Tuesday, July 07, 2009

SF8 Victory Dance, Monday, July 6, 2009

Photos: Wanda Sabir

Please join the SF8 to celebrate this historic occasion: Tuesday, July 7, 5:30- 9 p.m. at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, 1050 McAllister (at Webster), Wheelchair Accessible.


I remember when I first learned the names of Jalil Muntaqim and Herman Bell; along with Marilyn Buck and Albert Nuh Washington, it was on the pages of Can't Jail the Spirit. A friend of mine, Dhameerah Ahmed gave it to me or told me to get a copy and I did. The book is filled with the profiles of some of America's Most Wanted, most wanted for their commitment to freedom, justice and equality.

I was also committed to such as well. In fact, those principles were on my national flag which we saluted daily, wore on our lapels, on our clothing, kept sealed in our hearts. It isn't surprising today to find out how closely the ties between the Nation of Islam and Islam in its various manifestations and interpretations paralleled the development of Black Nationalism. The discipline of the NOI was an important ingredient in the formation of the liberation armies which often didn't have names as they operated clandestine operations then and perhaps even now. Discipline and love for one's people was probably an important ingredient in the philosophies which developed and institutions which even in their weakened states still leave a slight footprint or outline for those interested in fashioning a new shoe or sole.

Another book I enjoyed a lot was Chinosole's Schooling the Generations in the Politics of Prison. Muntaqim has a chapter in it. These books were what I'd call two of my foundation texts on the Prison Industrial Complex. Other books were Assata! Jerome Washington's Iron House: Stories from the Yard, was equally enlightening.
I think Walter Turner, Professor Turner recommended it and I bought it and devoured it, along with the book by Assata's aunt. I read Elaine Brown's book somewhere in there, along with slave narratives and writings by women from the African Diaspora. I think I also started reading Marcus Garvey.

Growing up in the Nation of Islam, I'd read Message to the Black Man, Fall of America and How to Eat to Live, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

I read Roots, Jubilee, and Brothers and Keepers, by John Edgar Wideman, everything by James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright and African writers like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and others like Ken Saro Wiwa. I read asha bandele's Prisoner's Wife and have started her latest. A friend of mine recommended, Visiting Life, which I read. This doesn't include all the films I've seen or my political awakening with Kiilu Nyasha's radio show, "Freedom is a Constant Struggle," Saturday evenings on KPFA back in the good ole days. I remember the first time I heard the words: Black August.

I've read prison writers and writings whose names don't come readily to mind and others like Angela Davis' autobiography which I never finished. I picked up George Jackson's Soledad Brother, even checked it out of the library recently, just like Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice. But I read other BPP writings, like Mumia's books, starting with Live from Death Row. Remember when NPR pulled the series? I have not felt the same about them since.

Kathleen Cleaver, George N. Katsiaficas' Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party, Emory Douglas's Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art and more recently, Harold L. Bingham's Black Panthers 1968 are all books I'd recommend. Professor Curtis Austin's Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making And Unmaking of the Black Panther Party is another valuable resource.

I also read about liberation movements--black slave revolts, some of the early narratives like Booker T. Washington's, Frederick Douglass's, and fiction writers such as Nella Larsen, and earlier black writers, both poets, fiction and fiction writers. I have a friend who owned a bookstore, The Key Book Shop, Kokovulu Lumakanda, and he would point me in literary directions for a price (smile).

A freed PP or POW is like an escaped captive. These trials are like auctions where flesh is bartered--the connection between enslaved Africans during the 15th century has direct parallels to enslaved Africans in the 21st century...at least in my mind.

I am still studying. Most recently I finished Marilyn Buck's translation of a collection of poetry of an exiled writer, Cristina Peri Rossi: State of Exile, Pocket Poets Number 58. Another book I read recently I enjoyed is Mumia's latest on prison lawyers and earlier this year, Robert King's memoir, From the Bottom of the Heap. I am still working my way through Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed, and so many others like Diana Block's Arm the Spirit: A Woman's Journey Underground and Back, and as previously mentioned ahsa bandele's Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother's Story.

The fact that this government still feels it necessary to destroy black liberation movements and its elders, those still moving a shakin' stuff up, is, if nothing else, a wake-up call for free-thinkers concerned with justice. It is a call to organize organize organize, collaborate, collaborate, collaborate, and stay awake and watchful --vigilant, even in this an Obama Age.

It doesn’t feel like just a week has gone by, but so much has happened in the seven days between June 29 and July 6, in a case which has garnered both national and international attention since January 23, 2007 when the FBI under the auspices of Homeland Security rearrested eight former members of the Black Panther Party on charges related to the killing of a San Francisco policeman, part of an alleged plan to kill police and bomb or burn down police stations across the country between 1968 and 1973.

