It’s been 2 1/2 years since the San Francisco 8 — eight former members of the Black Panther Party — were cast into California jails and threatened with life sentences stemming from the 1971 shooting of a cop.
Perhaps the State figured the post – 9//11 paranoia and mania would make this an easy case. Perhaps the government thought that because many of the accused were men of advancing age, decades away from their prime organizing and activist days, it would be a cake walk.
The 8 men fought with dignity, principle and unity — and several days ago — charges for 4 of them were dismissed altogether: Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Hank Jones and Harold Taylor.
New York’s Jalil Muntaqim pled no contest to conspiracy — and got time served in San Francisco County Jail — almost 2 1/2 years — with 3 years probation.
Herman Bell — another New York former Panther – took a similar deal earlier in July.
One ex-Panther, Francisco Torres, faces a hearing next month, where most observers expect all charges to be dropped. Another, John bowman, died before trial. The last, Richard O’Neal, was cleared pre-trial.
From the very beginning, back in the ’70′s — several of the men were brutally tortured by police in Louisiana to elicit false confessions (thus we see that Abu Ghraib really was nothing new).
The cases were dismissed decades ago — on that basis alone.
That the prosecutions were reinstated at all is due more to the politicized Justice Department under John Ashcroft and George Bush — where torture was a tool of state –than anything else. Also implicated? The political ambitions of California Attorney General Jerry Brown, seeking the governorship.
No charges should’ve been brought in the first place — or if contemplated, dismissed under double jeopardy principles.
As it is — even the state admits — dismissal is valid due to insufficient evidence.
These results are due, in large part, to the solidarity of the men themselves, and some excellent, aggressive lawyering by assorted defense counsel, among them J. Soffiyah Elijah of Harvard Law School.
Several years ago, in a statement calling for support for the San Francisco 8, I implored supporters to fight for them now — before they fell into the clutches of the state containment system — instead of after.
Many took up that fight — leading to many of the most recent results.