[News] Legacy of torture by Wanda Sabir
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 26 12:46:16 EST 2007
From this week's edition of the San Francisco Bay View:
Legacy of torture: the war against the Black Liberation Movement
Eight Black Panther veterans charged in 34-39-year-old cases based on torture
by Wanda Sabir
Last week when I was speaking to Richard Brown,
who was enjoying his well-earned retirement, we
spoke about his friend and comrade John Bowman,
whod been tortured back in 1973. Brown was
looking forward to both the screening Sunday,
Jan. 28, at 12 noon of Legacy of Torture: The
War Against the Black Liberation Movement at the
Roxie Cinema, 16th and Valencia, and the
celebration of Bowmans life at 3 p.m. at the
Center for African American Art and Culture, 762
Fulton St. at Webster in San Francisco.
At the preview screening of the work-in-progress
last October, Ray Boudreaux and Hank Jones were
on the panel, and Richard Brown was in the
audience. This Sunday they were all going to be
at the theatre and the memorial. Now they are all
in jail. But the show, said filmmaker Claude
Marks of the Freedom Archives, will go on. The
gathering, just a day after the protest against
the war, is yet another opportunity to develop a plan for action.
The war at home against liberated Africans is obviously still going strong.
When I saw the unedited cut of the film last year
at East Side Cultural Center during the Black
Panther Partys 40th anniversary weekend, I was
stunned at the audacity of this government to
trample the rights of its citizens with impunity.
Hadnt they learned that even ones enemy has rights?
Having assailed the Black Panther Party in 1968
as the greatest threat to the internal security
of the United States, Federal Bureau of
Investigation chief J. Edgar Hoover used any and
all methods in the FBIs arsenal to dismantle the
operations of an organization developed to serve the people.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a
youth movement. The five men profiled in the film
Ray Boudreaux, John Bowman, Richard Brown, Hank
Jones and Harold Taylor were in their 20s in
1971 when they were accused of killing a police
officer in San Franciscos Ingleside Station.
In 1973, 13 Panthers were captured in New
Orleans. Several of them were subjected to the
brutality of torture, including beatings,
electric shocks with cattle prods, hot
water-soaked blankets and plastic bag
asphyxiation, many of the same forms of torture
used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
They captured Jalil Muntaqim and the now deceased
Albert Nuh Washington in 1971 in San Francisco.
Herman Bell was captured in New Orleans. Ruben
Scott was tortured so badly in New Orleans that
he made accusatory statements. He later recanted
and helped to expose the brutalities committed in
New Orleans, but he appears to still be a government witness.
Fast forward to 2005: 34 years later each man is
called before a state grand jury on the same
charges. Of course, they all refused to cooperate
and were thrown in jail. They were later released
when the grand jury expired Oct. 31, 2005. The
men were warned that it wasnt over. In June of
2006 they were served with a DNA subpoena during
the early morning hours. Richard Brown said they
swabbed the inside of his mouth.
There they were: FBI and policemen standing on
the Panther veterans doorsteps some of these
officers the same men who were present during
their tortures in New Orleans. John Bowman, who
died just last month, told attorney Soffiyah
Elijah that hed never had a good nights sleep
since. All the trauma came back.
When I asked Richard Brown if he was worried
about the open-ended prosecution spread over 36
years now, he said: I was named as a participant
in 1971 in the murder case. All Panthers were
targeted. If we were doing something
constructive, we were singled out. They killed
Bunchy Carter, arrested and imprisoned Geronimo.
It was just our turn. We were next on the list.
When asked where the case was now, Brown laughed.
As far as Im concerned, they dont have a case.
They are going forward. They plan to indict us,
convict us and sentence us. Theyve been telling
us this for the past three years: Dont get
comfortable, because were coming after you.
Thirty-six years if they had any kind of case,
they would have arrested us by now. I havent been officially charged.