Harold Taylor, John Bowman (now deceased) and Rueben Scott confessed to crimes connected to the events connected to the August 29, 1971 shooting, after San Francisco Police took them to New Orleans where under the supervision of FBI agents, NOPD tortured them. These charges based in their accusations were dropped and all the men charged released in the 1975 Grand Jury investigation after a judge tossed out charges stemming from this testimony gathered during torture—a fact conveniently omitted.

30 years later, these same two policemen, now employees of Homeland Security (a provision of the USA Patriot Act show up on the men’s doorsteps—talk about the return of the boogie man! As the government officials made their rounds during the early morning hours almost three years ago harassing these model citizens with requests for information—once again the former Black Panther Party members had no knowledge of and forced them to surrender saliva samples for DNA testing—the Grand Jury Resistors once again closed ranks.

It had been 30 years since the men had seen each other and without conferring first, (since they were rounded up individually from across the country) each one decided not to cooperate with law enforcement. Many had moved from their former homes in San Francisco, started new lives, were parents and grandparents, some retired from successful careers—still politically conscious and active, yet more often than not, flying below the radar. However, this new harassment propelled them to form the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights with a mission to expose injustices especially those connected to domestic use of torture to illicit testimony for use in US courts.

The men were all eventually arrested after the early morning visits, put in San Francisco county jail in 2007 to await trial. Almost a year later, they were later released on bail or the charges dropped (Richard O’Neal, now as of July 6, 2009: Richard Brown, Ray Boudreaux, Henry W. (Hank) Jones, Harold Taylor) and Jalil and Herman have been for two. Both men are headed back to New York after taking plea bargains for lesser charges and in both cases, dismissal of charges.

Last week, June 29, 2009, Herman Bell accepted the prosecutions offer of lesser charges stemming from the 1971 shooting of a SFPD officer. Identified as the shooter by another witness, Rueben Scott, whose testimony solicited through torture, was thrown out for this reason (1975). In January, 2007, Rueben's testimony was reintroduced, and it was –I guess, the basis of this flimsy charge that the prosecution offered Bell a plea bargain. Bell accepted the bargain, plea guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and the other charge, “conspiracy,” was thrown out

One week later instead of hearing evidence, as I’d been prepared—though somewhat skeptically, I race across the bridge to the hearing at 850 Bryant. Whose hat this evidence was going to magically appear from remained to be seen. But this was what was billed on the adjudicated network. Lots of folks were out for the spectacle, but instead of a quiet presence in court –there was a tailgate party in the hallway that spilled over into the courtroom. It was really cool—we were a wild rowdy loud bunch. We even tempted fated and heckled.

A rally complete with a band where hundreds (I'm told) paraded in the street, opened show…it was “DROP THE CHARGES!” I think the prosecution heard the demands (I am sooo kidding). The court hearing later, much later--two hours late starting, had a line of over 70 supporters. We might have been 80-100 before people had to leave—as I said, we didn’t go into the courtroom until about 11 a.m.

I brought up the rear and had to sit on the opponent’s side of the room—the prosecution. I began my reflections with: I am sitting in enemy territory next to Nadra and Gerald, and some law student in a suit taking notes like me.

Jalil Muntaqim (Anthony Bottom) was in perfect view. He didn’t wave or lift his fist like Herman did last week. I also noticed chains around his waist which I hadn’t noticed on Herman, but the chains might have been there.

Jalil had glasses sitting on his bald dome, which he moved to his face when he began to read. He looked strong and determined as his attorney, Daro Inouye, read a prepared statement following the prosecutions offer for reduced charges stemming from the events of August 29, 1971 when Muntaqim was accused of conspiracy to commit murder. These charges also applied to the other men seated across from him: Harold Taylor, Richard Brown, Ray Boudreaux, Henry “Hank” Jones and Francisco Torres and Muntaqim’s stipulation that the charges get dropped for everyone in one swoop.

What was amazing about the hearing Monday was the prosecution’s admission that it didn’t have enough evidence to convict these men. Duh! What took them so long to figure this out?! It took them almost three years to realize that the reason why justices kept throwing the case out was for this very reason. So as Inouye said of Jalil Muntaqim, who plead “no contest” to the prosecutions’ charge of conspiracy, his client picked up a loaded grenade to save his brothers, his friends—his fellow defendants and he didn’t plea guilty. That language did not pass his lips.

