8 Principles for Aspiring People’s Lawyers

This was a speech originally given by People’s Law Office attorney Michael Deutsch this Spring at the 2017 Midwest Regional National Lawyers Guild Conference. 

I also want to welcome you and recognize your commitment to be here so early on a Saturday morning. These meetings are really important to share strategies, experiences and to provide the fuel of comradeship that keeps us fighting for justice in all aspects of our work.

One of the perks/ consequences of having reached senior status, and having been around so long, is being asked to share my insights on the representation of the victims of political repression.  To be sure we are entering dark and really uncharted waters, with what I would characterize as the neo fascist take- over of the executive branch of the federal government, and the very real potential of a sea change in the make-up of the federal judiciary, with the potential given the present vacancies and the attrition of the appointment of hundreds of new judges, as well as the control of state governments by conservative forces which are moving to rewrite laws to up the ante against those who protest.

However, despite the dire potential, we still have the trappings of so-called liberal or neo liberal democracy, where we have courts mandated to enforce  the constitution and juries composed independent citizens.

The historic reality that the U.S. was never a real democracy, racism, sexism and exploitation, has always been with us, and as a result we have had a long history of resistance and of repression.  In my own legal experience, I have seen the attacks on the anti-Viet Nam war movement, including the coordinated use of nation-wide grand juries under Nixon to imprison leaders, the Co-intelpro  program which targeted BLM imprisoning and assassinating  its leaders / the Attica massacre and its aftermath of indictments of the prisoners, the siege of Wounded knee the attacks on the PRIM, here and in Puerto Rico, the attacks of the CA Sanctuary movement, the use  after 9/11of  federal “terrorism”  laws to criminalize solidarity work, particularly against  Muslims and the Palestinian solidarity movement, and the passage of broad state terrorism laws to charge Occupy activists.  And countless other acts of repression against workers, woman’s rights, the LGBT community, environmental and animal rights activists and the wholesale attacks and deportations of millions of immigrants.

So I want to share with you some principles I have distilled from my own experiences as a lawyer in many of these struggles. I was very fortunate as a young lawyer to have the opportunity to work with the Attica Brothers in their fight for justice. And many of the experiences I had there were repeated in the subsequent political cases that I have had the privilege of being involved in.

Of course, some of these ideas should be obvious and others will not apply universally, but I humbly offer them for your consideration.

  1. First and foremost, as much as possible take leadership from your clients.  Understand their politics and their goals, specifically as it applies to your legal representation.  At Attica we had 60 brothers charged with 1400 hundred felony counts It was our job to translate in the courtroom and if called upon outside to explain that they were not the criminals, but the victims of a massacre and a subsequent orgy of brutality.  To do so we had to understand what caused the rebellion and the State’s cover-up.

When you represent a Grand jury resister, be clear if their position is non-collaboration, regardless of  immunity andimprisonment.  In the case of PRIM activists accused of being members of the FALN, they made a collective decision to not recognize the jurisdiction of the Court and demand POW status. This decision was a difficult one for a lawyer used to contesting the facts, but we accepted this position, prepared motions supporting their position under international law and took their case to international forums. Not surprisingly, they were convicted, but set the political stage, that they were not criminals, for their release as political prisoners.  In contrast , Independence activists accused in Hartford of being member of the Macheteros, fought their case on the facts, while still raising political issues.

  1. Secondly, we must work with the community of supporters of your clients. We must explain carefully your strategy as much as possible and listen to their views and concerns. Hundreds of people from all across the progressive spectrum were moved to support the Attica brothers, while our relationships were not always amiable, we felt an obligation to respect their support and provide them with information.
  2. Work collectively with co-defendants and their lawyers. Unity is key here. In multi-defendant cases, there may be strategy, political and style differences between the lawyers, but a collective coordinated defense ensures a stronger, clearer, presentation and minimizes the possibilities of  a defendant isolated and choosing to become a state’s witness.   In the Pontiac prison case, in which 17 young Black men faced the death penalty we had 20 different criminal defense lawyers who were used to representing their own individual clients, but after much struggle and meetings and sharing the unity of Attica, all agreed to work together with a joint strategy.  All were acquitted or had their cases dropped.
  3. As much as possible put the Govt/State on trial. look for ways in your motion practice to raise the political issues inherent in your case.  Selective enforcement, political motivation, international law, government vindictive prosecution or misconduct to raise political issues. Use discovery to expose surveillance, spying,  the names of informants and make it burdensome on the prosecution.
  4. Be creative!  Think of ways to expose the political/repressive nature of the prosecution.  In the case of Muhammad Salah, who was tortured in Israel, we kept demanding the protocols and procedures allowed by the Israeli interrogators, which the Court denied as classified. We kept insisting and ultimately the Court allowed us stipulations to be read to the jury about the Israeli methods, which were akin to torture. This was determinative in convincing the jury that he confession was coerced and unreliable.

In the case of the NATO 3 charged with material support for terrorism, – a 40 year potential sentence -we convinced the court to instruct the jury on a lesser included charge of mob action, a misdemeanor

  1. Act with courage. Don’t be afraid to raise political issues or challenge the prosecution’s good faith or the impartiality of the court.  In  Rasmea  Odeh’s case we moved to recuse the Judge because of his close ties to the State of Israel.  He angrily denied the motion, but later when it was exposed that his family had a financial interest in an Israeli business that was bombed he had to step down.
  2. Be Resilient.  Don’t let bad rulings or difficult facts deter you. Study the history of political cases and what lawyers did right and what they did wrong.
  3. See yourself as part of the resistance movement. Your legal skills as your contribution.  Fight for your clients and for justice!

