Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, former David Rice, died on March 11 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Mondo was serving a defacto life without parole sentence for the 1970 murder of an Omaha policeman, a crime Mondo denied. Mondo we Langa and co-defendant Edward Poindexter were Black Panther leaders and had been targeted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division, and local police. The two men were convicted after a controversial 1971 trial marred by withheld evidence, tampered evidence, and perjured testimony.
Mondo granted a half-dozen video interviews between 2007 and 2012 and freely answered any question put to him. Excerpts from Mondo’s prison interviews reveal a thoughtful pragmatist with a strong sense of moral values:
“Ed and I have been locked up for more than four decades. In the summer of 1970, while we were still on the streets of Omaha’s African community, the National Committee to Combat Fascism Omaha chapter, which we helped lead, was known to sometimes monitor police behavior in North Omaha and to sometimes do so while carrying firearms. But African people in Omaha didn’t fear that our guns were a threat to them. African people in Omaha understood that if it would come to a time when we would use our guns, it would be for our own defense or the defense of our community.”
“Today, too many of our young people—in particular, males—are slaves to guns, slaves to violence, slaves to the idea that their African lives aren’t worth anything, slaves to the idea that their lives aren’t worth living,” said Mondo.
“Today, we should be reflecting on what to do to counter the messages being delivered to our children and youth by school curricula, television, movies, video games, the music industry, and other institutions that are making slaves of our youth to violence, materialism, etc. Today, we should be reflecting on what to do to free ourselves from the invisible chains that bind our heads and spirit.”
“When you have a sense that you do have a worth and that the things you need for value do not come from material things, then you are going out of your house every day to do positive and constructive things for people you love and getting that love back in return, you don’t care whether or not you have good shoes. You are getting your nutrition from the spiritual stuff that is happening,” explained Mondo. “You don’t have that sense of self-worth when material things are eating you up.”
“If I was to give advice to a young person, to some extent it would depend on who it was, but maybe to understand what you require for a sense of self-satisfaction, for a sense of happiness,” said Mondo. “It is inside you on an individual internal sense, it is also like an umbilical cord with the community you are a part of. If you have those things, happiness and self-satisfaction, then a number of external things can’t cut you; otherwise, you are vulnerable.”
Mondo urged both curiosity and honesty: “Question things and do not be afraid to realize you don’t have all the answers. Even in the penitentiary, you see people actually scared to say, “I don’t know.” I see dudes all the time literally making stuff up because they feel as though to tell someone they don’t know the answer is a sign of weakness. They don’t want to appear ignorant. But a child is on top of this. The child recognizes that ignorance is the opportunity to explore a whole world of knowledge. So I would say to the person, you’ve got to be willing to explore and all the kind of stuff, and question.”
Mondo was critical of modern culture’s materialism and stereotypes: “African actors and comedians have brought back eye-bugging, butt-scratching buffoonery to a level not witnessed since the days of Stepin Fetchit. There are African rappers who offer us a god of bling-bling to worship whose raps popularize the sick idea among us that African girls and women have no value beyond their sexuality and/or their capacity to support us financially; rappers whose raps cultivate a belief in us that there’s nothing wrong with blood-spilling gangsterism against African people.”
“All of this mess is like a nuclear weapon. There’s fall-out, a kind of mental and emotional radiation poisoning I’m hearing and seeing it every day in this joint. The world I was a part of before I was imprisoned, and even for a couple of years or more afterward, has changed. It’s as though I’ve been in a painting and, whenever I’ve closed my eyes, somebody has switched a color on this canvas. More often in here than not, I’m hearing Africans speak of “nigger” or “nigga,” rather than “Brother.” More often in here than not, I’m hearing Africans talk about “bitches” and “hos,” and the females they’re talking about are our “Sisters.” Every day, usually more than once, I’m challenging a Brother—sometimes young and sometimes not so young—to respect himself and the rest of us.”
“There is a lot things about life we don’t understand, not only life in general but our own lives and I guess maybe what it comes down to is you,” said Mondo. “On the one hand, you have to have a sense of your own importance, but at the same time you have to have a sense of your own insignificance. There is a balance there. Because I believe that there are a lot of things going on that if I were out on the streets that I could have an impact on it. So, in a sense, that is an expression of confidence in myself. A sense of my own worth, whatever. But at the same time, I believe in the traditional African idea in this regard, that I don’t get my meaning from me, but that I get my meaning from my community.”
“In this day and time, the cultivating of traditional African values and a sense of loyalty to and love for our African communities may very well be crucial for our survival.”