Support for The Puerto Rican Independence Movement and the Puerto Rican Community

In 1974, Michael and Mara Siegel, who had joined the office after moving from Buffalo, became deeply involved in the struggle to free the Five Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners: Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irvin Flores, Oscar Collazo, Lolita Lebrón, and Andrés Figueroa Cordero, and helped organize a national committee to “Free the Five.” The five were fighters for Puerto Rican independence, with Oscar Collazo involved in a shooting outside Blair House in 1950, while the other four had opened fired in the U.S. Congress in 1954. The office worked with Puerto Rican lawyers, filed lawsuits in the District of Columbia, and later with the International Human Rights Commission in Geneva, and Michael testified before the United Nations.

In November of 1976, leading independence activists, as well as some of their most militant Chicano supporters, were subpoenaed to grand juries in New York and Chicago in connection with the U.S. search for Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) fugitives and in order to harass the above-ground movement. We worked to fight the subpoenas, upholding the movement’s strong position of non-collaboration, and for 14 months were successful in keeping all those subpoenaed out of jail. Ultimately many of the subpoenas were dropped, but José López, Ricardo Romero, Pedro Archuleta, and Roberto Caldero were held in contempt and jailed. It was during this period that we began our close association with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and the Rafael Cancel Miranda (now Pedro Albizu Campos) alternative high school.

After the Puerto Rican Parade in 1977, Police Sergeant Thomas Walton led a contingent of charging police into a picnic area of Humboldt Park, a center of the Puerto Rican Community in Chicago, shooting in the back and killing 2 unarmed men, Julio Osorio and Rafael Cruz. This led to a two day uprising by outraged members of the West Town community, and we filed a law suit against Walton and the City, which became known as the Humboldt Park case. The case eventually went to trial in 1981, and was on the verge of a verdict when the judge had a heart attack and a mistrial was ordered. When we interviewed the jurors we learned that all but one were strongly for us and would likely have ordered a large plaintiffs’ verdict, but after the case dragged on we ultimately settled the case for $625,000.

In September of 1979, the international struggle to Free the Five Puerto Rican Nationalist Prisoners culminated in victory when the sentences of the four who remained in prison (Andrés Cordero had been released the year before because he had terminal cancer) were unconditionally commuted and they were released. 3,000 people greeted the freed patriots in Chicago, 10,000 in New York, and 25,000 jammed the airport in San Juan for their triumphant return home.

In April of 1980, eleven alleged FALN members were arrested in Evanston and charged in state and federal court with numerous criminal offenses including seditious conspiracy. These independence fighters, citing international law, did not recognize the authority of the U.S. courts to criminalize their struggle against colonialism, and asserted a prisoner of war position. We gave legal assistance to them by preparing a petition to the U.N. Decolonization Committee and the Human Rights Commission in support of their position.

In state court, a judge held Mara in contempt and threatened to throw Michael out of a window. In federal court 10 of the 11 were given sentences from 55 to 90 years and Haydée Torres received a life sentence. The 11 were shipped off to prison, and a major task of the Office became the protection of their human rights against the politically motivated treatment of state and federal prison authorities and the campaign for the recognition of their prisoner of war status. Michael appeared before international human rights conferences in Malta, Cuba, and Barcelona, and at the United Nations in support of their claim for status as anti-colonial POWs.  To read more about our work in solidarity with the Puerto Rican community, click here: Puerto Rico Work Continues

History by Section

Early Days
The Murder of Fred Hampton
Government Surveillance
Representing the Panthers in Downstate Illinois
Attica New York Prison Riots
The Fred Hampton Murder Trial
Prisoner Rights Work
Puerto Rican Independence Movement and the Puerto Rican Community
Fred Hampton Appeal
George Jones Street Files and False Imprisonment
Representing Demonstrators, Protestors, and Activists
Puerto Rico Work Continues
Police Brutality and Torture
Continuing to Represent Demonstrators and Activists
The Attica Prison Civil Case
Continuing Work in Solidarity With Puerto Rico
Fighting the Death Penalty
Sexual Abuse Litigation and Illegal Strip Search
Back to the Supreme Court
The 1996 Democratic Convention
Policy and Practice Cases
False Arrests and Convictions
Continuing to Defend Dissent
Continuing the Fight for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases
Criminal Defense for Civil Rights Abuses
Jail Suicide
Opposing the Criminalization of the LGBTQ Community
People’s Law Office and The National Lawyers Guild