With Executive Order on Policing, Trump Declares Racialized War on Dissent

By Flint Taylor

On the heels of the much ballyhooed meeting that an obsequious Donald Trump conducted this week with local law enforcement officials from across the country, the president titillated the gendarmes with a threat to destroy — COINTELPRO style — an unnamed Texas state senator rumored to be introducing legislation to prevent law enforcement from financing police operations by seizing arrestees’ property before they have been found guilty in a court of law. On Thursday, Trump followed up with an executive order that gave the recently confirmed Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions a carte blanche to bring down the wrath of the federal government on anyone who is unfortunate enough to have a confrontation with a cop, a prison guard, a border patrol officer or who knows who else outfitted with a badge and carrying a gun.

At first blush, the order could be seen simply as a wildly unpopular president playing macho man to our nation’s police departments and their reactionary police unions. The unions have been chafing over being curbed by the previous administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ), which, by means of pattern-or-practice investigations and consent decrees, started to put the brakes on racist police violence. On its face, Trump’s new order looks like much bluster, with no enforcement mechanisms. Many of the provisions will need to be passed by Congress, receive funding and ultimately, pass constitutional muster — a hurdle that the authoritarian Trump administration, with its white supremacist hatchet men at the helm, seems unwilling to pay even a trifling respect.

On further analysis, however, the order can be read as an official authorization, from one white supremacist — Steve Bannon — to another — Jeff Sessions — to pursue the most racist and reactionary criminal legal policies in recent memory. The overriding theme of the order is “to develop strategies led by the Department of Justice … to further enhance the protection and safety of Federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers.” What first comes to mind, quite intentionally, no doubt, are cops killed in the line of duty, the shooting in Dallas being the most prominent recent example. The policy statement — either explicitly or implicitly — appeals to fears about people of color and the demonization of Black Lives Matter (BLM), resonating with the barely coded racist refrains of “blue lives matter” and “law and order.”

Within the rubric of that declaration, and the details that follow in cold and calculating procession, the order, at bottom, takes aim at protesters, most urgently the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, BLM protesters across the nation, people protesting the Muslim ban and many others who practice acts of civil disobedience that bring them into conflict with law enforcement. Not content with local prosecutors dealing with these confrontations, this order encourages Sessions and his Department of Justice to find more punitive federal laws to charge protesters, to seek the passage of new federal laws to further aid this effort and to seek new mandatory minimum sentences to enhance the punishment of protesters, all under the guise of protecting law enforcement from “violence.”

Additionally, the order directs the Department of Justice to work with other federal agencies — no doubt the FBI, CIA and NSA prominent among them — to “develop an executive branch strategy to prevent violence against Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.” As I typed those words, I had a chilling realization: This was the same rationale, and almost the exact same language, that the notorious J. Edgar Hoover used in his COINTELPRO directives that targeted Black liberation leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Fred Hampton and their organizations, and permitted wildly illegal government surveillance and orchestrated state violence during the 1960s.

The order also calls for the DOJ to evaluate “all grant funding programs currently administered by the DOJ to determine the extent to which its grant funding supports and protects” law enforcement and to seek legislation that would “adequately support and protect” these agencies. What seems apparent from these provisions is that funding for police reforms in training, discipline, monitoring and the like will be quashed, while funds for wartime armaments such as SWAT tanks, drones, high-powered weapons and sophisticated 21st-century surveillance will be the norm.

This order, like the similar legislation that the American Legislative Exchange Council is pushing on the state level, is designed to criminalize and quash dissent. Like the attack on the media, it is aimed at defeating, with broad authoritarian strokes, growing popular opposition to a wannabe neo-fascist regime. Wrapped in “law and order” and protecting the police, the next target after those who practice civil disobedience may well be the millions who have been taking to the streets.

Yet, clearly, executive repression will not signal the end of resistance. This battle will continue to be waged in the streets, in the media and in the courts. Our very existence depends on the outcome.

This article was originally published in Truthout on February 10, 2017

Feb. 17 Legal Community Strikes Back on #F17!

At 1 PM (EST) on Friday, Feb. 17 (#F17), #LawStrikesBack! Lawyers, legal workers, law students, paralegals, court interpreters, investigators, social service advocates, and others who work in the courts will gather in front of courthouses across the country in coordination with the nationwide #GeneralStrike planned for the same day. We are asking NLG members and chapters to start planning a local action in your area! Let the National Office know if your chapter is planning an event so we can help publicize.

This is an opportunity for the legal community to express our solidarity with the growing movements against the new regime and its white supremacist agenda. Engage your local community! Invite speakers, make signs, and share with your legal colleagues and allies!

If your legal organization would like to co-sponsor this event, please email NLG Director of Research and Education Traci Yoder at traci@nlg.org.

Join the event on Facebook! www.facebook.com/events/594032757473549

SPREAD THE WORD! Use #LawStrikesBack along with #F17 and #GeneralStrike.

