[Ppnews] Keep Gary Freeman in Canada

Political Prisoner News PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 28 08:46:00 EST 2006

Celebrate Black History Month by Keeping Gary Freeman in Canada!

Stop an Unjust Extradition to the United States!

(Details on how you can help at the end.)

It seems that Black History Month is an 
appropriate time to reflect on the case of one 
Douglas Gary Freeman (the former Joseph Coleman 
Pannell, Jr.), a 56-year-old African American man 
sitting in a Canadian jail almost two years as he 
fights extradition to the United States.

As with Martin Luther King Day, Black History 
Month is often an excellent opportunity missed. 
Focusing on the horrible crimes of slavery, 
colonialism, and the struggles to overcome such 
evils as segregation and apartheid, it sometimes 
feels like "black history" is just that – a 
fascinating, inspiring, yet somehow disconnected 
frame of time unrelated to the present.

Yet there are many from "back then" who are still 
paying the price for standing up, for resisting 
racism (The Angola 3, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, to name a few).

And then there's this Freeman guy. He would be 
the first to admit he's nobody famous. He was 
never a leader or high-profile activist. But 
these are not prerequisites to walk into the 
gun-sights of racist America. All it took in his 
case was a simple matter of the wrong skin 
pigmentation, an incident of racial and political profiling.

March 1969

"Man" had yet to walk on the moon when Freeman, 
then 19 years old, was walking down a Chicago 
street in 1969. It is hard for most people in 
Canada, especially those of us who enjoy what can 
only be described as white skin privilege, to 
imagine what would be going though Freeman's mind 
when he was arbitrarily stopped by a white police 
officer and asked to identify himself. After all, 
this was 1960s Chicago, when the police 
department had a hard-earned reputation as one of 
the most corrupt and brutal in North America. 
Chicago officers were given "shoot-to-kill" 
orders during 1968 disturbances by then Mayor 
Richard J. Daley. A combined city/federal effort 
boosted the police Red Squad and other agents of 
repression to isolate and "neutralize" peace and anti-poverty groups.

The stench of racism hung particularly heavy 
during those years, as Martin Luther King found 
when he was exposed to racist mobs in Chicago far 
worse than any he had survived in the south while 
campaigning for civil rights. Incidents of police 
brutality were an everyday occurrence, and the 
African-American community quite appropriately 
viewed the Chicago police as an occupying army.

During 1969, a committee formed whose title 
painfully illustrated the social scene at the 
time: The Committee to End the Murder of Black 
People. The Chicago police murders of 11 young 
black men, so long a part of daily life that it 
hardly made the news, had reached such 
proportions that the community had to stand up 
and name this police practice for what it was: 
outright murder. According to The Boston Review, 
"In the late 1960s, Chicago police led the nation 
in the slaying of private citizens, who were 
euphemistically characterized as 'fleeing felons' 
to mask the routine use of excessive force by 
police against racial minorities. The police also 
exploited seemingly benign offense categories, 
such as disorderly conduct, vagrancy, and 
loitering to bully minority youths and adults who 
had the audacity to challenge police authority."

Freeman’s Choice: Become a Statistic or a Survivor?

Court documents indicate Mr. Freeman attempted to 
defend himself when his life was threatened. 
Freeman appears to have had two choices: become a statistic, or a survivor.

One could argue over the details of what happened 
that day (and argument is about all one could do, 
since physical evidence was destroyed, and there 
are no surviving police witnesses other than 
Knox), but suffice it to say, Knox was 
hospitalized with a wounded arm, and Freeman was 
jailed. Two weeks after the 1969 incident, 
Freeman was indicted by an all-white jury of his 
non-peers. After a number of years in custody, 
fearing for his life and realizing he could not 
get a fair trial in Chicago, Freeman jumped bail and came to Canada.

Given the intense climate of fear and racism at 
the time, it is unlikely anyone would have 
listened to what Freeman said in his defence. As 
leading civil rights attorney William Kunstler 
wrote in the late 1980s, "For more than twenty 
years my representation of black defendants has 
been motivated by one of my strongest beliefs: that our society is always
racist. None of our institutions, including our 
legal system, deliver on this country's 
fundamental promise that we are all created 
equal, especially those of us not born with white 
skins. ...Rodney King [The L.A. motorist whose 
vicious beating by L.A. police was videotaped 
from afar] brought it home once again: No matter 
what the cops do, even if you have it on tape, they will not be convicted."

It seems Knox and Chicago police knew of 
Freeman's whereabouts in Montreal during the 
1970s, but no one bothered to seek extradition at 
the time. Flash forward some 30 years, and now 
the case is in the news again. Chicago headlines 
scream out hysterical, unfounded accusations 
(from "Black Panther militant" to "accused 
murderer"--hardly the stuff that creates an 
unbiased community pool for jury duty!)

