Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, March 16, 2018

For some reason I was invited to participate on a panel at Buffalo State following the screening of Free Angela and All Political Prisoners last night. Of course I said I'd do it: I seldom need to be asked twice about that sort of thing. I love feeling like Norman Mailer in the beginning of Armies of the Night even though I don't act like that. Still, being the only old white guy on the dais was kind of odd.

The movie itself was quite good. I was familiar with the broad outlines of the story, of course. Davis, who Ronald Reagan's Board of Regents had fired from UCLA because she was unabashedly a member of the Communist Party, was involved with the defense committee for the Soledad Brothers, three inmates who were charged with the killing of a corrections officer. Davis developed a friendship with George Jackson, one of the three inmates, and through him became friendly with his brother. She'd been receiving hate mail and threatening letters and bought some guns for personal protection. Jackson's brother -- who was, I think, 19-- used the guns that were registered in Davis' name to bust the Soledad Brothers out while they were in court, taking the judge and the ADA and some jurors hostage. That plan went about the way you'd expect, and Davis went to ground. Kids, when you are implicated in a crime, the 'A' answer is probably to talk to a lawyer. In any event, following a nationwide manhunt she was captured and extradited to California, where she was tried and acquitted. (In the grand California tradition the prosecution over-tried its case, which went on for months. A five day trial that omitted the politics and the rest of the atmospherics might have gone differently, although the defense team did some really fantastic work as well.)

It is tempting to think of this outcome as the system working the way it is supposed to, but  I think the larger take-away is that the system worked the way it always does, and Davis' outcome is just a outlier in the overall story. George Jackson was shot down in a prison yard while Davis was awaiting trial. He was in prison in the first place on a $70 dollar larceny rap, and had spent seven years in solitary. Davis, a real-deal intellectual, was in fear of her life because of her exercise of her free speech rights-- and that fear extended to a legitimate fear that she might meet Jackson's fate at the hands of law enforcement.

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