RAINBOW NATION NEWS
SEPTEMBER 23, 1941--AUGUST 21, 1971
SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (LNS)--It was Saturday afternoon August 21, 1971 in the first tier of the maximum security "adjustment center" of San Quentin Prison. They cage 27 prisoners there on the first tier--prisoners like the Soledad Brothers, Ruchell Magee, and Luis Talamantes.
On August 21, prison guards shot George Jackson dead in the adjoining courtyard--an open area surrounded by a 20 foot brick wall and two guard towers manned by special sharpshooters.
Jackson, well-known for his writings on prison life and the struggle of black people, was serving his tenth year of imprisonment, out of an "indeterminate" 1 year to life sentence for stealing $70 from a gas station.
John Clutchette, one of George's co-defendants in the Soledad Brothers case described what happened in a note smuggled out of the steel fortress: when guards started firing into the cell block, George realized they were after him and ran out into the yard to draw their fire away from everyone else. When he was first shot down in the back he wasn't dead so another guard carne up and shot him in the head.
For the three days after the murder, no one was allowed into San Quentin--no relatives, no lawyers, no press. The two remaining Soledad Brothers--Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo were not allowed to go to a previously scheduled hearing about their case on Monday.
Every two hours or so for the three days there was another press statement from the warden to clarify "what happened".
When Mrs. Georgia Jackson called the prison after hearing a radio report of her son's death, "A guard laughed at me and said he was glad George finally was dead. He told me: 'You'll be running out of sons pretty soon. We got one last year and one today.' "
The facts came out a little jumbled. According to Associate Warden James L. Park, a gun had been smuggled to George through the elaborate system of metal detectors and careful searches, by a young radical lawyer named Stephen Bingham. George hid the gun and two clips of bullets in, as Park described it, "his long natural hair style." He pulled the gun on guards and opened the cells of the 26 other prisoners on the floor. George, Park claimed, was trying to escape through the completely walled courtyard--a box canyon.
"Why would he run out into the yard?" asked Mrs. Jackson. "Are they trying to say my son was crazy? George wasn't crazy."
Many people had grave doubts about the gun smuggling theory thrown around by prison officials even before the prisoners' account got out. A woman who had visited Jackson at San Quentin explained one reason:
"Anyone entering San Quentin stops at an outside gate where you leave your car and enter a small building and sign in. Before you reach the building housing the visiting room you are searched. You place everything you are carrying and everything in your pockets on a small counter to be inspected by a guard. There you walk through a metal detector. Tie clips, keys, and spiral rings on a note book have been known to make the metal detector light up.
"When it is one of the Soledad Brothers or other political prisoners you are visiting, the contents of everything you are carrying is double checked to make sure you are not bringing in any radical literature. This is the search Jackson's last reported visitor--Steve Bingham--was subjected to before entering.
"Once inside the visiting center you again sign in and wait anywhere between a half hour and three hours to see the inmate. This is partly because each inmate brought from the adjustment center must be personally escorted by the guard and is subject to a thorough strip search before entering and again after leaving."
While the fantasies were churned out in press conferences in front of San Quentin, the 26 remaining prisoners in the first tier were be\ing beaten and tortured. They wrote an affidavit that each of the 26 signed:
"We the undersigned are each boing held incommunicado because of the suffering and both the wounds and internal injuries inflicted on our persons by. . .agents of Warden Louis S. Nelson. Warden Nelson and Associate Warden James L. Park through their agents. . .killed one George Jackson and conspired to murder the undersigned who refused to join in the state official's conspiracy.
The officers. . .opened the cell gates and ordered us to come from our cells. Thereafter gunshots or what appeared to be gun shots went off and guards armed with guns entered the cell bloc and ordered us to come out or be killed. We were ordered to tale off all our clothes and walk through the cell one at a time. Each of us were given a vicious physical beating by prison guards' black jacks, clubs, and guns. We were handcuffed and made to lie on the ground naked from approximately four p. m. to ten p. m. . . . One inmate, Allen Mancino, who was hand and leg chained on the ground, begged the guards to loosen the handcuffs on him. He was told to keep his mouth shut by a guard, who shot part of his leg off with a rifle. Mancino was made to lay begging for a doctor for approximately one hour before the guard would allow him moved. We were made to lay on the ground while prison guards threatened to kill us and shot all around. At approximately ten p. m. guards interrogated again. . .
". . . While being held incommunicado we are being constantly threatened by guards. We are suffering from wounds and injuries and are living in an atmosphere of fear by reason of what was heretofore stated. We are being denied the right to have legal papers and we seek permission to further offer affidavits and testimony at a hearing if heard by this court. Warden Nelson will continue these beastly acts until the courts grant the release sought. We declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct."
