Solidarity with the San Francisco Eight

By Alex Clermont

NEW YORK--More than 500 people came to a meeting at the Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Center on November 30 to show their support for the San Francisco Eight (SF 8), eight former Black Panthers who are being retried for the 1971 murder of a police officer.

The meeting was sponsored by the Free the SF 8 committee, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and others.

The men's original murder trial took place in 1975, against the backdrop of state repression, where programs like COINTELPRO smashed the Black Panthers through violence and misinformation.

The case against the SF 8 was based on confessions that the New Orleans Police obtained through the torture--including beatings, sensory depravation, smothering with blankets soaked in boiling water and cattle-prod shocks to the genitals--of three of the accused. The confessions were labeled inadmissible by the first trail judge, decades ago, and the charges were dismissed.

The case was reopened in 2005 by the California State's Attorney's office, with the help of a federal task force.

At the meeting, attorney Soffiyah Elijah explained how almost all the evidence in the case was lost, damaged or has been denied to the defense. That includes the murder weapon and an item that supposedly contains the fingerprints from one of the defendants.

Four of the SF 8--Ray Boudreaux, Hank Jones, Francisco Torres, and Harold Taylor--were on hand in New York to speak about their experiences.

Taylor described what happened to him in police custody. "When we first saw the police in the interrogation room," he said, "they told us that they didn't want to know anything yet. They just wanted to beat our ass." There was disgust and shock throughout the hall as he continued, "The police would smash my ears with their hands so hard that they began to leak fluid."

Boudreaux described how his life as a community activist has been affected, and how he lost his job as an electrician after his arrest. However, he said, "this event has galvanized my family and has brought us closer together. My kids ask about my history as a political activist and now that history is talked about openly."

Jones agreed, describing the activities of the Panthers, "I think they want to kill that legacy," he said. "They don't want the kids to know that people fought back against things like racism. We represent a time that this government doesn't want people to remember."