Los Siete de la Raza
By MARJORIE HEINS
On May 1, 1969, a crowd of people demonstrated in San Francisco for the release of Huey P. Newton on bail. That same day, in the Mission District of the city, another cop hit the dust after a tangle with some young latinos who seemed to be out from Huey's mold.
The events of that day were very complicated. It probably won't ever be known who fired the shot that killed this cop, Joe Brodnik, or whether it was fired intentionally or by accident. The young men were moving some property into a house where one of them, Jose Rios, lived. Two plainsclothes cops were cruising down the street in an unmarked car. They saw the young latinos and jumped out to "investigate"
McGoran and Brodnik were well known in the Mission District for their racism and harrassment of brown people. They had both grown up in the Mission, and although it had changed since their time from a white to a brown district, the two cops still considedred it there private property. They really enjoyed their job as undercover men. McGoran, especially, had a long history of calling people the foulest racist names and beating them up. He was a nervous man, constantly using tranquilizers, and he hid his fear behind the extra big .41 magnum that he carried. It was this gun that killed Brodnik. McGoran and Brodnik stopped the brothers. McGoran told them to stay put. Brodnik, who was a short distance away, told them to show some identification, and when Jose Rios said he had his upstairs, told him to go up and get it. Jose, and two others were already upstairs when McGoran started bawling out Brodnik for letting them out of his sight. Mario Martinez, who was sitting on the stove, told McGoran he smelled like a brewery, while Gary Lesacallet, the tallest of the young men there, exchanged a few insults with McGoran.
McGoran may or may not have been drunk that morning (he usually was). He may or may not have forgotten to take his usual tranquilizer. In any case, he was just doing his usual thing when he attacked Gary and slammed him up against a pillar next to the house. What he didn't count on was that Gary and the others would fight back when attacked: soon McGoran was down on the sidewalk, being beaten.
Sometime during this fight McGoran produced his gun from the hidden holster inside his pants.
first bullet to be fired hit Joe Brodnik, who was just then rushing over to stop the fight. This kind of situation wasn't new to Brodnik and he had often told McGoran he was too mean, too violent.
A second shot was fired (McGoran claims it was aimed at him but "miraculously" missed) and the brothers fled. People have asked since, why did they flee if they were innocent? The behavior of the police in the next few hours provides the answer. Thirsting to kill in revenge, they bombarded the Rios house with tear gas and ammunition, literally wrecking the place, and wounding Jose's sister. At times they were even shouting at each other thinking they were having a gunfight with the brothers.
The police had no idea what has happened, or that McGorans's gun had been used, and they pictured a bunch of gangsters with a whole arsenal of weapons upstairs. This is exactly how the incident came over in the papers and on TV. The brothers were pictured as "hoodlums" and "latin hippie types" -the mayor himself called them "punks.' McGoran and Brodnik were pictured as heroic officers; all their exploits and medals for bravery were publicized, though of course none of the racist brutality McGoran was famous for was mentioned. Brodnik's funeral was deseribed as "Rites for an Idealist Cop.. His wisdom, prodded by police, made public appeals for capital punishment for the killers. In the Mission District, friends and relatives of the brothers were trailed, their homes ransacked, hundreds of people were questioned at gunpoint.
The suspects names were blasted over the radio: Jose Rios, Mario Martinez, Gary Lescallet, Danilo Melendez, Nelson Rodriguez. Nelson, as it happened, was nowhere near the scene of the shooting. He was in San Mateo County, more than 20 miles away. But McGoran identified his picture, confusing Nelson with Gio Lopez, for whom a warrant was later issued also.
Jose, Mario, Gary, and Danilo& (or Bebe) got together with Nelson later in the day, when he heard the news. Mario's older brother Tony went with them as they escaped from the city. They spent five days, with little money and no food, sleeping on the beaches south of the city. Finally, in desperation, they held up a bather near Santa Cruz, and took his car. The bather called police and the six brothers were arrested as they drove into Santa Cruz.
They were lucky they weren't caught in San Francisco or they might not be alive today. All six brothers were booked, even though Nelson and Tony had not even been there, and McGoran himself could not positively identify Tony at the lineup (the other "eyewitnesses" did even worse and a few made completely incorrect identifications). From that point began the police fabrication which was to lead to the prosecution of all six for murder, assault with intent to murder, and burglary.
The six brothers were not guilty of Brodnik's death, but they are guilty of a certain amount of pride militancy and stubborness. They were not about to kiss ass. They recognized the two pigs for what they were and defended themselves.
They are all products of the growing Brown consciousness. Mario, Tony and Nelson were all students at the College of San Mateo, which experienced a violent Third World strike the winter before. the same time as the strike at San Francisco State. The brothers were part of a unique "College Readiness Program" which provided special tutoring and counseling for students of color so They could make it in the white college world and at the same time maintain pride in their own black or brown identity. The College Readiness Program was the center of revolutionary thinking on that otherwise lily-white campus.
