Thursday, July 12, 2007

Civil Liberties and the 1981 Brink's Case: A 1991 `Downtown' Inquiry--Part 4

Before being sentenced in September 1983, Clark and Gilbert had already been imprisoned nearly two years and Kuwasi Balagoon had already been locked up for 21 months. Gilbert recalled that “a lot of the delay was their security arrangements—which I think also became a boondoggle for the various sheriff’s departments to buy off the supplies and hire people and so forth that they had wanted to do to pad their payroll and supplies. One delay was that there was a change of venue. But most of the delays—you have to realize that Kuwasi, Judy and I did not put on a legal defense. We just put up a political stand and we justified this fight against a racist and oppressive regime. Under international law, it requires you to do that. So we didn’t even go through a lot of legal motions, the hearings and so forth that a vigorous criminal defense would have—and yet the whole trial took two years. I think the main factor, along with the change of venue, was their going through all their so-called security arrangements.”

During the long period of pre-trial detention, according to Gilbert, “They cut us off from contact with all other prisoners. And they tried to keep us as isolated as possible. They tried to use that to break people down. With Sam Brown, a combination of that and his medical condition, and his incredible pain and fear that he’d be paralyzed if he didn’t get an operation, did break him down. It was a very heavy psychological warfare that was going on with all of us.”

According to The Big Dance, after Sam Brown’s arrest, F.B.I. agents began to interview him in prison, without Brown first waiving his right to legal counsel in the presence of his lawyer. The first two F.B.I. agents to visit the severely beaten Brown visited him on Nov. 12, 1981. On Nov. 21, 1981, two Special Agents of the F.B.I.-N.Y.P.D. Joint Terrorist Task Force also began to interview Brown in prison and these Special Agents continued to meet with Brown on at least seven more separate occasions. Under New York State law, however, according to Castellucci’s book, “once a defendant is indicted, no law enforcement official can interview him unless he waives his right to legal counsel in the presence of his lawyer.”

There is disagreement about the reliability of two people, Yvonne Thomas and Kamau Bayete, who were used by the F.B.I. as informants in relation to the Brink’s Case. Castellucci states in a footnote in his book that “I would be less than candid if I characterized them as reliable. Thomas has been in and out of mental hospitals. Bayete is an admitted liar.”

Although Castellucci does reveal certain civil liberties violations and certain inconsistencies in the Rockland County D.A.’s case against the people arrested on Oct. 20th, Gilbert does not regard most of Castellucci’s The Big Dance as either accurate or fair. According to Gilbert, The Big Dance “is misleading because it is written in such a detailed, factual style. I think that many people might feel that while the interpretations might be hostile to us, the facts are more or less accurate. They’re not.

“Before I read the book I assumed it was biased in the following ways: 1) relied on the police and informant versions of events and 2) based on that, put us in the worst possible light. But in reading the book, he goes way beyond that. He actually makes a whole lot of shit up, whole cloth. I saw it most clearly in his extensive account of Kathy and my relationship since this is an area (as opposed to some stuff about other comrades) where I knew all the facts. So much of it was so far off that I was actually laughing at this opera buffo. I would say that about 80 percent of what he presented as fact about us is plain wrong. And for most of that he couldn’t have any conceivable `source.’

“The purpose of the book can be summarized in one sentence: to strip any and all moral credibility from the revolutionaries involved. Beyond the factual fabrications, he takes steps inside our heads—as though it were factual reporting—to discredit our motivation.”

One apparent inaccuracy in Castellucci’s The Big Dance deals with the events surrounding the arrest of the still-imprisoned former Black Panther Party activist, Sekou Odinga, in Queens, which occurred at the same time that another African-American activist, Mtayari Sundiata, was killed near 127th Street and Northern Blvd. In the Oct. 24. 1981 edition of the New York Times, it was reported that “workmen in the area said” that Sundiata “was shot as he climbed a chain-link fence attempting to flee” and “his body fell on the other side of the fence,” yet Castellucci portrays Sundiata as firing at a policeman when he was slain.
(end of part 4)

Next: Civil Liberties and the 1981 Brink’s Case: A 1991 Downtown Inquiry—Part 5