The Case of the San Francisco 8

by RON JACOBS

I recently reviewed a DVD about a group of Black Panthers who were tortured in 1973 by New Orleans police during interrogations regarding the murder of a San Francisco police officer in 1971. The DVD, titled Legacy of Torture, highlights the stories of some of these men and their experience at the hands of the police interrogators while law enforcement officials from other local and federal agencies stood by. A federal court ruled in 1974 that both San Francisco and New Orleans police had engaged in torture to extract a confession, and a San Francisco judge dismissed charges against three men in 1975 based on that ruling. The case was reopened in 2003 by the US Department of Justice using funds set aside for the Department of Homeland Security. Several grand juries were convened as part of the reinvestigation, with some of the men involved in the 1973 torture being called before the panel more than once.

Not long after that review was published, eight former Black Panthers were arrested for their alleged involvement in the 1971 murder in a series of sweeps. Law enforcement is still looking for one other man. Richard Brown, Richard O’Neal, Ray Boudreaux, and Hank Jones were arrested in California. Francisco Torres was arrested in Queens, New York. Harold Taylor was arrested in Florida. Two of the men charged have been in prison for over 30 years ­ Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim. As of this writing, the six who were arrested at their homes and places of work in late January are in prison with bail amounts running between three and five million dollars each. No pretrial date has been set although, according to Claude Marks of the Eight’s defense committee, there will be a pretrial hearing because "the government doesn’t seem to be backing down." Meanwhile, the committee and the men’s legal team are working to get the bail reduced to a more reasonable figure.

According to police records, the men charged were members of the Black Liberation Army (BLA). The BLA was the result of a split in the Black Panther Party and believed the time was ripe for armed struggle in the United States. Other Panthers took a different route which place more community organizing, community programs, and municipal electoral politics foremost among their strategies for self-defense of the community and black liberation. The split itself was the product of genuine ideological differences in the party, but was intentionally exacerbated by the FBI, local police Red Squads, military intelligence, state undercover police agencies and other elements of the US counterinsurgency apparatus. These agencies worked under the aegis of the COINTELPRO program–a series of FBI counterintelligence programs designed to neutralize political dissidents, primarily of the left and anarchist temperaments. Methods used in this campaign ranged from the spreading of rumors regarding individuals personal lives, putting snitch jackets on activists, publishing and planting false stories about groups and individuals involved in antiwar and antiracist activities, police raids and harassment of activists, false arrests and charges, and murder. The Black Panther Party was the target of all of the aforementioned methods, including murder. In 1971, many of its leaders were either in prison, facing prison time, in exile, or murdered by police. The FBI claimed to have ended its COINTELPRO activities in 1971, but evidence presented to the Church Senate committee investigating the excesses of the program in 1974 proved otherwise. Indeed, all that really occurred was that the program was renamed. The dissident neutralization program continues to this day under other names.

The California State’s Attorney’s office, which is working with a Federal task force on the case, told the media that no new scientific evidence has been unearthed in the case. Instead, it appears that the prosecutors have reexamined the evidence they extracted under torture and constructed a scenario that involves all of the men charged in the 1971 murder. None the less, the attorney general’s office is, in their words, " committed to seeing it through.” What this means, in essence, is that the men will be prosecuted using evidence declared inadmissible by the courts in 1975 because it was obtained via torture.

What do I mean by torture? Could it really have been that bad? Before I quote the descriptions of the men’s ordeal, let me ask you, the reader, to put yourself in the position these men found themselves in 1973. As the cursory history of the COINTELPRO program above makes clear, these men had lots to fear. They were black men held in a jail run by a police department known for its racist history; they were being charged with killing a cop; they were believed to be members of a militant armed organization composed of black men and women in the United States at a time when the government feared armed revolution and the movement feared genuine fascism. With that in mind, here is what the men endured (from the San Francisco Chronicle, surely no leftwing rag): "a court found that when the two San Francisco police investigators who came to Louisiana to interview the three men were out of the room, New Orleans officers stripped the men, blindfolded them, beat them and covered them in blankets soaked in boiling water. They also used electric prods on their genitals, court records show. "

Today, hundreds of prisoners and disappeared exist in US prisons around the globe. Torture occurs at these prisons on a regular basis. After more than three years of avoidance, the US Congress addressed the issue of torture in US-run prisons and cam up with the Military Commissions Act. This act effectively ended habeas corpus for these prisoners, does little to end torture in these prisons and excuses the torture that occurred before its enactment. In the sham courtrooms that the prisoners in these prisons will face trial, evidence extracted by torture will be admissible. Besides the torture in this corner of Washington’s gulag, torture is also part of the law enforcement repertoire that includes the beating and isolation of prisoners in the modern supermax prison complexes like Pelican Bay in California to the so called rectal interrogation techniques known to be occasionally employed by the New York City Police Department. The Chicago police department was the subject of several investigations regarding years of systematic torture of primarily black men in at least one of its station houses. It is but a small leap to see that the prosecutors of the men arrested for the 1971 shooting in San Francisco will also attempt to introduce evidence obtained via torture and already considered inadmissible, no matter how flimsy. If the judge in this trial does allow this to happen, it not only flies in the face of accepted legal understanding, it is another step on the road to a totalitarian state–a road some in the United States are intent on leading their fellow countrymen and women down.

Despite their incarceration, members of the defense committee told me that the men’s spirits are high., "I saw two of the bros this weekend." said Claude Marks. They are strong and ready to fight back. Their lawyers are very clear, strong and united….They’re calling themselves the San Francisco 8…. They resisted the grand juries of 2005 and will fight now." Several speaking engagements by members of the committee are scheduled and money is being raised. For more information please go to the Defense Committee’s website.

UPDATE: The Eight’s arraignment and a bail reduction hearing was carried over until February 14 at 9:00 a.m. The Superior Court is at 850 Bryant Street in SF. Please attend if you can.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is forthcoming from Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

 

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece
Jeffrey R. Wilson
“It Started Like a Guilty Thing”: the Beginning of Hamlet and the Beginning of Modern Politics