36 years later – COINTELPRO is back! Free the SF 8!

On January 23, 2007, eight men were arrested for the 1971 slaying of San Francisco police Sergeant John Young as well as participating in a conspiracy to “kill police” which allegedly occurred between 1969 and 1973. The case was originally dismissed in 1975 on the grounds that the only evidence was based on the “confessions” of three men, two of them among the defendants, which were extracted through severe and extensive torture. The third man was given immunity in the original trial and has since provided inconsistent, self-contradicting testimony which he himself has recanted. The only other evidence is mysterious forensic evidence consisting of a gun which was never produced and DNA which does not match that of any of the defendants. Were the circumstances of the case not so severe, one would be tempted to see this “investigation” as something more akin to a cross between the Keystone Cops and the CIA’s MKULTRA program than the FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program), but incompetence, illegality, and a complete lack of human decency on the part of the police have never guaranteed an acquittal before, and in today’s “counterterrorist” environment, this is all the more true. Public displays of public awareness and militant action are highly crucial.

The eight men are Herman Bell, Jalil Muntaqim (formerly Anthony Bottom), Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Henry Watson Jones, Richard O’Neal, Harold Taylor, and Francisco Torres. John Bowman and Ronald Bridgeforth were the ninth and tenth people implicated by the police in the case, but John Bowman passed away in 2006 and Ronald Bridgeforth, though still being sought, has not been seen since 1969. Bowman, along with Boudreaux, Brown, Jones, and Taylor, were indicted by a grand jury in 1975, all refused to testify and were subsequently imprisoned until the conclusion of the investigation later that year, whereupon they proceeded to form the Committee to Defend Human Rights and produced the video “Legacy of Torture” which describes the Grand Jury investigation as well as fairly graphic descriptions of the Guantanamo Bay/Abu Ghraib-like “interrogation techniques” originally used against Bowman, Taylor, and self-repudiated “witness” Ruben Scott. All eleven of these men were at the time Black Panther Party members or supporters; it is clear, they were arrested for who they are, not anything they’ve done.

Bowman, Taylor, and Scott were arrested in New Orleans by then-San Francisco policemen Frank McCoy and Ed Erdelatz, who were working in conjunction with the F.B.I., which was then in the midst of the now-infamous “COINTELPRO”, which relied heavily on illegal techniques such as warrantless surveillance, harassment, intimidation, occasional assassinations, keeping organizations swamped in court cases based on manufactured evidence, coerced testimony, and perjury. Bell and Muntaqim have been in prison as a result of another of these spurious cases since 1973. When Bowman, Taylor, and Scott didn’t give the answers McCoy and Erdelatz wanted, they were turned over to the New Orleans police whereupon they were “interrogated” with cattleprods, slapjacks, beatings, verbal abuse, various forms of water torture, and various other means for several days. Though the case was initially thrown out, nobody was ever charged for this. McCoy and Erdelatz now work for the Department of Homeland Security. It was McCoy and Erdelatz who came to Harold Taylor’s home in 2003 to question him as a prelude to the grand jury investigation in 2005. “I haven’t been the same since” says Taylor.

The Black Panther Party was ultimately identified very explicitly as the primary target of COINTELPRO and it was the extreme excesses of an already excessive program used against the Panthers which ultimately brought the program down, at least in name. Unfortunately, many of the illegal tactics used by COINTELPRO “back in the day” are no longer illegal as a result of the Patriot Act. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Some think we should sacrifice our civil liberties for security against the so-called terrorists, but as Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who seek to exchange freedom for security deserve neither.”

Bell and Muntaqim are not eligible for bail due to their continued incarceration on previous charges. The other six defendants were initially given $5,000,000 bail apiece but have since had it reduced on appeal and are, as of this writing, out. All eight, of course, face the possibility of spending the rest of their lives in prison and Bell and Muntaqim face the possibility of a second conviction in addition to the one they have spent the last 34 years behind bars for. It is of paramount importance to bring as much public scrutiny as possible to bear on this and all COINTELPRO-smelling cases as possible, not to mention the Patriot Act and government’s current disregard for whatever marginal adherence to international human rights law it ever had. What you do matters! Please do anything you can to help these brothers.

“MKULTRA” refers to a C.I.A. program in the 1950’s revolving around notoriously bizarre experiments and the use of hallucinogenic drugs as possible truth serums, Weapons of Mass Disorientation, etc.

For more information, contact the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights at freethesf8@riseup.net