Today, December 8, 2005, in Washington, D.C., the Center for Constitutional Rights condemned what it views as a campaign of harassment and political persecution of former members of the Black Panther Party.
For several months, CCR has been monitoring efforts by law enforcement authorities in California to re-open the case of a police shooting which occurred 34 years ago in the Ingleside District of San Francisco. Though authorities were not able to get a conviction in the case, they have made concerted efforts to pin the crime on former members of the Panthers, despite the fact that a San Francisco judge dismissed the case in 1975, ruling that the confessions of some of the plaintiffs were extracted under torture.
In 1973, in the wake of the shooting, thirteen individuals affiliated with the Panthers were arrested in New Orleans, and some of them were brutally tortured for a number of days. Two San Francisco Police Department officers, Frank McCoy and Ed Erdelatz, are believed to have been present for part of the time when the torture was being administered. Now these same officers have resurfaced 34 years later to hound, harass and persecute former Party members who were exonerated and have gone on to become upstanding citizens in their communities as social workers, counselors and entrepreneurs.
The sentiments of John Bowman, who was one of the victims of the torture, express the outrageous nature of the most recent police inquisition:
“The same people who tried to kill me in 1973 are the same people who are here today, in 2005, trying to destroy me. I mean it literally. I mean there were people from the forces of the San Francisco Police Department who participated in harassment, torture and my interrogation in 1973. And these same people I have to come in contact with, I have to go before courts in front of, who are asking me the same questions that they interrogated and tortured me for.
“I have to be confronted with these people, and none of these people have ever been brought to trial. None of these people have ever been charged with anything. None of these people have ever been questioned about that.”
Ron Daniels, Executive Director of CCR, said that the officers who victimized these men were allowed to do so with impunity. “These SFPD officers have never been held accountable for their actions. Now, three decades later, these same officers have returned to disrupt the lives of people who are rendering valuable service to their communities. This is terribly reminiscent of what is transpiring now when people can be tortured in Guantánamo and other detention facilities with impunity. Torture as an instrument of coercion is obviously not new in our country, as we see from the cases of these former members of the Black Panther Party who J. Edgar Hoover declared the ‘terrorist suspects’ of that era. Torture, intimidation and persecution of people because of their political views or affiliation was wrong then and it is wrong now. It must be stopped.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.