Sponsored by:
National Lawyers Guild
Center for Constitutional Rights
Law4BlackLives
People’s Law Office
Sugar Law Center for Social and Economic Justice
Water Protector Legal Collective
LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Abolitionist Law Center
Palestine Legal
TGI Justice Project (TGIJP)
Defending Dissent Foundation/ Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Sylvia Rivera Law Project

People’s Law Office Wins Landmark Wrongful Conviction Case

People’s Law Office attorneys have won a landmark wrongful conviction case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. PLO represented William Avery in a wrongful conviction case in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and obtained a substantial jury verdict to compensate Avery for the 6 years he was wrongfully imprisoned. Avery was convicted of a murder that DNA testing later showed had been committed by a serial murderer, Walter Ellis. Avery then filed suit against the police officers who made up evidence against him—including a confession they falsely claimed Avery had given them and statements from so-called jailhouse snitches claiming Avery had admitted the murder to them.

At the jury trial in Milwaukee, PLO attorneys were able to establish that the “confession” was totally fabricated by detectives and that Avery had consistently asserted that he was innocent. Also, prisoners who previously claimed that Avery had admitted to the murder told the civil jury they had told the detectives that this was not true, and that Avery had made no such admissions. Although the detectives claimed they did nothing wrong they were significantly impeached during cross-examination and the jury believed Avery over them, and returned a verdict in his favor. But the trial judge, citing “mixed signals” from the court of appeals, took away the verdict and entered judgment for the defendants.

But in the appeal, Avery and PLO prevailed. The appeals court held that Avery’s claims of fabrication of evidence “fall comfortably within our decision in Whitlock v. Brueggemann, 682 F.3d 567 (7th Cir. 2012) [another People’s Law Office case], so the jury’s verdict was legally sound and must be reinstated in its entirety.” In a unanimous opinion, authored by Judge Diane Sykes, the court, again citing Whitlock, held that “We have consistently held that a police officer who manufactures false evidence against a criminal defendant violates due process if that evidence is later used to deprive the defendant of [his] liberty in some way.” While to most of us it seems obvious that police officers who make up evidence that causes a wrongful conviction have violated the person’s constitutional rights, many trial level courts, like the district court here, have held that such plaintiffs could not sue under federal law, and were limited to pursuing remedies, often totally inadequate, under state law. The Avery decision decisively rejected this reasoning and will be extensively cited by other plaintiffs pursuing wrongful conviction claims. You can read the full text of the opinion here.

The case now goes back to the trial court in Milwaukee where PLO will immediately have the jury’s judgment for Mr. Avery reinstated and will then move for attorneys’ fees in addition to the jury verdict. In this way PLO will seek to have Mr. Avery receive the full amount of the jury award, without any reductions for attorney’s fees. This case is the latest in a long line where PLO has been able to obtain jury verdicts for wrongfully convicted clients and then defend the verdict on appeal, often obtaining groundbreaking decisions that increase the rights of civilians, obtain monetary compensation for the injured person, and ensure that police who intentionally violate the U.S. Constitution are held accountable for their egregious misconduct.

Chicago’s Brutal Example

by 

A new Department of Justice report shows that Chicago police have proven immune to reform.

Only days after Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was questioned at a raucous Senate confirmation hearing about what his views on systemic police violence would be as US attorney general, the civil rights division of the Department of Justice issued its official report on the Chicago Police Department.

In official findings that should surprise no one that has lived in Chicago over the last several decades, the report was a scathing ninety-thousand-word indictment of the CPD. It first broadly found that the CPD “engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional use of force. ”

The report is worth quoting at length for what it claims about the department. It found the CPD

Uses Deadly Force in Violation of the Fourth Amendment and Department Policy;

Uses Less-Lethal Force in Violation of the Fourth Amendment and Department Policy;

Does Not Effectively Use Crisis Intervention Techniques to Reduce the Need for Force;

Fails to Accurately Document and Meaningfully Review Officers’ Use of Force, thereby Perpetuating a Pattern of Unreasonable Force, and that

Video Evidence Suggests a Broader Pattern or Practice of Unconstitutional Use of Force.

The report then went on to condemn, in rich detail, the systemic failures of the CPD in the interconnected areas of discipline, training, supervision, and control. Together with a pervasive police code of silence, in the report’s words, all “contribute to the CPD’s pattern and practice of unconstitutional conduct.”

In the crucial area of police discipline, the DOJ found that

the City has put in place policies and practices that impede the investigation of officer misconduct;

investigations that CPD does conduct are neither complete nor fair;

insufficient staffing contributes to [the Independent Police Review Authority]’s investigative deficiencies;

investigations lack timely resolutions, undermining the quality of investigations and credibility of the process;

CPD and the City do not take sufficient steps to prevent officers from deliberately concealing misconduct;

the City’s discipline system lacks integrity and does not effectively deter misconduct.

The DOJ also found that the CPD’s programs to identify and monitor problem officers, particularly those who are repeatedly accused of police misconduct — known in police parlance as an “early warning system” — were, in practice, effectively nonexistent. It also underscored the CPD’s lack of transparency, particularly in the areas of the use of force and police discipline, and its backward and counterproductive approach to how it “collects, organizes, analyzes, tracks, and reports on available data and data trends.”