Why Now?

So why now? A full 37 years after the original 
incident? What can be gained? Knox refuses to see 
anyone other than himself as the victim in all 
this. True, his arm was never the same; that is 
unfortunate and sad. But there are still big 
questions that Knox has yet to answer, questions 
that would point to the fact that Freeman  was 
also victimized here: why the arbitrary stopping 
of a mature looking 19-year-old when Knox claimed 
he wanted to ask him if he was in school? Why the 
dramatic discrepancies in the various statements 
Knox has made? Why was the physical evidence 
destroyed? Why does Knox claim he fears Freeman 
is coming after him when Knox's name is in the Chicago phone book?

Freeman does not appear to be the kind of guy who 
recklessly goes about shooting up police 
officers; in fact, he has never been involved in 
another incident like that on March 7, 1969, and 
instead settled down, got married, raised four 
kids in suburban Mississauga, and worked in a 
hardly the life of a criminal fugitive 
hiding out in a mountainside cabin. Indeed, the 
guy was so boring that he forbade violent video 
games and movies in his household. Rather than 
stocking up on beer and shoot-em-ups, he mentored 
his kids' friends on African-American history and 
jazz and related philosophical topics, and paid 
his taxes. His only run-ins with the law seem to 
be for occasionally motoring over the speed limit 
on our nation's highways, a common enough ticketing offence.

Sure, Freeman could go back to Chicago, and plead 
self-defence. He may get off, he may get nailed. 
But surviving until trial might be another 
matter. Knox was a member of the city's notorious 
Red Squad, the subject of massive and, to this 
day, ongoing litigation over that department's 
illegal surveillance, infiltration, and 
disruption of progressive organizations. Any 
trial involving Knox would inevitably bring up 
these memories that Richard Daley, Jr., the 
current mayor, would prefer to keep under the rug.

And loyalties run deep in police departments, 
especially when it comes to suspects who are 
accused of shooting one of their own.

A Racist System Through and Through

Although there were many changes in American 
society during the civil rights era, the years 
under Reagan, Clinton, and Bush I and Bush II 
have served as an attack on and rollback of those 
gains. A simple look at prison statistics reveals 
little has changed. The current U.S. rate of 
incarceration for African American males is four 
times what is was under apartheid South Africa. 
Whereas white males are jailed at a rate of 649 
per 100,000, black males are thrown into prison 
at a rate of 4,810 per 100,000 (as of June, 2002).

Amnesty International reports that "application 
of the death penalty in the United States is 
racially biased -- and in some jurisdictions is 
reserved solely for non-white defendants," 
describing the U.S. justice system as "infected with racial prejudice."

A landmark Human Rights Watch report found 
systematic torture practiced by Chicago police. 
In their 1998 report, Shielded from 
Justice:  Police Brutality and Accountability in 
the United States, the group noted "The People's 
Law Office, an activist firm, conducted an 
investigation and identified sixty-five suspects 
who were tortured by [Chicago Police Commander 
Joe] Burge or other officers and detectives 
between 1972 and 1991...A report by the police 
investigatory agency, the Office of Professional 
Standards (OPS), found that physical abuse 'did 
occur and that it was systematic....[T]he type of 
abuse described was not limited to the usual 
beating, but went into such esoteric areas as 
psychological techniques and planned torture. The 
evidence presented by some individuals convinced 
juries and appellate courts that personnel 
assigned to Area 2 engaged in methodical abuse."

The acknowledgement that police engaged in 
torture goes higher still, as then-Republican 
Governor of Illinois George Ryan in 2003 pardoned 
numerous death row prisoners who said they had 
signed confessions tortured out of them by police 
under the direction of Police Commander Burge. 
CNN reported on January 14, 2003, that Burge "was 
fired after internal police investigators found 
systemic evidence of physical abuse of suspects. 
The four men 'were tortured,' the governor said. 
'There isn't any question about that.'"

Since 1991, appellate courts have thrown out the 
murder confessions of at least 70 defendants in 
[Chicago's] Cook County -- more than half because 
police arrested people with insufficient evidence 
before interrogating them. Taking people into 
custody without probable cause is both illegal 
and a precursor to many false confessions. But in 
Cook County, an appellate judge wrote last year, 
that prohibition is "routinely ignored." (from 
“Coercive and illegal tactics torpedo scores of 
Cook County murder cases”, December 16, 2001)

It is clear that systemic abuses continue to 
occur, and that the allegations against Mr. 
Freeman would make him a prime target for police 
retaliation while in custody. As the Leadership 
Conference on Civil Rights points out, "The 
treatment of minorities in the criminal justice 
system is the most profound civil rights crisis 
facing America in the new century. It undermines 
the progress we have made over the past five 
decades in ensuring equal treatment under the 
law, and calls into doubt our national faith in 
the rule of law....Unequal treatment of 
minorities characterizes every stage of the 
process. Black and Hispanic Americans, and other 
minority groups as well, are victimized by 
disproportionate targeting and unfair treatment 
by police and other front-line law enforcement 
officials; by racially skewed charging and plea 
bargaining decisions of prosecutors; by 
discriminatory sentencing practices; and by the 
failure of judges, elected officials and other 
criminal justice policy makers to redress the 
inequities that become more glaring every day."

