Just north of the border, in the Canadian city of Toronto, African American Gary Freeman is fighting to stay in the country he fled to 35 years ago. Freeman is being held while a legal battle rages with the Canadian government, which wants to deport him to the U.S. to stand trial in Chicago for the 1969 shooting of a white police officer.
Prosecutors have announced that they plan to charge Freeman with attempted murder, which, in Illinois, can carry a sentence of up to 30 years. Freeman’s supporters and lawyers argue that it will be impossible for him to get a fair trial in a city notorious for its racist police force and corrupt judiciary.
If Freeman loses his appeals, the ensuing trial in Chicago will take us back to a year when the city’s police department killed 11 unarmed Black men and its infamous Red Squad ended the year by murdering Black Panther leaders Mark Clark and Fred Hampton.
Douglas Gary Freeman is the adopted name of Joseph Pannell. He fled to Canada after two years of pre-trial custody in the notorious Cook County Jail.
Gary is married and a father of four and has been a longtime union and community activist in Canada. Freeman was arrested at gunpoint outside the Toronto Reference Library in July 2004, where he has worked for the previous 14 years. He is currently being held in a tiny cell in Toronto’s Don Jail and is allowed only two 20-minute visits a week.
Gary’s family, friends and supporters have mounted a campaign to prevent his extradition back to the U.S. Separate appeals have been filed in the Canadian courts and to the Minister of Justice in the Canadian federal government to block his extradition.
“The question is whether the Canadian government is going to do the right thing and let this man–who has led a 35-year history here in Canada as a law-abiding citizen, an absolute pillar of the community–go on with his life or send him back to account for what amounts to civil liberties atrocities perpetrated by the United States of America in the late 1960s,” one of Freeman’s lawyers said.
However, Canada rarely, if ever, denies the U.S. government’s requests for extradition, especially when it comes to political activists–despite the long and well-documented history of political repression in the United States.
The most notorious example of this was in 1976, when American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier was deported from Canada. He was subsequently falsely convicted of the murder of two FBI agents and has been languishing in federal prison for the last 30 years.
Freeman has already been convicted in the Chicago media, particularly the tabloid Chicago Sun-Times, and he has been relentlessly pursued by Terrence Knox–with critical help recently from Chicago Police Chief Phil Cline and the Fraternal Order of Police, the police “union.”
This is a story not just of a vengeful ex-cop, but a political establishment salivating at the prospect of using the possible trial of Gary Freeman to wash away years of revelations of police brutality, torture and false convictions. In 2005 alone, the city of Chicago had to pay out nearly $40 million to settle lawsuits related to police brutality and killings.
And this month marks the third anniversary of former Gov. George Ryan’s historic granting of clemency and pardons to all prisoners on Illinois’ death row–a number of them African American men who were tortured into confessing to capital crimes by members of the Chicago Police Department.
Knox, who portrays himself as the “victim” in the 1969 incident, says that he “wants his day in court.” He has been described in various media accounts as a “victims’ rights activist.” What the Chicago media won’t say is that Terrence Knox was a member of the Chicago Police Department’s Subversive Activities Section (later Unit)–better known as the “Red Squad.”
In the 1960s, the Red Squad–along with the Pentagon, National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI–targeted antiwar and antiracist activists, particularly members of the revolutionary Black Panther Party, which FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the “greatest threat to national security.”
Lawyers connected to the case say that Knox was a “control officer” who paid off informants. It isn’t known if Knox was an active member of the Red Squad in March 1969 at the time of his confrontation with Freeman.
The City of Chicago lost a historic lawsuit in the mid-1980s over the activities of its Red Squad and signed a consent decree banning future surveillance of political activists. Its attempts to overturn the consent decree have so far failed.
These aren’t ancient issues. The recent revelations of the Bush administration’s spying on the U.S. public through the NSA and the Pentagon have again made many people aware of government repression. Hopefully, these revelations will help Gary Freeman and his family win justice.