Most significantly, without ever using the term, the DOJ report, in a characteristically understated manner, also described the entrenched racism, both individual and systemic, that still defines the CPD and its day-to-day interactions with the communities of color and the criminal justice system. Couched in its overriding finding that the CPD should institute true and effective “community policing” to combat the escalating murder rate in Chicago’s poor communities of color, the DOJ found that

raw statistics show that CPD uses force almost ten times more often against blacks than against whites. As a result, residents in black neighborhoods suffer more of the harms caused by breakdowns in uses of force, training, supervision, accountability, and community policing.

Additionally, the DOJ found that the CPD “has tolerated racially discriminatory conduct that not only undermines police legitimacy, but also contributes to the pattern of unreasonable force,” and that its “review of complaints of racially discriminatory language found repeated instances where credible complaints were not adequately addressed.”

The DOJ underscored the impact that this entrenched police racism has had on Chicago’s communities of color:

The CPD must recognize the extent to which this type of misconduct contributes to a culture that facilitates unreasonable force and corrodes community trust. We have serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers and the degree to which that conduct is tolerated and in some respects caused by deficiencies in CPD’s systems of training, supervision and accountability. In light of these concerns, combined with the fact that the impact of CPD’s pattern or practice of unreasonable force fall heaviest on predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods, restoring police-community trust will require remedies addressing both discriminatory conduct and the disproportionality of illegal and unconstitutional patterns of force on minority communities.

Of course the existence — and even the recognition — of these and other related problems within the CPD is far from new.

In the past half-century, Chicago police violence and cover-up began with Mayor Richard J. Daley’s infamous “shoot to kill” order against African-American “looters” during the uprising after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in April 1968 and the police riots later that year during the Democratic National Convention.

The police assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton came the following year, and the next four decades are marked by the Jon Burge torture scandal, a scandal so broad and deep that it has now been shown to involve the entire command structure of the Chicago Police Department, two Chicago mayors, and at least one state’s attorney of Cook County.

Bringing this history to the present, we have the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald, exposed for all to see by a video that the CPD, the Cook County prosecutor, and perhaps Mayor Emanuel himself suppressed for a year. The video, which shows the black teenager being shot by CPD officer Jason Van Dyke sixteen times, speaks volumes about all the other untold numbers of unjustified police shootings and beatings that were covered up by the department and its code of silence before the current era of videotaped police atrocities.

Evidence and findings that parallel those made by the Justice Department have been repeatedly set forth in court decisions, jury verdicts, lawsuits, expert reports, and official and unofficial investigations that also span the past five decades. In 1972, Congressman Ralph Metcalfe conducted an investigation of racist police violence in Chicago that led to the establishment of the Office of Professional Standards, the failed precursor to the police disciplinary agency that was so roundly castigated by the DOJ in its report.

After the US Supreme Court paved the way in 1978 with a decision that permitted private civil rights lawsuits to challenge unconstitutional police patterns and practices, lawyers at the People’s Law Office, where I work as an attorney, brought numerous suits spanning the next two decades that uncovered the detailed evidence of systemic police wrongdoing that the DOJ updated with its exhaustive current investigation.

In the early 1990s, police practices expert Lou Reiter, a former police lieutenant, filed a pattern and practice opinion in a police brutality case that mirrored the findings of the DOJ in the areas of code of silence, racially biased policing, “repeater beater” cops, and failures to adequately discipline, supervise, train, and monitor officers who had engaged in wrongdoing, and concluded that these systemic failures led to a pattern and practice of unconstitutional use of force.

More recently, a federal jury found that the CPD operates under a code of silence in which officers do not “snitch” on each other over matters of wrongdoing, the city admitted that the CPD had engaged in repeated acts of torture and awarded reparations to nearly sixty of its victims, and two reports commissioned by the city — one before, one after the McDonald video — made many of the same findings that the DOJ has now set forth in more comprehensive detail.

Victims of police violence, community activists, and veterans of the never-ending battle against systemic police violence have posed some questions: why did it take so long? Victims of police abuse and police reform advocates have been clamoring for a DOJ investigation for nearly twenty years, but found the door barred until the McDonald video broke it down.

Why did the investigation not address related issues to those that it did address — most particularly the epidemic of racial profiling in arrests, stops, and searches — and in the thousands of illegal detentions and frequent police violence taking place at the CPD’s secret interrogation site known as Homan Square?

And why did the DOJ focus only on community policing and not on the pressing issue of community control of police and a truly independent citizens’ review board to control police discipline?

Beyond these questions loom several larger ones. While the report is exhaustive in its documentation of the abysmal state of the Chicago Police Department, and makes ten pages worth of detailed recommendations, nothing is assured with regard to implementation beyond a brief agreement in principle that Mayor Emanuel and the head of the DOJ’s civil rights division signed that they would jointly “negotiate in good faith” “reforms to ensure sustainable, constitutional, and effective policing,” which would “include reforms of the CPD’s use of force practices, and accountability mechanisms, as well as its training, community policing, supervision, data collection, officer wellness systems and promotion practices.”

This agreement would be enshrined in a “comprehensive settlement in the form of a consent decree” that would be entered as a federal district court order and would be monitored by an independent third party. Beyond that, there was no assurance that any of detailed DOJ recommendations would appear as part of the consent decree.

More important is the good faith of the parties to make good on this agreement. At the helm of the DOJ, we will now have Jefferson Sessions, a great grandson of the Confederacy who is on record as opposing pattern and practice investigations because, in his view, they unjustly condemn an entire police department for the sins of a few “bad apples.”