Yes, this case bothers or worries me because
they never let the fact that they didnt have a
case stand in their way. They can come up with
something tomorrow evidence they found, people
that have a hundred years sentence that they
will let go home if they testify correctly. They can come up with this.
They can just manufacture a case. They do that.
If they want us, they can come up with something
to take to the DA. Its a different time now.
They dont want to go to trial with nothing,
hoping that racism will pull them through.
Tuesday, as the president was about to give his
State of the Union address, these men, now know
as the Grand Jury Resistors Ray Michael
Boudreaux, 64, of Altadena; Richard Brown, 65, of
San Francisco; Harold Taylor, 58, of Panama City,
Fla.; Harold Taylor, 58, of Panama City, Fla.;
and Henry Watson Jones, 71, of Altadena; plus
other former Panthers connected to the case by
new evidence, were arrested all across the
country and charged with conspiracy and the
murder of the Ingleside policeman and a series of
other unsolved cases from 1968 to 1973.
Also indicted are Jalil Muntaqim (Anthony
Bottom), 55, and Herman Bell, 59, former Black
Panther Party members who are eligible for parole
in New York, as well as Francisco Torres, 58, of
New York City and Richard ONeal, 57, of San
Francisco. Ronald Stanley Bridgeforth, 62, was still being sought.
In 1971 people who remain unknown to this day
raided the FBI offices in Media, Penn., and stole
files exposing the Bureaus illegal operations
against Black revolutionary organizations like
the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam
and other progressive organizations and
movements. Detailed accounts of the systematic
attack on Black leaders and Black organizations
came out in public hearings hosted by Sen. Frank
Church, D-Idaho. This was the first public
disclosure of the U.S. governments Cointelpro
(Counter Intelligence Program), and it forced the
FBI to agree to dismantle this illegal activity.
All these guys (arrested) are in their 50s and
60s and 70s. The (government) is sending a
message to the young people: Dont even think
about joining any liberation movement, said
journalist Kiilu Nyasha, also a Black Panther veteran.
The Black Panther Party was formed to make Black
communities safe from police brutality, yet the
government aggression never ceased. Cointelpro
intensified, government agents infiltrated the
organization and created or encouraged internal
differences to the point of using the dissent to
destroy individuals and the effectiveness of the
movement that the Party was building.
Richard Brown said that when he joined the Party,
he and his comrades didnt expect to live, so
they didnt fear death. At 22, hed always been
an advocate for Black people and knew then and
now that through unity we could do anything.
The village looked out for us, he said. In
Legacy of Torture, Brown said that he wasnt
going to help the government prosecute him
because they disrupted his life hurt his
family, cost his friends their reputations and
even employment opportunities. They are the
guilty ones and they should be investigated, not
the other way around. Ive been contending with this for over 30 years.
In light of whats going on presently with the
chief justice sanctioning our presidents use of
evidence gotten through the use of torture,
thats technically saying they can go back and
take the evidence they obtained through torture,
arrest us and convict us behind tainted
information. In the film the men spoke of how
the New Orleans police told them to sign the
statements that the agents wrote if they wanted the pain to stop.
Interview with Richard Brown
Wanda Sabir: When did you start traveling around
the country on speaking tours about what happened?
Richard Brown: We started talking about this
when people didnt believe the government was
capable of doing something like this and, because
it was primarily happening to Black people at
that time, it was overlooked and not believed. We
feel if the American public is educated, they will demand it stop.
I would like those guilty of torture brought up
on charges. They said it was illegal way back in
1973 at the Church Commission when they found
theyd violated the Panthers civil rights over
300 times: They were guilty of unconstitutional
acts, guilty of torture, guilty of coercion,
guilty of lying and passing false information to
get people to lie on different folks, and
manufacturing evidence, even to the point of
assassination and murder. It happened to Fred
Hampton and Mark Clark, Bunchy Carter.
It was all a part of that Cointelpro program
they had to annihilate the Black Panther Party.
We feel education is the best way to bring this to an end.