Jose Rios, the youngest of the six, was still a senior in high school, but had already been accepted at San Mateo for the next year. Tony, Mario and Nelson were among his oldest friends all of their families having come to the Mission from El Salvador about eight years before. Jose's brother Oscar also went to San Mateo.
Part of the College Readiness philosophy was that education should not be a ruling class privilege: everyone should have the opportunity to improve himself. Tony, Mario and Nelson all tried to recruit brothers and sisters from the streets and pool halls of the Mission, to go up and take a look at the College of San Mateo. Among those street brothers that were interested in the program were Gary Lescallet and Bebe Melendez. Both Gary and Bebe had been in trouble with the cops since there were in their early teens, and both had been sent to Youth Authority prisons. It was through some of the more aware brothers in the prisons, and through the new militancy on the streets, that Gary and Bebe started getting their political education. "I always knew the Man as a pig and a dog," Gary says, "but not as an exploiter or oppressor." Bebe became a revolutionary, and could not be seen without a copy of "Che Speaks in his back pocket.
The arrest of the six shook up a lot of people in the Mission. The police terrorism that followed the death of Brodnik made it very clear to them that they had no rights and no power in their own community. The fact that two of those charged with murder were not even present at the scene and at least one of the others were upstairs when the shooting occurred brought home very vividly the fact that "it could have been any of us".
Several of their closest friends- Jose's brother Oscar, people from San Mateo and San Francisco State - got together to try to arrange some legal defense for the brothers. They named their group LOS SIETE DE LA RAZA- the Seven of the People- to include Gio Lopez, who was still free.
The Mission is full of poverty program bureaucrats, Tio Tacos, and stool pigeons for the Mayor Joseph Alioto. At first. some of the people offered to help Los Siete if they would keep politics out of the case. The very thing that finally happened was what the liberals and bureaucrats feared: that Los Siete would begin to awaken the people and expose the nature of their oppression.
More welcome help came in the form of the Black Panther Party. Bobby Seale recognized that it was time for the Panthers to ally themselves with the revolutionary forces in the brown community, and seized on the opportunity to help Los Siete The Panthers gave not only political advice, financial help and publicity, but most important of all, introduced their chief attorney, Charles Garry to the families of Los Siete, and convinced them that Garry's style of aggressive, uncompromising, political defense, was the best that their sons could get.
As Garry looked into the matter, he found that the different defendants had different interests and would need different lawyers. Also, the case was immensely complicated and the work load was enormous. Extensive investigation had to be done of McGoran's past- for Garry quickly concluded that McGoran was the real guilty party in the case
Four lawyers now make up the team defending Los Siete. Garry is defending Jose Rios and the Martinez brothers. Michael Kennedy, longhaired, outspoken defender of Tim Leary and the Fort Hood 38 , is representing Bebe Melendez. Richard Hodge, who worked with Garry on the successful Oakland
. . .The Seven of the Race
continued from page 23
Seven defense, and also represents many rock bands, is defending Gary Lescallet. And R.J. Engel, a longtime friend of the black and brown students at San Mateo, is defending Nelson Rodríguez.
The brothers were kept in the dismal confines of San Francisco County jail for 14 months before their trial even started. Despite San Fransisco's reputation as a liberal city, the county jail serves some of the worst food its more experienced convicts have ever tasted; provides no recreation or fresh air, and doesn't even let the brothers read the books that are sent to them.
The delays were caused mostly by pre-trial hearings and a crowded court calendar. The.lawyers argued for dismissal of the charges on a number of grounds: illegal constitution of the grand jury (all white and rich); illegal constitution of the petit jury (non-English speaking latins were at the time not allowed to register to vote, and the jury is picked from voter lists), of course the judge denied both these motions, but the record was made for appeal.
Then a final delay was caused when the judge, Joseaph Karesh, bugged out. The garrulous old jurist insisted that he wasn't disqualifying himself- that would imply prejudice, and "I have no prejudice". He claimed he was withdrawing from the case because Michael Kennedy had made a reference to his handling of another highly publicized case, the trial of a white cop named O'Broen for killing a black man. Kennedy had made only the most fleeting refererence, and was careful to add that he did not mean it as a criticism.
The supersensitive Kazresh took umbrage, but it wasn't until 2 weeks later that he withdrew, shortly after a quite different remark by Charles Garry that McGoran was a "racist, a liar and a drunk." The publicity in the Los Siete case had mounted tremendously, and Karesh, perhaps rightly, feared the media, since he had gotten very bad publicity in the O'Brien case for allowing the racist defense lawyer to call the black witnesses "monkeys...hyenas...people with no moral honesty or integrity."