Sessions is a trusted friend of police unions, which, with their reactionary and racist attitudes, have always stood as a primary roadblock — both in Chicago and nationally — to meaningful and lasting reform. The only question seems to be how drastically oppositional President Trump’s Department of Justice will be when it comes to combating systemic police violence.

On the other side of the coin is Mayor Emanuel and the CPD. How committed will they be to the recommendations of the DOJ report absent the hammer of a Justice Department that is committed to using the power of the Constitution and the federal court to compel the city to fully comply with its recommendations?

To date, they have acted only in response to the pressure of a mass movement lead by Black Lives Matter and the spotlight of the media. There is little confidence in their resolve to make the fundamental reforms that are required to change the police culture absent the DOJ hammer.

But this raises a question: is police reform doomed from the start?

As one anonymous person aptly noted to DOJ investigators, Chicago police officers act like they are an “occupying force” in Chicago’s poor and marginalized communities of color. Is this an aberration, or the actual purpose for the men in blue?

It is clear that an organized, racially diverse movement led by young people of color can make a real difference in the struggle to transform this entrenched police culture. But in the end, maybe the demand of Black Lives Matter is the only long-term solution: defund the police and devote the money to services and education in those communities where the police more frequently “harass and terrorize” than “serve and protect.”

This article was originally published in JACOBIN on January 25, 2017 

Oscar Lopez Rivera To Be Freed After 35 Years in U.S. Prison!

We are thrilled to announce that today President Obama made the wise and just decision to grant unconditional executive clemency to Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, who served 35 years in U.S. prison. 
 
Heeding the will of the Puerto Rican people, who spoke from the Island and the diaspora in one, united voice; Pope Francis; Jimmy Carter; Nobel Peace Prize Laureates such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU; the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda; René Pérez, Lin Manuel Miranda; much of Latin America; and millions of other voices, the president has granted an unconditional commutation which will result in Mr. López Rivera’s release no later than 120 days from now, or May 17. Details will follow. 
 
Oscar is grateful for all the love and solidarity – in Puerto Rico, in the United States, and throughout the world – that made this happen.

Johnnie Lee Savory, Wrongfully Convicted at the Age of 14, Files Damages Lawsuit

Attorneys for Johnnie Lee Savory, who, at the age of 14, was wrongfully convicted of a double murder that he did not commit, have today filed a civil rights damages suit against the City of Peoria and numerous Peoria police officers. The suit alleges that these officers, acting jointly,repeatedly violated Savory’s constitutional rights while framing him for these crimes despite having no credible evidence to support the charges that they brought against him. It alleges that the police defendants subjected Johnnie to an unconstitutional police interrogation lasting 31 hours which was physically and psychologically coercive, that they unconstitutionally coerced witnesses into giving false testimony against him, and that they unconstitutionally suppressed and destroyed evidence that would have exonerated him. The suit further asserts that the physical evidence which was not destroyed further established that Savory was innocent, and that the police ignored and suppressed evidence that pointed to other more likely suspects. The suit also names the City of Peoria for having policies, practices and customs that caused the wholesale violation of Savory’s constitutional rights.

The suit also sets forth how profoundly his wrongful conviction and illegal imprisonment impacted Savory’s life. In 1977, at the age of 14, Johnnie was charged with killing his best friend and his best friend’s sister, and faced the death penalty. Despite his innocence, he was convicted, labeled as the worst kind of violent criminal, and sentenced to 50 to 100 years in the penitentiary. Finally, 30 years later, at the age of 44, he was released on parole, and had to fight for another eight years before he received a pardon from the Governor. Having lost his youth and young adulthood to dehumanizing prison life, Johnnie has nonetheless devoted himself since his release to giving support to other wrongfully convicted prisoners, and to starting his own family. While Johnnie knows that no amount of money can fully compensate him for what he has lost, he believes that this lawsuit will bring him some measure of long delayed justice.

The Assassination of Fred Hampton: 47 Years Later

Photograph of the funeral of Fred Hampton, which was attended by over 5,000 people mourning his killing by members of the Chicago Police Department.

Photograph of the funeral of Fred Hampton, which was attended by over 5,000 people mourning his killing by members of the Chicago Police Department. (Photo: Paul Sequeira)

On this very day, as the Army Corps of Engineers and police forces from Morton County North Dakota and nine surrounding states gather their collective forces and fearsome weaponry in an effort to evict the proud and peaceful Indigenous Water Protectors from their sacred land at Standing Rock, and thousands of veterans gather to protect them from concussion grenades, water hoses, rubber bullets and God knows what else, it is profoundly appropriate to reflect on the courage and leadership of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and revisit the sordid history of his assassination at the hand of a conspiracy between local law enforcement and the FBI 47 years ago.

On December 4, 1969, 47 years ago today, a select unit of Chicago police officers executed a predawn raid that left Illinois Black Panther Party (BPP) leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark dead and several other young Panthers wounded. The seven survivors of the raid were arrested on fraudulent attempted murder charges. The officers who committed the execution were specially assigned to Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan. The claims of a “shootout” that were made by Hanrahan and his men were soon exposed as bald-faced lies: the physical evidence definitively established that the raiders fired nearly 100 shots at the sleeping Panthers, while only one shot could be linked to a Panther weapon.

However, as was painstakingly proved over the next eight years, the false official claim of a violent confrontation was only one layer of a massive conspiracy that was also designed to cover up the central role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its COINTELPRO program in the murderous raid.