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clarke, in an 
August, 2005, Toronto Star Interview, has urged 
Canada to refuse the extradition. "Surely law 
enforcement has something better to do in these 
difficult times, where its resources are 
stretched, than to pursue this man...It is a 
clear sign of either overzealous protection of 
police conduct or a vendetta by an individual 
officer to request extradition after a biblical generation
against an alleged perpetrator who has long since embarked himself on a new
and constructive life."

The Extradition Act: A Rubber Stamp for Shaky Requests

Mr. Freeman's fate lies in the hands of a 
white-run justice system in Canada, where a 
decision about whether to hand Freeman over to 
the U.S. will likely be made this year. That 
decision, already rubber-stamped by a court and 
now awaiting the decision of the Justice 
Minister, hinges to a great deal, according to 
extradition precedents, on faith in the judicial 
system of the extradition partner. Ask anyone on 
the streets of Canada whether they think a black 
man can get a fair trial even in today's U.S., 
and they will likely laugh you to the other side of the street.

Try a simple computer search of Illinois and, 
specifically, Chicago police, and you will find 
up to the minute reports of police brutality and 
racial profiling, torture-induced confessions, 
and mistreatment of inmates at Cok County Jail. 
Ask yourself: if you were in Freeman's shoes, 
would YOU feel comfortable going back to the United States?

Perhaps most galling is the state of Canadian 
law, which allows this country the perceived 
right to hand over someone based on false and 
contradictory evidence. As constitutional law 
expert Gary Botting points out, "The overall 
scheme of the legislation is so patently unfair 
that eventually the Supreme Court of Canada 
should strike down significant parts of the 
Extradition Act, especially those parts dealing 
with evidence, and with the perceived 
apprehension of bias of the Minister of 
Justice/Attorney General in being both the 
prosecutor and the judge at every stage of the procedure."

Indeed, at the recent hearing for his 
extradition, Freeman's attempt to introduce some 
of the contextual, historical background to the 
events of March 1969 was ruled irrelevant. The 
judge also had no problem accepting false and 
contradictory evidence. Rather, all he had to do 
was meet the very narrow guidelines laid out for 
him in the act, and pass Freeman into the hands of the Justice Minister.

And so to this day Freeman sits, and waits, at 
Toronto's Don Jail, a rotten place to spend the night, much less two years.

In the end, if we had a restorative system of 
justice (as opposed to a system based on 
vengeance), this might have a much happier ending 
for two men and their families. Freeman carries 
the weight of history on his shoulders. He is 
someone who has known what it means to feel real, 
skin-tingling fear, to never feel comfortable 
inside his own skin, because that skin comes from 
the wrong end of America's colour divide. And 
then there is Knox. We don't know a lot about 
him, other than that he himself is haunted by 
being shot in the arm and losing its full use. 
And that he cannot help as a white person but 
carry the poisoned inheritance of racism which 
all of us must acknowledge in ourselves if we are to end this vicious cycle.

Under a system of real and compassionate justice, 
these two might be brought together and some 
reconciliation might occur. But we remain 
shackled to a system based on punishment and 
informed by bias, fear, and hatred.

Given the unlikelihood of a total transformation 
of the two judicial systems, we are left with a 
number of questions. How are the best interests 
of justice served by sending Freeman away from 
his family to face possible punishment both 
before and after a trial? Would YOU feel 
comfortable being sent to the United States if 
you were in his shoes, based on a story that 
seems to keep changing? As with any traumatic 
act, there needs to be some form of closure. This 
just doesn't seem to be the right way to do it.

Get involved in the effort to keep Gary Freeman in Canada!

1.      Sign the online petition at 

2.      Download a copy of the petition, have 
your friends sign it, and return it to this address:

             Family & Friends of Gary Freeman

             H – 110 Frederick Street

             Toronto, ON

             M5A 4A9

3.      Write to the new Minister of Justice Vic 
Toews asking that he not sign the order of 
surrender for extradition (sample letter at 

4.      Contribute to the defense fund (see 
details at 

5.      Write letters of support to Gary Freeman 
-- for his address, e-mail us at <mailto:freemandrum at web.ca>freemandrum at web.ca
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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