and Hugo soon found himself confined in the
San Quentin Adjustment Center.
While at San Quentin, Hugo and five other politically conscious prisoners
were charged with participating in an Aug. 21, 1971, rebellion and alleged
escape attempt, which resulted in the assassination of George Jackson by
prison guards. Hugo Pinell, Willie Tate, Johnny Larry Spain, David
Johnson, Fleeta Drumgo and Luis Talamantez became known as the San Quentin
Their subsequent 16-month trial was the longest in the state’s history at
the time. The San Quentin 6 became a global symbol of unyielding
resistance against the prison system and its violent, racist design.
As the California prisons began to lock people up in long-term isolation
and control unit facilities, Hugo was placed inside of the SHU (Security
Housing Unit) in prisons including Tehachapi, Corcoran and Pelican Bay.
There, despite being locked in a cell for 23 hours a day, he continued to
work for racial unity and an end to the torturous conditions and racially
and politically motivated placement of people into the SHU. This work
included his participation in the California Prison Hunger Strikes as well
as supporting the Agreement to End Racial Hostilities in 2011.
At the time of his death, Hugo had been locked behind bars for 50 years,
yet his spirit was unbroken.
Claude Marks, director of Freedom Archives, 522 Valencia St., San
Francisco, CA 94110, (415) 863-9977, www.Freedomarchives.org, can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hasta Siempre Hugo (Forever Hugo)
And we are saddened
You when (it) should have
Counted for something and
What your long imprisoned
Life stood for
Now all your struggles
To be free have failed
And only death
Inglorious and violent
At the hands of the
Cruel prison system
La Luta Continua
– Bato and the San Quentin 3: Willie “Sundiata” Tate, David Johnson and
Luis “Bato” Talamantez, who can be reached at email@example.com