The Spirit of Richard Brown: The San Francisco 8 Represent Our Resistance
By Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, PhD
Black Commentator Editorial Board
From the Black Commentator, December 6, 2007 - Issue 256
Richard Brown with the mascot of the
I am alive;
I am conscious and aware;
I am unique
I am who I say I am; I am the value UQOBO (essence)
I forever evolve inwardly an outwardly in response to the challenge of my nature;
I am the face of humanity;
The face of humanity is my face…
– The Zulu Personal Declaration
“It is criminal,” Malcolm said, “to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks” (March, 1964 Press Statement). Malcolm did not advocate violence; he spoke directly about the systematic violence perpetrated against Black Americans by the U.S. government. He advocated common sense self-defense against “unjust” and “unlawful” attacks. He advocated self-determination rather than accepting integration into an American imperialism dependent on racialized terror and its expansion as a way of maintaining white American supremacy in the world.
As Joy James rightly notes, the criminalization of Black Americans is offered as a “spectacle of racialized state violence” (Resisting State Violence). White Americans have extracted and exploited the labor of Black bodies, while at the same time stood in fear of bodies Black in color. “In racialized societies such as the United States, the plague of criminality, deviancy, immorality, and corruption is embodied in the black because both sexual and social pathology are branded by skin color (as well as by gender and sexual orientation).” Black bodies, consequently, require “panopticism and the policing gaze.” They require regiments of discipline and punishment, James writes, “not to expiate or repress but to ‘normalize’” bodies that “cannot be normalized no matter how they are disciplined.” In Nazi Germany, the “abnormal” bodies of Jews, Blacks, gays, Gypsies, communists, James explains, “were to be sterilized, euthanized, or eradicated” for they were considered “defective or a subspecies of humans; they could not be normalized under state ideology.” It is no accident that Nazi Germany reviewed documents on the U.S. enslavement of Africans.
As the “historical victim of state violence,” Blacks have been “portrayed as the aggressor,” James notes. In the post-bellum period, the role of the Black as the “aggressor” represents the progression of the imaginative narrative of Southern Chivalry, in which the “pastoral” South was littered with “gardens” where “patriarchs” tended their docile “bondmen and bondwomen” who, in turn, were, as Lewis P. Simpson writes, “gardeners in the garden” (The Dispossessed Garden). This charming justifying narrative of violence warped into the Gothic narrative of the nightmare with the Haitian Revolution and the appearance of Denmark Vesey. The ungrateful “gardeners” wanted their freedom from bondage. The thought of unfree human beings, held in bondage, wanting freedom - wanting to disrupt the narrative of white supremacy and the environment it provided - was unthinkable. Unless, sterilized, euthanized, or eradicated, the Blacks were to be represented in the narrative of white supremacy as ungrateful and therefore dangerous aggressors.
Uncivilized, we qualified for slavery; inferior, we qualified for disenfranchisement; uppity, we qualified for lynching. James characterizes lynching as “a sadistic fixation on the body” - the Black body. The “predatory” Black male body and the exposure of Black women’s sexual parts fueled the white imagination with a mesh of horror and pleasure, culminating in dangling bodies. Ultimately, lynching afforded a display of unilateral, citizen to citizen, state-sponsored terrorism “to control an ethnic people subjugated as an inferior race.” Police have picked up the slack and serve as stand-ins for the average American citizen concerned with “safety.”
The spectacle of lynching, in its various forms, now continues against the ungrateful, dangerous aggressors who dare to be witnesses to state violence against Black Americans. The “constant interrogation without end” in prisons and the “penal executions,” James writes, are no less the spectacle of police surveillance in the Black communities or the “deadly spectacle of police beatings” because they are shielded from view. These events “function as a punitive spectacle…projected” into the consciousness of the citizenry.
Bobby Seale and Huey Newton drafted the foundational “Ten Point Platform and Program” for the formation of the Black Panther Party after Malcolm X’s death. As Seale explains in Seize the Time the Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton, the “platform was completed on October 22, 1966” and focused on “full employment, decent housing, education that taught African Americans their true history, an and end to the exploitation of our black community, preventive health care, fair trials, and the enforcement of our constitutional rights.” The Party also placed an emphasis, Seale continues, “on our right to defend ourselves from any vicious racist attack.”
Ron Jacobs notes that there are few groups who have experienced a history of murder, beatings, lies and frame-ups as did the Black Panther Party (“The FBI’s War on Black Liberation: COINTELPRO and the Panthers,” October 20, 2007). This history of violence and COINTELPRO, Jacobs writes, continues today. The “interrogation without end” and the jailhouse torture generate the spectacle of frame-ups, arrests, and trials.
“This case against eight former Panthers and Panther supporters charged with the murder of a San Francisco policeman in 1971 was thrown out of court in 1975 because the evidence used by the prosecution was obtained by torture,” writes Jacobs. Of course, Jacobs injects, if “the purpose of torture is something other than the procurement of credible evidence or confessions, then it doesn’t really matter as to its effectiveness.”
As Jacobs argues, the goal of COINTELPRO and its current campaign against Mumia abu Jamal and the San Francisco 8 is to destroy the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers were considered “radical,” argues writer Sergio Rodrigues, not for its call for armed self-defense, but “rather because it expressed the bankruptcy of the capitalist system in a way that threatened its stability” (“Arrest of Former Black Panthers.”)
I see the goal of COINTELPRO as not only an effort to destroy the physical bodies of these individuals, but also to destroy the very embodiment of the collective spirit of resistance. How have Black Americans best “expressed the bankruptcy of the capitalist system” in America? Eradicate the body that would dare defend itself and thus advocate fearlessly for the self-determination of Black Americans - and still, that spirit of Sojourner Truth, DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Diane Nash, Kwame Ture, Malcolm X and many others is present, exposing the injustice and inequality in America.