Judge Philip J. Moscone said “no contest” meant “guilty” but this was his interpretation. No contest to me means, I am not going to argue with you. I am not admitting anything, I am just going to let it go (the charge) without a fight or without protest.

Jalil’s magnanimous gesture shows how much love and respect the men, known as SF8 have for one another and for the people they want to continue to serve.

As I listened to the legal jargon, trying to keep up, I heard the defense repeat the prosecution’s declaration that if accepted the murder charge would be reduced to manslaughter, and the conspiracy charges dropped for Jalil as well as for Richard, Hank, Harold, and Ray. The dismissal did not apply to Cisco who was accused separately of conspiracy and offered a deal, which he declined. He plans to fight.

In an eleventh hour effort to salvage its case, the prosecution now claims that it found a fingerprint match on a cigarette lighter allegedly found at the scene. Thirty years ago numerous experts excluded Torres and all the other defendants for a match with the print. The supposed experts are now changing their stories according to Soffiyah Elijah, a friend and attorney familiar with the case.

In the hallway after the sessions dismissal, supporters said, the prosecution would probably drop the charges before the August 10 date for Torres’ hearing, 9 AM, also at 850 Bryant in San Francisco. We shall see.

It was so good to be a witness to this show of love and support. The revolutionary fraternity brought together many arms of the Bay Area Movement for Social Justice. I saw Kiilu Nyasha for the first time since her illness, hospitalization, and her 70th birthday party. She looked great! I saw Terry Collins (KPOO) since his stay at the hospital a couple of weeks ago. He looked great also. Nadra Foster was also there, she looked much more rested than the last time I saw her. Her kids are in Freedom School this summer.

Pierre, founder of the Haiti Action Network gave me a birthday hug. I got a chance to catch up with poet activist Nellie Wong, my friend Joan from my Anti-Apartheid activism with Vukani Mawethu Choir days, colleagues like Leslie from Peralta Community College District and Haiti Action, Javad from Malcolm X Grassroots, poets and writers like Mickey Ellinger, Gerald from the Justice for Oscar Grant January 1st Movement. Mama Ayanna Mashama and her husband, Mestre Temba Mashama, Capoiera N'Gola, were there, back from a cross country jaunt…yes, how fun.

I met a woman who is working with Kevin Cooper, on death row. Of course former Panthers were everywhere one looked –as I waited to enter the building in an exceptionally long line winding down the block in front of the courthouse. Once I made it in, I saw Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture for the BPP, in line and we went up to the third floor together. Emory has a big show opening in New York July 21 and then he is off to New Zealand for two months for an artist’s residency and then on to Australia. We’re going to see how we can have him on the radio show while he is traveling, so stay tuned.

Attorneys for the SF8 and a few for Herman Bell whom I’d seen last week were also in court Monday. The legal team all had a lot in common: they were also members of the movement for social justice, and as Daro Inouye said, this is why he and the others went into law in the first place. Media was there, film, TV and radio, KPFA, KTVU, SF Bay View and others whom I didn’t catch or see their names.

Microphones were stuck in a lot of folks faces and some of the SF8 told me they’d get up early Wednesday to speak to me about what happened today and what it meant for the SF8 case and what were next steps in this movement for justice they just can’t seem to retire, even if they wanted to, and they don’t.

Unlike last week, where we all fit on the good side of the room (behind the defense team), this time we didn’t and unlike last week, we were, as I said, a rowdy bunch…it felt really great, except for Gerald’s noisy plastic wrapper in his lap which made it hard to hear at times. But I guess I couldn’t complain when my stomach kept growling. I’d skipped breakfast and drove to San Francisco so I wouldn’t be too late. I found a cheaper parking lot this week--$8, but Javad beat me with $6 and Omar beat us both with “free.”

Scott Braley, who told me about last week’s hearing was absent, so I felt obliged to take lots of photos, playing with flash and natural lighting. I got a few good shots, posed and not posed.

I am still excited. It was like, justice wasn’t necessarily served, but something good and noble and unexpected for a lot of us happened. I liked the way Jalil’s legal team especially comments by Mark Goldrosen, Jalil described as "a remarkable, selfless trial technician and writer whose understanding of both State and Federal law brought the court (and some of the attorneys) to task." Goldrosen spoke of his client's work since incarceration to improve, not only his life but to serve as a positive examples for others both inside the prison and without.

Where last week, the June 29 victory for Herman was kind of bitter sweet, what helped the following week was the fact that all the men were there, whereas last week, Richard Brown had to carry the team spirit for comrade Herman Bell.

