By J. P. Hervis
There was standing room only at Jackson City Hall Tuesday night. Dozens of people showed up to support -- or just to hear -- what Imari Obadele had to say about the 1971 shootout at the Republic of New Africa headquarters here in Jackson. Officer Louis Skinner was killed in that shootout, and Obadele was convicted of conspiracy for his role in Skinner's death. Skinner was among a group of officers trying to serve an arrest warrant at the RNA headquarters on Lewis Street.
Despite passionate debate over whether it was appropriate for Councilman Kenneth Stokes to invite Obadele to speak at City Hall, the black history program went on as scheduled.Obadele was welcomed by cheers in city council chanbers. He spent the first part of his speech. discussing what he remembers of the August 1971 shootout.
"There were two of the (RNA) brothers who were in the house when the shooting occurred who ended up spending ten years in jail," he said.
Obadele was not in the house when the shooting that killed Skinner and injured two others took place.
"I had to go back and convince (the RNA members in the house)...to put down their guns," Obadele said. "He said, 'We haven't done anything.' (I said) Leave your weapons here. Get rid of your weapons.'"
"I forgot and I left these bullets in my back pocket. They (the police) pulled them out and said, 'Oh, these came from a robbery of an arsenal in Detroit.' Imagine that -- that we would rob an arsenal!"
Obadele and supporters laid out their version of what happened. They say the FBI and Jackson police were conspiritng to kill Obadele on the morning of the shooting.
Obadele also spoke about reperations.
"All through the United States slavery was protected by law," he said. "So this morning I said to the city council, look, will y'all mind writing Mr. -- who's the president? Bush? -- would y'all mind writing a resolution to Bush and ask him if he will apologize for slavery and then follow up with some kind of reparations for us all?"
Reaction to from those who came to listen was mixed.
"Black people we need to understand about our culture and our children," said Darlene Collier. "They need to understand it and learn about it."
"He not only talked about it, he had evidence and proof to back it up," said Jerlisa Walker.
"There is truth, there but there are also lies," said Wade Myers, "and it's driven by hate."
"My generation -- students, my peers -- it's time for us to step up and promote just a time away from violence," said Adrienne Sims.
Addie Green was living in Jackson in 1971. She, like many others, felt Obedele's speech was an important history lesson.
"He did not pull the trigger, and I knew that," Green said. "I just wanted to be here to make sure that I'm able to tell my grandchildren."