I first wrote about the case of the San Francisco 8 in my Executive Director’s report in the Summer/Fall, 2007 issue of Carry It Forward, the RFC’s newsletter. In 1975 a judge dismissed all charges against three Black Panthers because they had been tortured into “confessing” to slaying a San Francisco police officer in 1971. In January 2007 eight former Black Panthers, including one of the defendants from the 1970’s case, were arrested by the State of California for the same crime. These men, now in their late 50’s to early 70’s, include two politically principled long-term prisoners, Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim, whose families have received RFC support. The other six have led exemplary lives filled with community service.
The government’s case was weak, but the California prosecutors apparently felt that in the post-9/11 climate the courts and jurors might be more sympathetic to the introduction of confessions produced by torture and evidence generated by other COINTELPRO dirty tricks. California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s support of this outrage demonstrated the worst sort of opportunism. But the case never got to a jury because it began to come apart before it really got started.
Many progressives throughout the nation quickly rallied to the activists’ defense. A crack team of defense attorneys took on the case. In 2008 charges against one of the defendants, Richard O’Neal, were dropped. Then in a stunning development, on July 8th, 2009, the prosecution announced it had dropped the charges against Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Harold Taylor and Hank Jones, four of the remaining seven defendants, because it had insufficient evidence against them.
The prosecution agreed to this action in return for Jalil Muntaqim and Herman Bell agreeing to plead "no contest" and "guilty" respectively to sharply reduced charges that carried no additional sentences for them. (For Jalil’s statement go to http://www.sfbayview.com/2009/jalil-a-muntaqim-my-statement-on-the-sf-8-plea-agreement-july-6-2009/. For Herman’s go to http://www.sfbayview.com/2009/on-the-sf8/.)
Francisco Torres, the final defendant, remains free on bond. He maintains his innocence and is scheduled for his next court appearance on August 10th.
The continued imprisonment of Jalil and Herman makes this a bittersweet victory. And there are those who are confused by their acceptance of a plea bargain. Kiilu Nyasha, Black Panther veteran, revolutionary journalist and Bay View columnist who hosts a TV talk show explained it this way:
“For those who think this plea bargain is somehow a sell-out, this is definitely not the case. These brothers still have solidarity with one another and all recognize, as do I, that our fight cannot continue to rely on their system of injustice.” (http://www.sfbayview.com/2009/sf-8-and-supporters-celebrate-a-bittersweet-victory/)
There’s a lot of bad news out there, but I believe this is a great victory that is well worth celebrating.
For more information about the San Francisco 8 visit http://www.freethesf8.org/
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