Friday, July 13, 2007

Civil Liberties and the 1981 Brink's Case: A 1991 `Downtown' Inquiry--Part 5

The civil liberties of many other political activists in New York City were also immediately affected by the events in Rockland County of Oct. 20, 1981.

Eve Rosahn is a veteran New York City political activist who worked in antiwar and SDS circles in the late 1960s, did Black Panther 21 political support work, and was active in the Puerto Rican independence and anti-apartheid solidarity movements during the 1970s. In 1991, Downtown asked Rosahn in a telephone interview how the civil liberties of political activists in New York City were affected following the Oct. 20th events in Rockland County.

According to Rosahn, it wasn’t like McCarthyism in the 1950s. The political repression and arrests differed from McCarthyism in that “the section of both white and Black activists whose civil liberties were violated was much smaller and much more focused,” Rosahn said. “People were intimidated by example.” Another difference from the 1950s McCarthyism was that the buzzword for the targets of the civil liberties violations was “terrorism” and “cop-killers” and, particularly, “Black terrorism,” and not “communism,” in Rosahn’s view.

The Grand Jury method of repression was also used to violate people’s civil liberties following the Oct. 20th events, according to Rosahn. “Since the early 1970s, there had been a political use of grand juries which, initially had focused on the Weather Underground, the non-violent clandestine Catholic Left and the lesbian community. Grand juries have been used to both collect intelligence about clandestine political groups and to create an atmosphere of fear and political isolation in the communities they focused on. The use of federal grand juries to subpoena F.A.L.N. supporters of Puerto Rican independence started happening in the 1970s,” Rosahn recalled.

The grand jury that was established following the arrest of the Brink’s defendants “focused on people who were political supporters of Black nationalism that did public work” and established a “second ring of oppression” for those political activists who weren’t falsely charged with involvement in the robbery itself, according to Rosahn. The post-Oct. 20th grand jury also focused on the personal friends of the people arrested on Oct. 20, 1981. “People who were subpoenaed were often just friends, and not political,” said Rosahn.

In Rosahn’s view, the U.S. government “underestimated the strength of commitment to non-collaboration” with the post-Brink’s robbery/expropriation Grand Jury investigation that would be expressed. “They assumed that people subpoenaed before the grand jury would cooperate with them and provide them with information, but they didn’t get that,” recalled Rosahn. “Only 1 of around 25 who were subpoenaed by the grand jury collaborated.”

Downtown asked Rosahn in 1991 why she thought people in the 1980s seemed to resist the pressure of Grand Jury subpoenas more than people had during the era of McCarthyism in the late 1940s and 1950s?

“There had been a good 10-year struggle among people in the Catholic Left, the lesbian community and in the Puerto Rican movement to establish a tradition of non-collaboration with the Grand Jury. And the Grand Jury investigation following Brink’s took in a smaller section of people—the people tended to be stronger and more committed,” Rosahn observed.
(end of part 5)

Next: Civil Liberties and the 1981 Brink’s Case: A 1991 Downtown Inquiry—Part 6