WS: Legacy of Torture director Claude Marks
said you hadnt really talked about what happened
to you prior to making this film. Given what you
said, it was understandable, since no one believed your stories anyway.
RB: Actually, when they broke us up, they
literally broke the Party up. Many of us went to
different parts of the country. I stayed in touch
with most of them over the phone. Someone like
John Bowman, who was a part of the family, he and
I saw each other over the years, but we rarely spoke of the torture.
We went on with our lives and continued to serve
the people the best that we could. I went off
into community-based organizations to do as much
as I could for my community and for my people. I
just continued with the teachings and the
principles that brought us to the Party. We
honestly didnt actually talk to each other
before they came back for us in 2005 this crap
all over again. We thought theyd finished back in the 80s.
They just swooped on us all over the country one
day and arrested us and tried to make us go
before a grand jury and testify, and we decided
independently of one another that we were not
going to do that. We were all held in contempt of
court and arrested, actually locked up. They took
us away from family and spirited us around the
country, and no one was able to communicate with us.
I was locked up for quite some time: six weeks.
My attorney didnt know where I was. They kept moving me around.
WS: The right to a telephone call is not true?
RB: They didnt give me a phone call. People
have to be approved beforehand to receive calls.
My attorney wasnt able to get through. What you
have to do is contact them beforehand, pay a fee
to get them on a so-called system. What youd
have to do is write them to contact the phone
company and pay a fee so they could receive calls
from the jailhouse. Not being able to get a
letter out, I wasnt able to tell them.
It was part of a technique to put more pressure on me.
Brown has been a community activist his entire
life. He worked for the Ella Hill Hutch Community
Center in the Fillmore, the same area of San
Francisco he grew up in. He worked at Ella Hill
Hutch for almost 20 years in housing and
employment, in criminal justice and as an
advocate for the people in the community. He was
able to continue for Black people in the
Fillmore what I was doing in the BPP serving the people.
He said of his friend Bowman: John grew up in
this area, also on McAllister Street. He touched
a lot of peoples lives an organizer, a
warmhearted person everyone could relate to. He
could educate and motivate. He was a great man.
WS: Seems like all of you are great men to be
able to live through that. The reenactment in the
film of the torture scenes, while not literal, is
enough to make one imagine the horror and pain.
Its one thing to imagine it; its another thing
to go through it. Sometimes its not physical but
psychological. People have been going through
psychological and physical torture ever since slavery.
When that was happening to you, did you think youd live though it?
RB: I didnt actually get tortured there in New
Orleans at that time. Three of us were tortured:
John Bowman, Ruben Scott and Harold Taylor. They
arrested me and I was about to be taken to New
Orleans, but (the case) was thrown out of court
when the evidence acquired through torture was found inadmissible.
I was fortunate that time. The greatest torture
is psychological torture. But Ive been beaten
while handcuffed. Thats so common for Black
folks I dont even call that torture. Its the MO
for police to deal with Black people in that
manner. When they focus on you and try to break
you, thats a torture tactic. Police jumping on
you while you are handcuffed and outnumbered was
ordinary, even typical behavior.
WS: Obviously it didnt stop you from doing the
work. How does one, given the legacy of torture
and the potential for it to reoccur, continue to
serve the people? It seems like youd be
terrified of the harassment, knowing that if you
continued they could come after you. Anytime you
could get assaulted or killed.
RB: During the time the Black Panther Party was
started and we saw the oppression of our people
coming down on us, nearly everyone decided we
were in it for the long run. None of us expected
to live. Thats an unfortunate thing to say, yet,
given the time, none of us saw an actual future.
Once you make up your mind that you are going to
go forward regardless you do. No matter what
they did to us, we were determined not to stop.
I wasnt actually doing anything except serving the people.
WS: How old were you when you joined the BPP?
RB: I was a little older, at 22. The average age
was 17 or 18. They were very young people, some
as young as 15 to 16. I found out about it on the news coverage of Oakland.