In addition, Karesh was getting heavy pressures from the police and D.A.'s office: Garry must be muzzled, or at least, quieted down. Karesh had a reputation for letting advocates in his courtroom talk too long: he seemed to like to trip on the sound of his and other people's fine words, even if he wasn't really listening to their meaning. A more tight-lipped and better-discipilined judge was required for this sensitive case, especially with Charles Garry, the veteran jury-charmer, involved. And so it was arranged- none too gracefully at that- that Los Siete's case would be transferred to Judge Laurence Mana - no legal scholar, but a disciplinarian in his own court.
The trial began in late June. The jurors were picked in a shorter time than expected: two weeks. Mana severely restricted the range of voir-dire questions the attorneys could ask. The only question allowed, pertaining to prejudice, was, "Do you think you can be fair and impartial to both sides?" The defense argued that this was not the kind of question that could reveal racism, and submitted questions it wanted to ask: do you believe in open housing; do you think the highest virtue a child an learn is obedience But the judge ruled such questions irrelevant, and so the defense had to decide on jurors by the look in their eyes and the vibes they sent off
During the period of peremptory challenges the District Attorney, Thomas Norman excused several young black men, a young longhair, and a few young liberals. Others were excused "for cause" because they said they could never under any circumstances vote for capital punishment. To qualify as a juror in a first degree murder case you have to say you would at least consider capital punishment.
Considering all the thing as working against Los Siete, the jury is a favorable one. Among its most hopeful members are a longhaired chicano post office clerk (he looks white) ; a young secretary who has a peace symbol in her window; a retired sheet metal worker; and (believe it or not) a baldheaded bank bureaucrat. These people, and a handful of others on the jury, respond well to the alternate joking and dead-seriousness of the defense lawyers. In varying degrees, they seem to be aware of what's so obvbvious to the supporters of the Los Siete who sit in the courtroom: the arbitrary unreason of the judge, and the utter bankruptcy of the prosecution.
The prosecution has called five witnesses so far (out of a possible 40). The first was the autopsy surgeon, who verified that Brodnik had died from a bullet shot at a distance of six inches. During his testimony, the D.A. succeeded in entering into evidence alot of gory, inflammatory pictures of the corpse.
The second witness was Mrs. Ruth Horenstein, a well-tailored, uptight, middle-aged lady who lives in the quiet, respectable Sunset District of the city. She testified that her house had been robbed on May 1, 1969, after she and her husband went off to work. The list of stolen items was long and ludicrous: it included dirty bedsheets. a Masonic ring, her son's boy scout emblem, some Mexican "rattlers", inscribed "Ruth" and "Larry", a Chinese brass gong, etc. The only items of value were two TV sets (one 24" color; the other, remote control, for watching in bed) and a KLHstereo. Mrs. Horenstein added (many times) that her toy poodle was found bleeding, but her grief was so over dramati zed that I doubt it had much effect on the jury. She also said she noticed a suspicious-looking person "loitering" on her corner as she drove off to work, but she couldn't identify him. Months before, she had told the police it "looked like" Gio Lopez, but by the time of the trial, the D.A.was no longer referring to Gio at all - perhaps beczuse he had been arrested four times in various parts of the country, and each time he had been released before the fingerprints check came back.
Paul McGoran came next, and remained on the stand for over two weeks. Every day he popped at least 15 mg. of valium to keep his nerves steady.
He claimed he wasn't nervous - the valium was for a heart condition known as "tachycardia", although he was already taking a few other pills for that. At any rate McGoran turned out to be a mental and physical wreck, a mere shadow of the brutal foul-mouthed pig he had once been. Still in his mid-forties, he looks almost 60, and was applying for medical retirement from the force.
McGoran's story, which he had changed at various times in pretrial hearings, was that he used no obscene language and was not aggressive to the brothers in any way. Gary Lescacallet started the fight with him ; then he went down and felt alot of people kicking him; heard Brodnik yell, "Look out, Paul, he's got your gun!"; then heard the shot. At the time of the shot, he had blacked out - couldn't see but could still hear what was going on - seconds later, he regained his sight and ran for cover; saw Gary Lescallet shoot at him and miss.
Needless to say, the defense managed to pick apart most of this story) later, other prosecution witnesses also contradicted McGoran). Many times. Charles Garry accused McGoran of drawing the gun, aiming at Gary, whom he had knocked to the ground and shooting his partner by accident as Brodnik stepped between them. McGoran calmly took Garry's accusation. The valium kept him from losing his temper, but the jury could clearly see the pig was drugged.