Kiilu said she wasn’t completely surprised because she spoke to Jalil last Friday and put in a call to Cisco, but I was regarding the plea offer.

I wonder after all the wasted tax dollars what was the point of dragging this case back into court to be lost again? What was this an exercise in? The only good is that no one will ever forget the face of domestic torture and the cases of Jalil Muntaqim and Herman Bell and by extension the cases of so many political prisoners and prisoners of war. SF8 puts an entirely different spin on Free ‘Em All!

The bailiff shushed the audience when some protested loudly when the prosecution’s lead attorney went on and on vilifying Jalil to justify his refusal to hear defense’s request to reduce the 12 month sentence to time served. He had the nerve to say, "just 12 months." The judge was quick to point out that he was speaking like a person who had never served any time behind bars.

Jalil got credit for time served anyway.

There was even a deputy in the audience with us, I guess to handle things if we got rowdy—which I said we did, her presence something else I hadn’t seen before in the sessions I’d attended this week or last or even two years ago when the hearing first started and the men were incarcerated at the 850 Bryant corral.

Listen to Wanda’s Picks Wednesday, July 8, 6 AM to 8 AM for an interview with men from SF8: Richard Brown, Ray Boudreaux, Harold Taylor, Hank Jones, and Franciso Torres. Francisco Torres’s attorney Charles Bourdon and perhaps Daro G. Inouye, Jalil’s attorney, will also join us (he hasn’t confirmed) and I will have a prerecorded interview with Kiilu Nyasha about Jalil Muntaqim and her involvement in PP and POW movement... (the latter has been postponed) and Daro wasn't able to join us, his case load is too heavy (120 clients).

From his website, Jalil writes March 23, 2007 before he is extradited from Auburn to San Francisco that he will continue to advocate for justice and encourages students to organize Jericho chapters on their college campuses, and to write Congressman Conyers and I would submit he’d probably update the list to include President Obama regarding the results of the Church hearings where illegal government surveillance and sentencing based on such evidence be addressed and remedied with restitution for those wronged. He is a warrior in the truest sense of the word and like a warrior his allegiance is to his community whom he strives to serve and protect at all costs.

“Despite it all, after 35 years of imprisonment, I remain strong and will resist every step of the way the efforts of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act initiatives to stifle dissent. I am confident that, with strong support from progressive peoples across the country and overseas, the S.F. 8 will be successful, and the State will suffer defeat. We will have a true People’s Victory.

It will be a victory against fear and State terrorism; it will be a defeat against State torture tactics, threats and coercion. This case will teach today’s activists what to expect from the State in its efforts to prevent dissent and protest of government repression. It will forward a broader understanding of what happened in the Movement of the 60’s & 70’s, and how COINTELPRO disrupted and destroyed the most viable Black political party that emerged out of the civil rights Movements. Ultimately, this case will tell of a militant youth movement and how the government sought to destroy it, and today seeks to retaliate because those youths did in fact rebel against oppression and repression not only in their communities, and in an international determination in support of all oppressed peoples’ fighting against colonialism and imperialism at that time.

So, to organize and fight back against this nefarious persecution of the S.F. 8, I. urge all to organize and sponsor educational programs in your community and invite Jericho representatives and the Committee in Defense of Human Rights to speak about the Case of the S.F. 8 and other U.S. political prisoners. Furthermore, I ask that progressive folks seek to organize a Jericho chapter on college campuses and in your communities. I urge that letter writing/phone/fax campaigns be initiated directed to Congressman John Conyers, demanding that he conduct the reopening of COINTELPRO Hearings. There are many COINTELPRO victims languishing in prison, and while the Senate Church Committee in fact decided the FBI’s COINTELPRO activities was unconstitutional, the Senate Church Committee never established remedies for COINTELPRO victims.

They are trying to rewrite history and deny the legacy of the BPP/BLA, and essentially with a board paint brush label all those involved in those struggles as “terrorists,” “criminals,” and “wanton killers.” They will never say those youths were revolutionaries, freedom fighters and progressive organizers. They will never say they sought to relieve the community of all forms of State sponsored terrorism that is too often found in Black and Hispanic communities today. They will never talk about the over 30 Panthers that were killed by police across the country and no one being prosecuted for these murders. They will never admit to the unconstitutional practices of the FBI COINTELPRO activities.

The task for all of us is to raise consciousness about U.S. political prisoners, and build a durable and determine Jericho Amnesty Movement to ensure all of our victory against State tyranny and terrorism”
(Jalil Muntaqim’s Extradition Statement http://www.freejalil.com/3-23-07extraditionstatement.html).


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