Join the SF 8 to celebrate this historic occasion Tuesday, July 7, 5:30- 9 p.m., at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, 1050 McAllister at Webster, San Francisco, wheelchair accessible; it’s a potluck – please bring food and drinks to share
by Wanda Sabir
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 conducted 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!” 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,” “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 ol’ 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 Black Panther Party 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 and George N. Katsiaficas’ “Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party,” “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas” 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 ’ and fiction writers such as Nella Larsen and earlier Black writers, both poets 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 political prisoner (PP) or prisoner of war (POW) is like an escaped captive. These trials are like auctions where flesh is bartered – there’s a direct connection between Africans enslaved during the 15th century and Africans enslaved 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 and 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 asha 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 their elders, those still movin’ and 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 a week has gone by, but 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 Jan. 23, 2007, when the FBI under the auspices of Homeland Security rearrested eight former members and associates 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 Ruben Scott had confessed to crimes connected to the Aug. 29, 1971, shooting after San Francisco police took them to New Orleans, where, under the supervision of FBI agents, New Orleans police tortured them. In the mid-‘70s, charges were dropped in several jurisdictions, including charges for the 1971 killing, when the judges learned that these “confessions” had been coerced under torture.
Thirty years later, the same two San Francisco policemen who had interrogated them while they were tortured by New Orleans police, 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 two and a half years ago harassing these model citizens with requests for information the former Black Panther Party members and associates had no knowledge of and forcing them to surrender saliva samples for DNA testing – the Grand Jury Resisters once again closed ranks. The eight men are Herman Bell, Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Henry (Hank) Jones, Jalil Muntaqim (Anthony Bottom), Richard O’Neal, Harold Taylor and Francisco Torres.
It had been 30 years since some of 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 elicit testimony for use in U.S. courts.
The men were all eventually arrested after the early morning visits and put in San Francisco County Jail in 2007 to await trial. In August and September, six of them – Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Hank Jones, Richard O’Neal, Harold Taylor and Francisco Torres – were released on bail; and on Feb. 7, 2008, the charges against Richard O’Neal were dropped. Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim have remained the entire two and a half years in county jail, having been transferred from New York, where they had been political prisoners for over three decades. Both men are now headed back to New York, eager to attend their parole hearings there, after taking plea bargains for lesser charges.
Last Monday, June 29, Herman Bell accepted the prosecution’s offer. He’d been identified as the shooter of the SFPD officer in 1971 by Ruben Scott, whose testimony was obtained through torture and thrown out for that reason. In January 2007 when the eight men were arrested, Ruben’s testimony was reintroduced, and it was, I guess, on the basis of this flimsy charge that the prosecution offered Bell a plea bargain. Bell accepted the bargain, pled guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, and the other charge against him, conspiracy, was thrown out.
One week later, on Monday, July 6, the long awaited beginning of the preliminary hearing to determine whether the SF 8 case would proceed to trial, I raced across the bridge to 850 Bryant, San Francisco’s so-called Hall of Justice, expecting – though somewhat skeptically – to hear some evidence. Whose hat this evidence was going to magically appear from remained to be seen. 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 fate and heckled.
An 8 a.m. rally, complete with a band, where hundreds, I’m told, paraded in the street, had opened the show, with everyone chanting “DROP THE CHARGES!” I think the prosecution heard the demands (I am sooo kidding). When the hearing began two hours late, about 11 a.m., the over 70 supporters who’d been able to wait that long filed into the courtroom. I brought up the rear and had to sit on the opponents’ – the prosecution’s – side of the room. I began my reflections: “I am sitting in enemy territory next to Nadra (Foster) and Gerald and some law student in a suit taking notes like me.”
Jalil Muntaqim 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 prosecution’s offer of reduced charges stemming from the events of Aug. 29, 1971; 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 Boudeaux, Henry “Hank” Jones and Francisco Torres – and Muntaqim stipulated that the charges be 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 pled no contest to the prosecution’s charge of conspiracy, his client picked up a loaded grenade to save his brothers, his friends, his fellow defendants, and he didn’t plead guilty. That language did not pass his lips.
Judge Philip J. Moscone said “no contest” means “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 the charge stand without a fight or without protest.
Jalil’s magnanimous gesture shows how much love and respect the men known as the SF 8 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 Francisco Torres, who was accused separately of conspiracy and offered a deal, which he declined. He plans to fight.
In an 11th 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 session’s dismissal, supporters said the prosecution would probably drop the charges before the Aug. 10 date for Torres’ hearing, 9 a.m., 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 70th birthday party. She looked great! I saw Terry Collins of KPOO for the first time since his stay at the hospital a couple of weeks ago. He looked great too. 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 Labossiere and other members of the Haiti Action Committee 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 days with the Vukani Mawethu Choir, colleagues like Leslie from Peralta Community College District, Javad from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 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, a death penalty activist on San Quentin’s 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 former Minister of Culture Emory Douglas 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 SF 8 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 whose names I didn’t catch.
Microphones were stuck in a lot of folks’ faces and some of the men told me they’d get up early Wednesday to speak to me about what happened today and what it meant for the SF 8 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, 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 to drive 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 had 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 advocated for their client, speaking on his behalf when the judge asked for comments. It was a total charge, where last week was kind of bitter sweet. It helped 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.
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.
SF 8 puts an entirely different spin on Free ‘Em All!
The bailiff shushed the audience when some protested loudly as the prosecution’s lead attorney went on and on vilifying Jalil to justify his refusal to hear the defense request to reduce a 12-month sentence to time served. Whatever! It was granted anyway.
There was even a deputy in the audience with us, I guess to handle things if we got rowdy – which as I said we did – something else I hadn’t seen before in the sessions I’d attended this week or last or even two years ago when the hearings first started and the men were incarcerated at the 850 Bryant corral.
Listen to Wanda’s Picks Wednesday, July 8, 6 to 8 a.m., for an interview with men from SF 8: Richard Brown, Ray Boudreaux and perhaps Harold Taylor and Hank Jones. Francisco Torres’ 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 the PP and POW movement.
From his website, Jalil wrote on March 23, 2007, before he was extradited from Auburn, New York, 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, urging that 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.
In his March 23, 2007, Extradition Statement, Jalil Muntaqim wrote:
“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 SF 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 ‘60s and ‘70s 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, 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 SF 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 SF 8 and other U.S. political prisoners. Furthermore, I ask that progressive folks seek to organize a Jericho (Amnesty Movement) chapter on college campuses and in your communities. I urge that letter writing, phone and 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 were 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 (Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army), and essentially with a broad 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 determined Jericho Amnesty Movement to ensure all of our victory against state tyranny and terrorism.”
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at email@example.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com for an expanded version of Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m. and archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network, www.WandasPicks.ASMNetwork.org.