[News] Legacy of torture by Wanda Sabir

Anti-Imperialist News 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, 
who’d 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 Bowman’s 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 Party’s 40th anniversary weekend, I was 
stunned at the audacity of this government to 
trample the rights of its citizens with impunity. 
Hadn’t they learned that even one’s 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 FBI’s 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 Francisco’s 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 wasn’t 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 he’d never had a good night’s 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 I’m concerned, they don’t have a case. 
They are going forward. They plan to indict us, 
convict us and sentence us. They’ve been telling 
us this for the past three years: ‘Don’t get 
comfortable, because we’re coming after you.’

“Thirty-six years ­ if they had any kind of case, 
they would have arrested us by now. I haven’t been officially charged.”

“Yes, this case bothers or worries me because 
they never let the fact that they didn’t 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. It’s a different time now. 
They don’t 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 O’Neal, 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 Bureau’s 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. government’s 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: ‘Don’t 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 didn’t expect to live,” so 
they didn’t fear death. At 22, he’d 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 wasn’t 
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. I’ve been contending with this for over 30 years.

“In light of what’s going on presently with the 
chief justice sanctioning our president’s use of 
evidence gotten through the use of torture, 
that’s 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 didn’t 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 
they’d 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t actually talk to each other 
before they came back for us in 2005 ­ this crap 
all over again. We thought they’d 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 didn’t know where I was. They kept moving me around.”

WS: The right to a telephone call is not true?

RB: “They didn’t give me a phone call. People 
have to be approved beforehand to receive calls. 
My attorney wasn’t 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 you’d 
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 wasn’t 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 people’s 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. 
It’s one thing to imagine it; it’s another thing 
to go through it. Sometimes it’s 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 you’d live though it?

RB: “I didn’t 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 I’ve been beaten 
while handcuffed. That’s so common for Black 
folks I don’t even call that torture. It’s the MO 
for police to deal with Black people in that 
manner. When they focus on you and try to break 
you, that’s a torture tactic. Police jumping on 
you while you are handcuffed and outnumbered was 
ordinary, even typical behavior.”

WS: Obviously it didn’t 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 you’d 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. That’s 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 wasn’t 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. We’d 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 I’d grow up 
caring about Black people. That’s 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 what’s going on 
nowadays kind of hurts me. The violence that’s 
going on, particularly with the youth, that’s 
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. It’s a symptom of racism and 
slavery. We’ve 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 ­ 
it’s 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 you’d like to share with 
someone doing political organizing work for African or Black liberation?

RB: “We all get tired. You get exhausted, yet you 
can’t give up. You will be successful. If I die 
tomorrow, as far as I’m 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 couldn’t 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 don’t worry about it?

RB: “Do your good work and don’t 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.

“It’s 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 don’t 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 that’s 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 people’s 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.

“It’s 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 
government’s 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 people’s 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 that’s changed, 
and this is what we try to point out in the film, 
that the government is trying to make torture more acceptable.

“I’m convinced that’s why the state attorney 
general’s 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? We’re going to do this again.’

“That’s 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 government’s abuse of human 
rights and civil rights, and so to me that’s 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 
it’s 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 Master’s 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 O’Neal, 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
(415) 671-0789
(badly hacked but coming back - soon)

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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