According to criminal law, the character of the victim of an alleged assault must be taken into account. But Judge Mana has refused to let the defense question McGoran about his background, his drinking habits, his past instances of violence, even the time when he was arrested and tried for assault on a teenager, or the time when he was supposed to take a lie detector test but got a 30-minute attack of tachycardia at the mere thought of it. All these facts came out in Garry's questions, but the D.A. always objected and the judge always sustained. Garry was told that character evidence might be admissible during the defense case. This was clearly illegal, since defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty; the burden rests with the prosecution, and the defense is not required to put on any case at all.
The matter of identification had always been a tricky one for McGoran. In pretrial hearings, he had said at different times that five, six, seven, and an unknown number of young men were there At the trial, he stuck to six (thus omitting Gio Lopez) and deffinitely identified Gary, Nelson, Mario, Bebe and Jose. Tony he was not "100 per cent sure of". The only evidence linking Tony to the crime thus far was a blue Chevrolet registered in Tony's name from which the brothers were moving property into the house.
Across the street from the home of Jose Rios lived a devoutly Catholic Polish family: parents and three daughters. The middle daughter, aged 20, had a boyfriend (chicano) named David Caravantes. who used to pick her up every morning, eat breakfast with the family, and then take her to school. On the morning of May 1, 1969, Caravantes watched the shooting of Brodnik from the downstairs living room window, while his girlfriend, and her mother and younger sister, watched from upstairs.
Irene Jarzyna, the mother, was the witness following McGoran. She came on cute at first, with her limited understanding of English. By the end of the week, she was sinister, having contradicted herself many times, made a fool of herself at least twice, and recklessly identified all six brothers as being at the scene (at the lineup she had identified only Mario and Tony). She also said the "boy" who shot the gun was short and stocky (implicating Mario) and fired it twice in rapid succession (or as she put it, "boom-boom"). This contradicted her hysterical statement to police on May 1 : "It was all so fast, so fast-I'm not really sure who (did the shooting)."
The highlight of Mrs. J's testimony came with her walking demonstration. Charles asked her how she could identify all six defendants now when at the lineup she could only pick out two. "By the way they walk," she answered, meaning their gait from the holding cell to their chairs. A distance of about 3 feet. Garry asked her to demonstrate these very unique walks that she could remember after 14 months. The woman then proceeded to slouch and sidle along in pitifully bad imitation of a kind of cool, gangster stride. She did this six times, one for each brother. The defendants broke up laughing, and the jurors could hardly contain themselves.
A day later, Michael Kennedy asked her please to repeat the demonstration of Bebe's walk. Mrs. J seemed somewhat embarrassed about the situation she had gotten herself into- &the result of her own loud mouth and eagerness to support law and order. Kennedy made her demonstrate several times in the middle of the courtroom. Then he said, "Excuse me, aren't you confused? I seem to remember that was the walk you gave to Mario Martínez yesterday."
After the fiasco of Mrs. Jarzyna, it was hard to take the prosecution seriously. Her 16-year-old daughter came on next. She couldn't identify anybody (at the lineup she made one incorrect choice) but reiterated her mother's story that a short boy shot Brodnik. In fact, she had run to get her glasses midway through the incident, and probably didn't see much.
Next came David Caravantes, whom some of us thought would be the prosecution's suprise witness. But Caravantes only further confused matters by saying he heard McGoran cursing (specifically, calling Jose Rios a "son of a bitch" which McGoran had denied, saw McGoran start the fight with Gary by throwing him up against the pillar, didn't see who did the shooting, but saw Gary take the gun from McGoran during their fight.
When Garry started to cross examine, Caravantes took the fifth amendment on questions about his address and school. He had apparently used a false address to get into the College of Marin, but by taking the fifth he made it look far worse. After repeatedly denying he knew McGoran, Caravantes finally had to admit he had exchanged words with the man, had worked in the same store with him for a year, and on May 1, when questioned by police about the incident, asked first to talk to McGoran and clear up some details. Garry accused Caravantes of being a part-time police informer. The witness denied it, but it was clear by his manner (describing people as ''white" male Americans") that he was at least a police-admirer.
On the second day of Caravantes' Huey Newton was freed on bail.
In the 16 months since LOS SIETE DE LA RAZA was founded, it has grown into a major force in the Mission District, probably the central force shaping the politics of brown youth in the area. With the intention of both serving and educating the people, Los Siete has begun two breakfast for children programs, a free people' clinic two full-time doctors, a La Raza Legal Defense program with almost 200 participating lawyers, and a people's community newspaper; Basta Ya! (Enough!), which has begun to tell people in the Mission the truth in simple language about the nature of their oppression at the hands of the police, the politicians, anti big business. They are also fighting the development plan to obliterate the barrio and replace it with high-rent middleclass housing. The whole Mission has changed in the last year, and graffiti saying "Free Los Siete" lines the walls. As one member of the group said, "Los Siete's not a party, it's not an organization, not a movement; it's a way of life."
This is a very costly trial. Please send contributions to Los Siete, c, .o Charles Garry, 341 Market St., SF