The headstone of slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Haynesville, Louisiana, has been riddled by a barrage of bullets from unidentified night riders. Flint Taylor -- one of the lawyers for Hampton's family -- recently journeyed to Haynesville to eulogize Fred Hampton’s mother, Iberia, a devoted mother and courageous activist who passed away in October 2016. He discovered this desecration of Hampton's grave at that time. (Credit: Flint Taylor)The headstone of slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Haynesville, Louisiana, has been riddled by a barrage of bullets from unidentified night riders. Flint Taylor — one of the lawyers for Hampton’s family — recently journeyed to Haynesville to eulogize Fred Hampton’s mother, Iberia, a devoted mother and courageous activist who passed away in October 2016. He discovered this desecration of Hampton’s grave at that time. (Credit: Flint Taylor)

Just after the raid that killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, the Minister of Defense for the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Rush, declared that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI were responsible for the raid. However, at that time there was no hard proof. The first documentation that supported Rush’s claim came in 1971 when activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and liberated a trove of FBI documents. These documents outlined the FBI’s super-secret and highly illegal COINTELPRO program and its focus in the 1960s on the Black liberation movement and its leaders. Using Malcolm X as an example, Hoover directed all of the Bureau’s offices to “disrupt, misdirect, and otherwise neutralize” African American organizations and leaders including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Nation of Islam, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown.

In Chicago, a major breakthrough came in 1973 when it was revealed that Chicago BPP Chief of Security William O’Neal was a paid informant for the FBI. Lawyers at the People’s Law Office (full disclosure: I was one of those lawyers) had filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the Hampton and Clark families and the raid survivors shortly after the raid, and they subpoenaed the Chicago FBI’s files on O’Neal. While the FBI only produced a tiny fraction of the relevant files, an honest Assistant US Attorney produced an FBI memorandum that included a detailed floor plan of the interior of Fred Hampton’s apartment that specifically identified the bed on which Hampton slept. The memo, on its face, showed that the floor plan, together with other important information designed to be utilized in a police raid, was based on information communicated by O’Neal to his FBI control agent, and that the agent supplied this information to State’s Attorney Hanrahan’s office before the raid.

The lawyers then focused on discovering more details about the FBI’s involvement in the conspiracy. We sought the Chicago office’s COINTELPRO file in order to establish a direct link between the FBI’s illegal program and the raid on December 4. At the same time, Idaho Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations (Church Committee), which was created in the wake of the Watergate scandal, was investigating rampant abuses by all US intelligence agencies, including the FBI. In late 1975 a Church Committee attorney informed the People’s Law Office lawyers that the Committee had obtained several Chicago documents that definitively established the link. Armed with the content of the still secret documents, the lawyers were able to convince the judge, who had previously refused to compel the FBI to produce the Chicago COINELPRO file, to order the FBI to do so. In the file that was subsequently produced were several documents that revealed the FBI’s efforts to foment gang violence against Hampton and the Chicago Panthers, and one dated December 3, 1969, that claimed the impending raid as part of the COINTEPRO program.

In January 1976 the trial of the Fred Hampton civil case began in Federal Court. Two months into what would turn out to be the longest trial in federal court history, O’Neal’s FBI control agent inadvertently revealed that the FBI had not produced all of its files on Hampton, O’Neal, the raid survivors and the Chicago BPP. The judge reluctantly ordered that they do so, and the next day a government lawyer wheeled in on shopping carts nearly 200 volumes of FBI files that had been suppressed since they were first requested three years before. The government produced several redacted volumes of these files each day over the next month. The files contained directives to destroy the Panther’s Breakfast for Children Program and disrupt the distribution of the BPP newspaper; reports showing that the dynamic and charismatic 21-year-old Fred Hampton was a targeted BPP leader; materials demonstrating that O’Neal was an agent provocateur; and massive wiretap “overhears” (logs that included conversations between BPP members and their attorneys).

Among the government’s documentation was O’Neal’s control file. In it was yet another smoking gun: memos to and from FBI headquarters and the Chicago office requesting and approving payment of a $300 bonus — 30 pieces of silver — to reward O’Neal for his role in the raid. According to the memos, O’Neal’s information was of “tremendous value” and, in the words of O’Neal’s COINTELRO supervisor, made the raid a “success.”

That same month, on April 23, 1976, the Church Committee released its final staff report, which devoted an entire chapter to the “FBI’s Covert Action Plan to Destroy the Black Panther Party.” The chapter concluded by highlighting the Hampton raid as a COINTELPRO operation and quoting from the recently uncovered “bonus” documents.

The judge, an unabashed supporter of the FBI, exonerated the FBI and its DOJ lawyers of any wrongdoing in suppressing the documents. A year later, he dismissed O’Neal and the other FBI defendants from the case. On April 23, 1979, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in a landmark 2-1 decision, overturned the trial judge, finding that the FBI and their government lawyers “obstructed justice” by suppressing documents. The Court of Appeals also concluded that there was “serious evidence” to support the conclusion that the FBI, Hanrahan and his police unit had participated in a “conspiracy designed to subvert and eliminate the Black Panther Party and its members” in planning and executing the raid, thereby suppressing a “vital radical Black political organization.” The Court of Appeals further found that the evidence additionally supported the conclusion that these same defendants also participated in a post-raid conspiracy to “cover up evidence” regarding the raid, “to conceal the true character of their pre-raid and raid activities,” to “harass the survivors of the raid” and to “frustrate any legal redress the survivors might seek.” This decision survived a challenge in the US Supreme Court, and stands to this day as a unique judicial recognition of outrageous federal and local conspiratorial criminality and cover-up.