I was doing things in San Francisco not to the
extent of the BPP, but I love Black people, I
love my community and I continue to care about
people. My level of consciousness was pretty
high, so when the Panther Party came along with
the kind of spirit I had, the kind of nature I
had, it was a perfect vehicle. So we started the
Black Panther Party in San Francisco.
WS: You started it?
RB: Actually, I was there. Dexter and some other people started it.
WS: I grew up in San Francisco a member of the
Nation of Islam. The mosque was on Fillmore and Geary.
RB: We had several offices on Fillmore Street,
on Ellis and Eddy. Wed see a bigger space and
move. We were all over Fillmore.
WS: Did the Panther Party and Nation do any organizing around any issues?
RB: Not politically. There was an overlap. We supported each other.
WS: I found that out at the 40th anniversary. A
lot of people I knew in the Nation were former
Panthers. You said you loved Black people. I
presume you were raised in a home that was African centered?
RB: Yeah, to a certain extent. I was raised by a
single mother, as my father was killed when I was
4 years old. I had a lot of help from the
community. I had uncles who took the place of my
father. Back then, there was a community. The
village looked out for all of us and helped raise all of us.
Because of that, because I grew up in an
environment where people cared about one another,
I grew up to care about people also. Growing up
in a Black community, it was natural Id grow up
caring about Black people. Thats the way I see
it: unity and love for Black people.
I grew up in a different time. I know who we
truly are, what we are capable of and what we
have accomplished. To see whats going on
nowadays kind of hurts me. The violence thats
going on, particularly with the youth, thats
really disturbing. I do all I can to try to put
an end to that, to let them know that that is not
who we are or where we should be headed.
WS: Do you think the violence is a symptom of something larger?
RB: Of course. Its a symptom of racism and
slavery. Weve been conditioned to not unite, to
not love one another. They took our culture, our
language, our religions, everything. Employment,
the lack of employment, the educational system
the young people have to put up with, the
bombardment with media violence: the movies
that they watch, the music that they listen to
its all a part of the problems that youth grow up with.
It will turn around and go forward again.
WS: What are the lessons that have come out of
the prolonged harassment with the government?
What are the lessons youd like to share with
someone doing political organizing work for African or Black liberation?
RB: We all get tired. You get exhausted, yet you
cant give up. You will be successful. If I die
tomorrow, as far as Im concerned I have been
very successful serving my people with my comrades over the years.
WS: When you look at the legacy of Cointelpro,
which now is called Homeland Security, and the
laws have been codified under the USA Patriot Act
I and II, how, with Cointelpro, the letters, the
tapped phone calls, the infiltration creating an
environment where people couldnt trust each
other and black folks were already having trouble trusting each other
RB: Conditioned not to trust each other.
WS: Yes, exactly right coming over on those
slave ships. My question is how do you establish
trust, maintain trust, in light of a situation
where we know this government does not want
African people to come together. What can you do
to establish trust, or do you just do your good work and dont worry about it?
RB: Do your good work and dont worry about it.
The Black Panther Party started out with just a
few people. San Francisco was a small operation.
Sometimes you have to just start with yourself
and people see what you are doing, and once they
trust you, you build from there.
Its very hard to get Black people to do
anything together and to stay together for a long
time, but it can be done. The Panther Party
proved that it can be done. Other organizations
have proven that. You dont have to be my blood
brother; you can be my extended family.
We have the foundation to be able to overcome
the barrier of not being able to trust each
other. Somehow over the years Black people have
somehow overcome, worked together and made
progress. In our time, we have to pull it
together and go forward in order to not die here.
Interview with Claude Marks
Director Claude Marks says his film, Legacy of
Torture, examines the increasing legislative
legitimacy over the past 30 years that gives the
United States the right to torture people.
We saw last year in the contested public space
between Bush and other forces when they chose
essentially to carve out a space for themselves
to redefine what torture was, so that water
boarding is considered harsh treatment but (is
now) a legitimate form of interrogation, and thats only one example, he said.
