[Ppnews] The assassination of George Jackson
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 21 08:56:27 EDT 2006
A story from this week's San Francisco Bay View on the 35th anniversary
The assassination of George Jackson
Lawyer and political activist Stephen Bingham remembers
George Jackson's funeral
Black Panther archivist Bill Jennings, in his
report, George Jackson Funeral, at
writes: When the (church) doors opened, and we
stepped outside with the body, I saw that the
crowd had grown tremendously. There were people
on rooftops, hanging from telephone poles and
filling the streets. Everyone raised their fists
in the air and chanted Long Live George
Jackson. It was a sight that could set a fire in
your heart. - Photo: Stephen Shames
Last December, in okaying the execution of Stan
Tookie Williams, California Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger went out of his way to smear a
whole history of Black struggle against racism.
The most abuse of all was heaped on George
Jackson whose inclusion in Stans dedication
is a significant indicator that Williams is not
reformed, read Schwarzeneggers statement.
Jackson, author of the widely read prison memoir
Soledad Brother, had been thrown in jail for a
petty robbery, and became a revolutionary behind
bars. He was murdered in August 1971 by guards at
San Quentin prison in an alleged escape attempt.
Stephen Bingham, one of several lawyers working
with Jackson, was accused of being part of the
escape plot. He spoke to Socialist Workers Joe
Allen about George Jacksons legacy and his own fight for justice.
Joe Allen: Could you tell us something about the life of George Jackson?
Stephen Bingham: George grew up in Los Angeles
like many young African Americans, in a hostile
urban environment. He was in minor trouble a lot
as a teen and eventually ended up in prison for a gas station holdup.
Min Yees book Melancholy History of Soledad
Prison explains well what the prison environment
that held him until his death was like.
George objected to the apartheid-like conditions
in prison once famously sitting in the front
row of the segregated movie room and requiring
seven or eight guards to remove him for this Rosa Parks sit-in!
He became a marked man. After the guards at
Soledad Prison orchestrated an interracial yard
fight and their top sharpshooter killed three
Blacks in the yard, a guard was thrown off a tier
and killed. Weeks later, George and two other
inmates, Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette, were
charged with the guards murder.
While the Soledad Brothers were awaiting trial,
George came to the attention of Faye Stender of
the National Lawyers Guild Prison Project. His
letters to her and to his family became the
central part of the book Soledad Brother that
gained international prominence and brought
enormous and unwanted attention on conditions inside Californias prisons.
Joe Allen: Were you surprised that Schwarzenegger
specifically highlighted Jackson in the Stan Tookie Williams case?
Stephen Bingham: I was frankly surprised that the
governor made such an explicit point about George
in his clemency denial for Stan Tookie Williams.
I suspect the governor himself was relatively
clueless about who George was. The question is
who were the minions in the state department or
the governors office itself who decided it was
important to mention Williams admiration for
George, as well as Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis,
Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, Ramona
and John Africa, Leonard Peltier and Dhoruba bin-Wahad.
That the governor refused clemency in part
because Williams admired these people makes his
execution one of the most political executions in modern history.
Joe Allen: How did you become involved in
progressive politics and working as George Jacksons lawyer?
Stephen Bingham: I grew up in a home with good
liberal Democratic Party values in the 1950s, cut
my teeth on the civil rights movement of the
1960s reporting on civil rights issues for my
college newspaper. As a law student at Berkeley
in the late 60s, I became further radicalized by the growing antiwar movement.
I was not Georges criminal defense lawyer. That
was John Thorne. He asked the Bay Area chapter of
the National Lawyers Guild for a volunteer lawyer
to have some exploratory interviews with George,
because he was interested in filing a civil
rights lawsuit challenging the conditions of his
and others detention in the Orwellian-named
Adjustment Center (AC) at San Quentin State
Prison (such a lawsuit was eventually successful). I volunteered.
Joe Allen: The state of California contends that
George was killed during an escape attempt in
1971. Can tell you us something about the circumstances of his death?
Stephen Bingham: The state claimed that on a
visit to George on Aug. 21, 1971, I somehow was
able to smuggle a huge 9-mm Astra gun and a wig
in to George, who allegedly then walked back to
the AC after undergoing at least two strip
searches, where he had to spread his cheeks and
run his fingers through his hair to control for smuggling.
The state says he was able to gain control of the
AC. Three guards and three inmates, including
George, were killed in his escape attempt.
As I said above, Im certain George was targeted.
We know from the trial discovery that George was
a key target of the FBIs Counterintelligence
Program (Cointelpro), but we were never given any documents.
Its clear to me that his responsibility in
bringing international attention to prison
conditions in California brought on him the wrath
of the California Department of Corrections.
This, together with his designation as Field
Marshal of the Black Panther Party, certainly put him in their crosshairs.
Joe Allen: The government also argued that you
were part of his escape attempt. But much later
in 1986, you were acquitted of all charges. Can you talk about that?
Stephen Bingham: I fled for my life in 1971,
convinced I would be killed by jail guards if I
surrendered then. State prison authorities never
properly investigated what happened on Aug. 21.
Many key people who could have possibly shed
light on the events of that day were never
interviewed. The crime scene was scrubbed clean
before any independent investigators were permitted inside.
It was clearly a setup, all the more frightening
politically because it sent a very scary message
to political lawyers: Dont get involved. And in
fact, the event had a very chilling effect on
prison work by lawyers throughout the country for
many years. Its interesting but sad that the
conviction of Lynne Stewart may have a similar effect today. Hopefully not.
I lived in Europe, mostly France, for the next 13
years, returned in 1984 and was acquitted in 1986.
Joe Allen: What type of legal work do you do today?
Stephen Bingham: I work for Bay Area Legal Aid,
which provides civil legal help to poor people
(housing evictions, health access, family law for
domestic violence survivors, public benefits). My
specialty is welfare law, making sure that those
who are entitled to welfare benefits get it.
I also direct a Legal Barriers to Employment
Project, helping those on welfare with a myriad
of legal issues making it hard to get or keep a
job e.g., suspended drivers licenses, criminal
records, credit issues, defaulted student loans.
Joe Allen: What is the legacy of George Jackson that we should remember today?
Stephen Bingham: The legacy of George today is
the ever-present need to have the courage to
boldly confront injustice wherever we find it
whether its based on race, sexual preference,
national origin, disability or any of the other
irrational them -vs.-us distinctions that have
made the world a sometimes ugly place.
We must remain one with the people and realize
that because many who are oppressed still
identify with the oppressor, much of todays work
is helping to change consciousness.
© Copyright Stephen Bingham. This story was first
published March 3, 2006, in Socialist Worker, at
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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