Workers Vanguard No. 939

3 July 2009


Drop the Charges Against the SF8 Now!

The following June 6 protest letter was sent by the Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—to California Attorney General Jerry Brown.

The Partisan Defense Committee demands an immediate end to the state’s vindictive prosecution of the San Francisco 8—Richard Brown, Francisco Torres, Ray Boudreaux, Henry “Hank” Jones, Harold Taylor, Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim (Anthony Bottom)—who were arrested in 2007 on frame-up charges of murder and conspiracy in relation to the 1971 death of San Francisco police officer John Young. In more than two years of court hearings, the prosecution has not produced a shred of evidence against these former Black Panthers. Now they face another three months of preliminary hearings, beginning on June 8, to determine if the case will go to trial. The relentless persecution of these men, all of them in their late 50s or older, is a continuation of the government’s decades-long vendetta against the Black Liberation Army and other former Panthers. We demand that all the charges against the SF8 be dropped now!

For close to 40 years, the police have tried to pin the killing of Young on these men. In 1973, two San Francisco police inspectors interrogated three Panther members including one of the current defendants, Harold Taylor, who had been arrested by the New Orleans cops. The three were tortured for several days—stripped naked, blindfolded and beaten, covered with blankets soaked in boiling water, shocked with electric cattle prods on their genitals and anus—until they “confessed.” In 1975, the charges were thrown out of court on the basis that their confessions had been coerced through torture. Thirty years later, the police and government prosecutors were still unsuccessful in obtaining indictments of any of these men despite convening California state and federal grand juries—first in 2003-2004 and later in May and August 2005. But this frame-up was revived again in 2007 when the SF8 were rounded up and arrested on orders from your office of California State Attorney General.

More than two years of court hearings have produced no evidence tying these men to Young’s killing. The “discovery” of a shotgun alleged to be the “missing murder weapon” was found not to match any weapons evidence in the case. Similarly, DNA swabs taken from the defendants in June 2006 did not match any evidence from the crime scene. The prosecution has refused to release fingerprint evidence that exonerates all of these men. The judge ruled against releasing FBI wiretap surveillance of Black Panther phone lines based on an FBI “taint team” affidavit asserting that there had been no wiretap surveillance of the SF8. One need only recall the case of another former Panther, Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) who spent 27 years behind bars for a murder that the FBI and California state officials knew he did not commit. The FBI claimed that it had “lost” wiretaps proving that Geronimo was at an Oakland Panther meeting, 400 miles away from L.A. where and when the murder was committed. Geronimo was released from prison in 1997 when an Orange County Superior Court Judge ruled that he had been denied a fair trial because the prosecution had withheld vital evidence from the defense.

The FBI’s murderous COINTELPRO program took the lives of 38 Panthers. Those they couldn’t kill were framed up and thrown in jail, including Mumia Abu-Jamal who remains on death row today on fabricated charges of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Mumia’s death sentence was secured by the prosecutor’s lying argument that his membership in the Panthers as a teenager “proved” that he had been planning to kill a cop. The prosecution of the SF8 is a continuation of the same COINTELPRO-style frame-up campaign. Together with other fighters against racist injustice, labor unions and federations like the S.F. Labor Council and others, the Partisan Defense Committee demands: Drop the charges now!