Finally on Tuesday August 24, Fleeta and John, enclosed behind a bullet-proof glass and metal wall separating them from the spectators, were allowed to go to their hearing. They smuggled out the affidavit and tried to present it to the court but Judge Carl Allen wouldn't let Fleeta or John or their lawyers talk about San Quentin and what was going on there.
"We have a specific motion to deal with here (whether Judge Frank Shaw should be removed from the Soledad case because of prejudice)," said Allen, "and we can't talk about anything else here."
The three lawyers, John Thorne, Floyd Silliman and Richard Silver all said the motions were irrelevant and what was relevant was what was going on in San Quentin When they tried to talk about the brutality, the judge replied, "There's no proof that that's going on, it's just an allegation."
At that point Fleeta and John stood up very painfully. Their heads had been shaved-presumably so they wouldn't smuggle out any weapons. They removed their shirts revealing backs covered with welts and bruises. "The reason they weren't here yesterday," said Thorne, "is that the guards hadn't finished beating them."
John started talking about the torture they were subjected to and what was going on inside. "They told me I would be dead in three days," Fleeta yelled. The audience began screaming and the tactical squad in full riot gear moved in from the back of the courtroom.
Mark--a member of the Political Prisoners Defense Committee told everyone to be quiet. "The first person who gives the tactical squad an excuse to move would have to be a pig." Then the crowd quieted down.
The next hearing was on Thursday, August 6, and things didn't stay calm. At one point Judge Allen denied a motion for medical care for the prisoners and wouldn't issue a restraining order to prevent guards from beating prisoners. John Clutchette's mother started crying and calling the judge a son of a bitch.
From nowhere the tactical police appeared in full riot gear to remove her from the courtroom, carrying with them a new boomerang shaped weapon as a substitute for the traditional club. A group of people tried to protect her from being removed from the courtroom. The police lunged for them and started beating heads. They seemed to aim at the black men in particular. Phil Price, who has been active in the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee was on the ground with a tactical squad on him constantly jamming his club into him. They had his leg over a wooden seat and were clubbing it trying to break the leg or smash the knee. By the time they pulled him off the ground, "he was streaming with blood--there wasn't one inch of him that wasn't covered with blood," gasped an observer. Price was taken to the lock up and beaten with a submachine gun pointed at his head, and charged with assault.
Since the announcement of George Jackson's death, the prison officials' explanations have become more and more complicated. Police have issued a warrant for Stephen Bingham, a young radical lawyer who supposedly smuggled in the gun George supposedly used. Bingham is being charged with murder, under a California law that says an accessory to a crime is guilty of the crime itself (the same law used to get Angela Davis). The Prison claims that George got the gun back to his cell by hiding it in his hair. "George had light hair and you could
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RAINBOW NATION NEWS
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see his scalp," said a former prisoner who knew him in Soledad Prison. "For them to give us that ridiculous story that a gun was put in his hair is absurd."
The prison officials next hooked onto the idea that he hid the gun under a knitted cap which they claimed he had recently started wearing. Later they claimed they found a wig concealed in Jackson's cell, which he allegedly used for the smuggling.
George Jackson is dead. Jackson's book, Soledad Brother is available in paperback. It's a fantastically vivid account of life inside a major penitentiary under Amerikan Fascism. The following excerpts are from a letter taken from the book. . .
"The picture that I have painted of Soledad's general population facility may have made it sound not too bad at all. That mistaken impression would result from the absence in my description of one more very important feature of the main line--terrorism. A frightening, petrifying diffusion of violence and intimidation is emitted from the offices of the warden and captain. How else could a small group of armed men be expected to hold and rule another much larger group except through fear?
"Nothing has improved, nothing has changed in weeks. We're on the same course, the blacks are fast losing the last of their restraints. Growing numbers of blacks are openly passed over when paroles are considered. They have become aware that their only hope lies in resistance. They have learned that resistance is actually possible. The holds are beginning to slip away.
"Very few men imprisoned for economic crimes or even crimes of passion against the oppressor feel that they are really guilty. Most of today's black convicts have come to understand that they are the most abused victims of an unrighteous order. Up until now, the prospect of parole has kept us from confronting our captors with any real determination. But now with the living conditions deteriorating and with the sure knowledge that we are slated for destruction, we have been transformed Into an implacable army of liberation.
"Some people are going to get killed out of this situation that is growing. That is not a warning (or wishful thinking). I see it as an "unavoidable consequence" of placing and leaving control of our lives in the hands of men like Reagan.
"This jail brings out the very best in brothers or destroys them entirely. But none are unaffected. None who leave are normal. If I leave here alive, I'll leave nothing behind. They'll never count me among the broken men, but I can 't say that I am normal either. I've been hungry too long. I've gotten angry too often. I've been lied to and insulted too many times . . . They've pushed me over the line from which there can be no retreat. I KNOW that they will not be satisfied until they've pushed me out of this existence altogether."