[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.
"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."
Freemans 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!)
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
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
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
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