As we enter the uncharted waters of a volatile Trump presidency, with an unrepentant Ku Klux Klan sympathizer slated to head up the Justice Department, it is important not to relegate the Hampton assassination and COINTELPRO to the annals of history. Particularly in an era of officially sanctioned drone assassinations, government provocateurs running wild, and a presidential election in which the “winner” appears to have benefited from international and FBI COINTELPRO-like actions, while the “loser” used similar tactics against her opponent in the primaries, it is well to remember a quote from a 1964 COINTELPRO directive:

Over the years, our approach to investigative problems in the intelligence field has given rise to a number of new programs, some of which have been most revolutionary, and it can be presumed that with a continued aggressive approach to these programs, new and productive ideas will be forthcoming. These ideas will not be increased in number or improved upon from the standpoint of accomplishments merely through the institution of a program such as COINTELPRO which is given another name and in fact, only encompasses everything that has been done in the past or will be done in the future.

For Black Lives Matter, the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, undocumented workers, Muslims, environmental activists, and a multitude of other people and organizations, the future, as contemplated in the 1964 COINTELRO memo and implemented in its most violent and racist form on December 4, 1969, may well be upon us again. The only answer now, as it was then, is to organize, educate and resist. And, as Fred Hampton would say, “All Power to the People.”

Dispatch From Little Rock: A Local Win in the Ongoing Fight Against Police Violence

Spencer Ellison, whose unarmed father was shot to death by police officers in his own home, addresses attendees at the City of Little Rock's dedication of a public bench in memory of his father on November 4, 2016. Ellison and his brother brought a federal civil rights lawsuit and won the largest monetary settlement ever reached in a Little Rock police case, in addition to an official apology from the city.Spencer Ellison, whose unarmed father was shot to death by police officers in his own home, addresses attendees at the City of Little Rock’s dedication of a public bench in memory of his father on November 4, 2016. Ellison and his brother brought a federal civil rights lawsuit and won the largest monetary settlement ever reached in a Little Rock police case, in addition to an official apology from the city. (Photo: Flint Taylor)

It’s time to map out strategies to combat Donald Trump’s support for police violence. The president-elect has promised to redouble racist stop-and-frisk, to support reactionary police unions, to further militarize police departments, to attack Black Lives Matter activists, to round up undocumented workers and to support the oil and gas companies that are attacking Indigenous Water Protectors on the front lines in Standing Rock. Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Sessions — Trump’s pick for attorney general — will no doubt seek to dismantle the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and make the aggressive investigation of police departments for patterns of racially motivated violence a thing of the past.

Amid all this, much of the battle must be fought locally, in cities and towns across the country. Even as we back those who are on the front lines of acute, present-day struggles, we must also pursue ongoing struggles for reparations in the wake of injustice.

On the eve of the election, in a deeply red state, the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, took a small but significant step in furtherance of this goal by dedicating a memorial bench to a victim of police violence named Eugene Ellison.

Ellison was a 67-year-old African American man who resided in the Big Country Chateau Apartments on the west side of Little Rock. He lived alone and walked with a cane. He had his door open on a cool December evening in 2010, minding his own business, when two white Little Rock police officers working security at Big Country decided to enter his apartment, despite his protests that he did not need help and wanted to be left alone. When he verbally resisted their entry, a scuffle ensued, he was maced, and when he refused to submit, one of the officers fatally shot him from the apartment doorway. The officers claimed that he had raised his cane and started to swing it toward them, but the physical evidence, the paths of the fatal bullets, and another officer on the scene completely discredited that story.

Troy Ellison, son of police shooting victim Eugene Ellison, speaks at the City of Little Rock's dedication of a public bench in memory of his father on November 4, 2016.Troy Ellison, son of police shooting victim Eugene Ellison, speaks at the City of Little Rock’s dedication of a public bench in memory of his father on November 4, 2016. (Photo: Flint Taylor

Ellison’s son Troy (now a lieutenant in the Little Rock Police Department) and his other son, Spencer (a former Little Rock Police Department detective and now a college professor in Texas) brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers, the city of Little Rock and Big Country Chateau Apartments. The suit alleged that Ellison’s constitutional right to life under the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution had been violated. It also alleged that his death was caused by the practices and customs of the Little Rock Police Department, which included a willful failure to discipline brutal cops, a police code of silence and woefully deficient hiring and training practices. The family’s lawyers amassed a wealth of evidence in support of its claims, and in 2014 requested that the Justice Department investigate the Little Rock Police Department for its unconstitutional practices as documented in the evidence uncovered in the suit, a request that the ACLU renewed in 2015. When the federal judge refused to dismiss the case, the city of Little Rock appealed his ruling, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Ellison family and the case was returned for trial.

In May of this year, the case was set for trial and the trial team, which was headed up by California attorney Mike Laux, entered into settlement discussions with the city. An attorney named Doris Cheng and I were also on the trial team. Guided by the Chicago reparations for police torture experience, the family and the lawyers sought to combine a monetary settlement with some of the non-monetary elements obtained in Chicago. Only days before the trial was set to begin, a settlement was announced. It was the largest monetary settlement ever reached in a Little Rock police case. It came with an official apology from the City Manager, a memorial bench that would honor Ellison, and a public dedication of the bench.

