By Ra-Jah Kelly (Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer)
Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, the former Black Panther leader, who spent nearly three decades in prison for a crime he claimed to have not committed, has died. He was 63.
Pratt — who spent eight years in solitary confinement and had his 1972 murder conviction overturned in the death of a Santa Monica, Calif., teacher in 1968 — died early Friday at his home in a village near Arusha, Tanzania. He had lived there for the past five years, according to a statement his friend, Pete O’Neal, made to the Associated Press. O’Neal, who praised Pratt as his hero, said that he suspected he died from either a heart attack or stroke.
“Geronimo was a symbol of steadfast resistance against all that is considered wrong and improper,” O’Neal told the AP. “His whole life was dedicated to standing in opposition to oppression and exploitation… He gave all that he had and his life, I believe, struggling, trying to help people lift themselves up.”
Pratt had maintained that on the day of the murder, he was in Oakland for Black Panther Party meetings. He also reportedly said that evidence that would have proven his innocence had been destroyed or hidden by police and FBI agents.
Pratt’s conviction was overturned after a judge cited a lack of credibility by key witnesses, and in 2000 he settled a $4.5 million lawsuit for false imprisonment and violation of his civil rights against the FBI and city of Los Angeles.
However, Stuart Hanlon, the attorney who helped Pratt win his freedom, said his client had refused to harbor any resentment.
“He had no anger, he had no bitterness, he had no desire for revenge,” Hanlon said. “He wanted to resume his life and have children. He would never look back.”
Pratt is survived by his wife and son.