Free the San Francisco 8
by Gerald Sanders
In early morning raids on January 23 in California, New York and Florida, police arrested former Black Panther Party supporters on charges including murder and conspiracy in relation to the 1971 death of San Francisco police officer John Young. Those arrested were Richard Brown, Richard O'Neal, Francisco Torres, Ray Boudreaux, Henry Watson Jones and Harold Taylor. Two men already in jail, Herman Bell and Anthony Bottom, were also charged. The police are still seeking Ronald Bridgeforth who is additionally being charged with aggravated assault. After decades of harassment, grand jury investigations, indictments and murder, this racist frameup reveals the relentlessness of the state's vendetta against the Black Panther Party. Justice loving people must demand: Drop all charges now!
The San Francisco Chronicle's front pages were filled with stories in which the brothers charged are smeared as "classic domestic terrorists" carrying out a campaign aimed at "assassinating law enforcement officers." In fact, there was indeed a campaign of terror in the 1960s and 1970s: the government's murderous COINTELPRO effort to destroy an entire generation of black and leftist militants, in at least 38 Panthers were killed. In September 1968, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country." Commenting on today's climate defined by the "war on terror," Ray Boudreaux, one of those arrested in the roundup, said "When I watched on TV the twin towers come down, deep in my heart I knew that someone will come by and visit me as soon as they can get it organized, and they did. Once upon a time, they called me a terrorist too. To expedite something in the system, they put the 'terror' tag on it, and it gets done" (Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2007).
Prosecutors are now claiming new evidence and a secret government witness. Defense attorneys believe that the witness is Ruben Scott, whose "confession" following his arrest in 1973 was coerced through torture, as were those of two others. As Bill Goodman, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "The case against these men was built on torture and serves to remind us that the US government, which recently has engaged in such horrific forms of torture and abuse at places like Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, has a history of torture and abuse in this country as well, particularly against African Americans."
This nationwide roundup is part of the state's campaign to paint those who stand up for Black rights as "terrorists." For over 30 years the police have tried to pin this murder on these men. Charges brought in 1975 against John Bowman (who just died) and Harold Taylor were obtained through torture by the New Orleans police after they were tracked to New Orleans by two San Francisco police inspectors. According to press accounts, their torture included being stripped naked and beaten with blunt objects, placing electric probes on their genitals and inserting an electric cattle prod in each man's anus. The charges were dismissed because the prosecution had failed to tell the grand jury that the men's confessions had been coerced. Thirty years later, prosecutors were still unsuccessful in obtaining indictments of any of these men despite convening California state and federal grand juries in 2003-2004 and 2005.
The arrests of January 23 are but another instance where the government, having failed in earlier efforts, resorts to extraordinary repressive measures to ensure persecution of those it deems opponents. It is up to us to insure that the government fails in this frameup attempt -- again. Drop the charges! Release the San Francisco Eight now!
Former Panthers Comment
A widely-circulated commentary by former Black Panthers Larry Pinkney, Eddie Williams and Gerald Sanders sharply criticizes the bail set for members of the San Francisco Eight. Criticizing the 3 million dollar bail (reduced from 5 million), they say "The San Francisco Eight are being held in de facto terms with NO bail....These men, who have been convicted of nothing in this matter, are already being punished by the very amount of their so-called bail, which is nothing more than a ransom, NOT bail."
The former Panthers say that "When the 9/11 attack occurred many saw it as a tragedy, but the ruling elite, both Democrats and Republicans, saw it as an opportunity to undermine and liquidate all legal, democratic, and constitutional rights that they felt stood in the way of them holding absolute power."
They cite as a counter-example New York City Judge Bruce Wright, who pointed out that "bail is not intended to be punishment. Rather, its function is to guarantee that an accused person will return to court to face the charges against him." They state that "Judge Wright was adamant that his imposition of low bail was both respect paid to the presumption of innocence and an upholding of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, which states that 'Excessive bail shall not be required.'"
As they conclude their commentary:
Precisely who is it today that constitutes the real danger to the Bill of Rights, the court or the San Francisco Eight?
To ask the question is to answer it.
Exactly what do the Constitution and the Bill of Rights guarantee?
All told, nothing!
We must never forget: The working class and the oppressed of this country have no rights that they are unable or unwilling to defend.
Only the conscious and uncompromising intervention of all those who understand the true nature of this frame-up can free the San Francisco Eight.