Alongside the large monetary settlement won by the family of police violence victim Eugene Ellison, the City of Little Rock has dedicated this public bench to Ellison.Alongside the large monetary settlement won by the family of police violence victim Eugene Ellison, the City of Little Rock has dedicated this public bench to Ellison. (Photo: Flint Taylor)

In June, Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore sent the city’s written apology to the Ellison family. Citing the often quoted Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes, the City Manager wrote that it was time to “build, to mend, and to heal.” Quoting Mark 3:25 in saying that “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” Moore continued that “a fragmented Police Department and Little Rock citizenry only serves as a detriment to our shared goal of helping Little Rock grow and prosper.” While the letter did not admit that the officers, who, unfortunately are still on the force, acted wrongfully, it did offer an apology:

In order to begin the healing process for the family, the Little Rock Police Department and the City of Little Rock, on behalf of the City, I want to extend a sincere apology for the death of your father. While we have all vigorously debated the events that led to his death, the time for healing has begun.

On November 4, a beautiful sunny morning in Little Rock, a group of about 125 family members, ministers and activists from Little Rock’s African American community, the Ellison family lawyers, other supporters and the local media gathered in scenic MacArthur Park in downtown Little Rock to dedicate the memorial bench. Moore gave the opening remarks, followed by an opening prayer by the Rev. Dr. C.E. McAdoo of St. Andrew United Methodist Church. After a musical interlude and an inspirational poem, the Ellison brothers spoke.

Spencer spoke first, saying that it was “with immense honor that I stand before you today to memorialize this bench in dedication to my father,” who was “a man of faith, integrity and principle.” He described his father as a “proud Navy veteran who served his country during the Vietnam Era” and “treated people the way he wanted to be treated.” He was “a great artist who drew and painted, expressing his love of life through his artistic abilities.” Saying that his father’s tragic death still haunts him, he said he found “some peace in knowing that even though this fight isn’t over, change will soon come.” In a promise to his father, he said “my father’s legacy of living a principled, respectful life lives on in his sons.”

The memorial bench that was dedicated to police violence victim Eugene Ellison on November 4, 2016, bears this inscription in his memory.The memorial bench that was dedicated to police violence victim Eugene Ellison on November 4, 2016, bears this inscription in his memory. (Photo: Flint Taylor)

Spencer continued by speaking about how the bench should inspire us all:

I want you to read his passionate inscription on the bench and know that Mr. Eugene Edward Ellison stood for justice…. And while you are sitting on the bench I want you to know that, “Nothing will work, unless you do.” I want you to sit on this bench and know that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I want you to sit on this bench and know, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”

Troy Ellison — who has had to be more circumspect because of his continuing role as a Little Rock police lieutenant — followed his brother to the podium. He acknowledged his relatives, thanked his brother for spearheading the public campaign for justice, and thanked Moore for the “unique gesture that no other city has dared to duplicate or achieve.” Troy then captured the scenic peacefulness of the bench’s placement by telling a personal story:

In search of a location for the bench, I stumbled upon a homeless man sitting on the bench previously positioned there. I was in uniform, and the man immediately started looking for his identification and explaining why he could not find it. I told him not to worry about it. When I began to tell him the reason why I was here, he completely ignored me and appeared to start daydreaming. I knew then this was an ideal place for the bench. When sitting here, you can put your mind in a place where no one (not even a policeman) can interrupt your peace.

He then issued a call to action to those in attendance:

This memorial will be remembered as another step toward healing for my family. Together, we can take the first step toward bringing our community together, to work toward bridging the gap of understanding and disconnect between law enforcement and our community. The time for talk must end. Everyone in attendance this morning has taken that first step. By your presence, you have now positioned yourself to being a part of a movement of positivity and not allowing negativity to sustain that imaginary barrier. I define this moment as a movement to recognize our issues and address them with action and not just discussion.

Troy finished with a personal pledge to continue taking part in the movement against police violence, even as he serves as a police lieutenant himself. “This ceremony marks the beginning of my official pledge of dedication to being a part of the movement, not because of, but in spite of,” he said. “I have forgiven these officers for their actions and I pray for strength to continue to move forward and commit to answering the call to action.”

This article originally was published in Truthout on Saturday, 03 December 2016

Remembering Iberia Hampton

On October 16, 2016, Iberia Hampton died after a long illness at the age of 94. We can not put into words how much Iberia, known affectionately as Big Mama, meant to us. The foundation of the People’s Law Office was grounded in the life and the December 4, 1969 assassination of Fred Hampton, and our collective struggle to uncover, expose, and teach about the truth of Fred and Mark Clark’s murders at the hands of the Chicago police, the Cook County State’s Attorneys’ Office, and the FBI’s Cointelpro Program. Iberia and Fred’s brother Bill stood with us during our many decade battle, and she was a second mother to Jeff and Flint, who remained devoted comrades and friends with her up and until the time of her death. On October 26, 2016, the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed a unanimous resolution honoring Iberia, Fred, and the Hampton family. Iberia Hampton, like her son Fred, was a true inspiration to all of us and will continue to inspire us in our work.

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