Of course, the U.S. government, some of that
you can tell what kind of pressure they are under
with Abu Ghraib, with Guantanamo. I think what
the film tries to do is to say that this type of
physical abuse and violation of peoples human
rights has been happening in the United States
all along, particularly in prisons, with the
retaking of Attica very substantially documented
the level of torture and treatment of people,
including targeted assassinations of some of the
leaders of that prison rebellion that took place in 1971 in New York.
Its also true that these people in this film,
former members of the Black Panther Party, when
they were arrested, were tortured. This set of
government violence against the Black Movement
takes place in the context of Cointelpro and
attempted to wipe out the leadership of the part
of the Black Movement in the 60s and 70s that
most challenged the legitimacy of the US
governments racism, repression and segregation
as well as its role conducting wars in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
This is one of the reasons why Cointelpro
functioned in such a targeted or focused way,
because they defined the Panthers, in particular,
the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, as the
single largest threat to the U.S. government.
The Black Panther Party was revolutionary and it
in fact challenged a lot of peoples notions
about what the U.S. could be, should be. And (the
BPP) revealed and unmasked that level of internal
oppression and apartheid that takes place within
these borders and has (taken place) historically.
The film tries to say this has never ended. As a
reporter in the mid-70s, I was part of breaking
the story of what happened in New Orleans in 1973
(when the Panthers were arrested and tortured).
I interviewed the men brought to San Francisco
in 1974. What we did was to air on KPFA that some
of the Panthers arrested were subjected to
incredibly violent, tortuous treatment.
And in 1975 some of the cases that were put
together by the San Francisco police and federal
government against former Panthers were thrown
out because at that time, testimony and
statements arrived at through torture could never
stand up in our legal system. Now thats changed,
and this is what we try to point out in the film,
that the government is trying to make torture more acceptable.
Im convinced thats why the state attorney
generals office and the federal government felt
that they could come to the doors of these former
Panthers, the same officers in some cases who
were present for the torture in New Orleans, come
to their doors some 30-odd years later and say,
Remember me? Were going to do this again.
Thats pretty hard to wrap my mind around: to go
to your door and see the man who tortured you in
your youth telling you you are going to go
through this again because the terrain is
somewhat different under the Patriot Act and the
laws have changed. The courts are more reluctant
to sanction the governments abuse of human
rights and civil rights, and so to me thats what the film tries to talk about.
The point it tries to unmask is the consistent
nature of this kind of extra-legal behavior on
the part of the U.S. government and its agents,
despite the Church hearings in 1972 and the
supposed dismantling of Cointelpro, Marks concludes.
The Legacy of Torture moves between interviews
with the men and interpretive reenactments of the
torture scenes, which were just as jarring and
upsetting as if we could see the face of the
actor or hear the cries. The film is a meditation
on what can happen in a democracy when its
caretakers are left to their own devices. Freedom
once again a commodity up for grabs as soon as one stops guarding it.
We have this unique insight from people who have
experienced these events, who are willing to step
forward and try to get people to understand that
its up to us and the kind of movement we build
to force the United States to be accountable for
this illegal, inhumane behavior, because the
courts and government infrastructure and the
elected officials are either unwilling or unable, Marks said.
Legacy of Torture is a visceral experience and
a wake up call. For information on the screening
or the memorial, sponsored by Freedom Archives
and the New College Media Studies Masters Program, call (415) 863-9977.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached
at <mailto:wsab1 at aol.com>wsab1 at aol.com or
The addresses for sending words of encouragement
to the two Panther veterans at the San Francisco
County Jail are Richard ONeal, 2300818, 850
Bryant, 6th Floor, San Francisco CA 94103, and
Richard Brown, 2300819, 850 Bryant, 7th Floor, San Francisco CA 94103.
San Francisco Bay View
4917 Third St.
San Francisco CA 94124
(badly hacked but coming back - soon)
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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