“If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot…”
Richard Brown, one of the San Francisco 8, told me that “everything” about the case “was illegal.” He was originally tried in his hospital room! After thirty seven years of the harassment of arrest, torture, and trials, Brown, now “of the age to file for social security,” must contend with further harassment. Released in October, 2007, after his re-arrest on charges related to the 1971 killing of police Sgt. John V. Young, Brown has had to endure the government delays or just “evaporation” of his prescriptions and Medicaid funds due him. He was told that the disappearance of his Medicaid “shouldn’t have happened,” and that he should re-apply. “I have had to re-sign up for everything,” and he was told he would have to pay over six hundred dollars if he needed dental work. In the meantime, Brown’s social security check was cut by two hundred dollars because he supposedly owed the government $30,000. “For what.?” he asked. Brown didn’t receive an answer. In August, 2007, Brown’s bail was reduced to $420,000! In addition, he suffers from narrow-angle glaucoma that can lead to a reduction of his vision if he does not receive the treatment he needs. Brown has lost vision in one eye and has a reduction of vision in the other.
Brown said that the Monday, December 3, 2007 court proceeding should focus on “prior motions like the use of shackles or double jeopardy for Harold Taylor,” who is being charged again for the same crime. The judge could also rule on the original use of torture to obtain confessions. Whatever the judge rules, some of us will know it is an attempt to “normalize” what cannot be “normalized,” as in deadened or eradicated, as in lost forever.
“It is nothing but a legal lynching,” said Brown. But it is “nothing compared to the things I’ve accomplished. If I had to do it all over again,” he said, “I will do it again. It is a small price to pay for the things I have done” in and for the community. Brown has worked for six years as a community activist in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, serving as a Community Court Arbitrator.
The danger with the San Francisco 8 case is that the public will not understand the connection between this case and Democratic Rep. Jane Harman’s H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act or Democratic Senator Feinstein’s S 456: Gang Abatement and Prevention Act 2007 in which the eight men could be charged as a “gang” or “terrorists.” Both bills would expand the powers of a COINTELPRO agenda against Black people in general and particularly compound the efforts of Black activists working on behalf of their communities. In the Joint Statement from the San Francisco Eight, the eight men directly address their representation as “aggressors”:
We vehemently reject that labeling, as the government attempts to characterize the San Francisco 8 as "terrorists," "criminals," and "wanton killers." They will never say the SF8 were political activists and progressive civil/human rights organizers. They will never say they sought to relieve the community of all forms of state-sponsored terrorism that is often found in Black, Asian and Latino communities today. They will never admit to the unconstitutional practices of the FBI COINTELPRO activities, despite the 1974 Senate Church Committee findings condemning those practices. Furthermore, they will never seek to establish remedies for those who are victims of the illegal FBI and local police actions under COINTELPRO, and now under the Patriot Act, if we don't demand they do so. [from the Joint Statement of the SF8]
An international call was issued Friday, November 30, 2007 to free the San Francisco 8. Among those calling for the release of these men are:
- The Most Reverend Dr. Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate 1984;
- Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Community of Peace People, Northern Ireland, Nobel Peace Laureate 1976;
- Betty Williams, Community of Peace People, Northern Ireland, Nobel Peace Laureate 1976;
- Darryl Jordan, Director-American Friends Service Committee Third World Coalition (Nobel Peace Laureate 1947);
- William Wardlaw, Executive Director's Leadership Council, Amnesty International (Nobel Peace Laureate 1977);
- Marie Dennis, Co-President, Pax Christi International and Director, Mary knoll Office for Global Concerns;
- Lois M. Dauway, Women's Division, Global Ministries, United Methodist Church and Central Committee member, World Council of Churches
The charges and continuous harassment of these men should end and the government should recognize this case as an example of narrative violence of representing Blacks as criminal, thus allowing for ultimate spectacle of American injustice. The charges and harassment of Richard Brown and all the men of the San Francisco 8 should be dropped.
In addition, the San Francisco 8 and the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights are calling for the following:
- Investigate the use of torture in the U.S. criminal system and pass Anti-torture legislation
- Re-open COINTELPRO hearings
- Begin a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
These are our immediate kinsmen who need our support and our political awareness. Most of all, they need to be uplifted by our collective spirit of resistance!
O kinsmen we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
– Claude McKay
Please support the FREE THE SAN FRANCISCO EIGHT!, Committee for the Defense of Human Rights [address below].
Also, see video: Legacy of Torture, DVD
Additionally, see Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman’s interview with Jessica Lee (Indypendent Media) and Kamau Karl Franklin (Racial Justice Fellow at NYU Center for Constitutional Rights), November 20, 2007 program, Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act Raises Fears.
Finally, see The Use of Statistical Evidence to Address Police Supervisory and Disciplinary Practices: The Chicago Police Department’s Broken System report released by Craig Futterman and Melissa Mather, graduate students at the University of Chicago, Edwin Law Clinic, November, 2007.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has been a writer for over thirty years of commentary, resistance criticism and cultural theory, and short stories with a Marxist sensibility to the impact of cultural narrative violence and its antithesis, resistance narratives. With entrenched dedication to justice and equality, she has served as a coordinator of student and community resistance projects that encourage the Black Feminist idea of an equalitarian community and facilitator of student-teacher communities behind the walls of academia for the last twenty years. Dr. Daniels holds a PhD in Modern American Literatures, with a specialty in Cultural Theory (race, gender, class narratives) from Loyola University, Chicago. Click here to contact Dr. Daniels.
E-mail: freethesf8 [at] gmail [dot] com