by Sigcino Moyo
U.S. marshals are expected at the Don Jail in the next few dayso to pick up Gary Freeman, aka Joseph Pannell, alleged Black Panther and fugitive from U.S. justice.
Freeman, the librarian catapulted into the media glare when he was arrested by police in a very public display back in 2004, has recently given up his four-year legal fight to stay in Canada.
He will be shipped to Chicago, a city he left almost 40 years ago, according to U.S. authorities to escape charges of attempted murder and aggravated battery in the alleged shooting of police officer Terrence Knox.
Freeman writes on his website that he’s forgoing a Supreme Court challenge to his extradition in hopes of “dialogue to achieve a resolution in my 39-year-old case, one that is grounded in the spirit of peaceful conflict resolution.... If for no other reason than to allow for the healing of two families.”
But whether Freeman’s chances at a fair shake south of the border are better now, as Canadian courts have suggested, than they would have been in the early 70s remains a huge question mark.
There’s a tantalizing possibility that a black man will be elected president for the first time in U.S. history. Groove on that as you will.
But the reality for a black man accused of shooting a white cop is that the shadow of judicial prejudice and systemic racism still looms large four decades after the FBI’s Counterintelpro first began rounding up black men for their political opinions south of the border.
Shocking (or not) as it may seem, a UN committee against torture has likened Chicago to Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib in terms of the failure to prosecute or deal with evidence of police brutality.
Just last month, the People’s Law Office in Chicago wrangled a multi-million-dollar settlement in a series of cases exposing routine police torture and requisite cover-ups involving now deposed cop honcho Jon Burge and other Chicago law enforcement and government officials between 1971 and 1991.
Back in 2002, the Illinois attorney general’s office begrudgingly detailed complicity on the part of higher-ups, including states attorneys and judges, to keep the incidents hush-hush. Some 200 accused and former accused came forward during the probe to say they were beaten with rubber hoses, phone books and fists and forced to endure electric shocks, suffocation and mock executions at the hands of Chicago cops.
If we’re looking for examples of states where racial bias has been removed from most governmental practices, Illinois isn’t one, says G. Flint Taylor, founding partner of the People’s Law Office.
“Police brutality and police violence are in another crisis phase here,” Taylor says. “There has been no change in the basic fabric. You bring this guy back to Chicago and he’s got a lot less chance of getting a fair trial.”
For Freeman, the proverbial match thrown into this politically charged powder keg is the revelation that his accuser, Officer Knox, was named as a defendant in the historic 1974 Alli-ance to End Repression lawsuit against the Chicago police’s Subversive Activities Unit (also known as the Red Squad).
The squad, which routinely violated the Constitution as a matter of standard operating procedure, was found guilty in 1985 of infiltrating and disrupting lawful civic, political and religious orgs. Knox is listed as a Red Squad “control officer” in court depositions.
Is it a stretch, then, to suggest that if Knox was on the prowl for Panthers when he stopped Freeman 39 years ago, there could have been more to the stop than Knox wanting to know why the 19-year-old Freeman “wasn’t in school”?>
Do the differing accounts of the number of shots Freeman allegedly fired – seven in Knox’s supplemental record of the case, and 13 in his original victim impact statement, the latter used to procure Freeman’s 2004 arrest warrant – just indicate a lapse in memory?
Justice Marc Rosenberg of the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that this “single inconsistency” in the number of shots isn’t enough to send the case back for another hearing when weighed against the “totality” of the case records, which possess “sufficient indicia of reliability.”
But beyond all that, how can the American prosecutors make their case when physical evidence, including the gun, has been destroyed, some other records are MIA and key witnesses (all but Knox who took part in the arrest, seizure and forensic examination of the cold steel) are deceased?
The Extradition Act sets out that an order can be refused if “the request for extradition is made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person by reason of their race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, language, colour, political opinion, sex, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability or status.”
The Court of Appeal found that the “purpose” of extradition isn’t to punish Freeman because of his “race or colour.”
But it could have considered the issue of “political opinion” in the Chicago police’s insistence that Freeman was, although he denies it, a Black Panther party member.
Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge has taken up Knox’s cause. Anyone who attended one of the Freeman vigils may be interested to know that clicking on “Canadian Sympathizer Photos” on the FOP site could link to your picture.
While that jousting goes on, reports in the U.S. press say a plea bargain may be afoot.
Freeman’s partner, Natercia Coelho, isn’t saying. But law enforcement officials in Chicago, still stinging from the torture charges, are under growing pressure to create at least the illusion of a departmental retool – especially after video of off-duty cops abusing their authority has created a PR nightmare for the Chi-town department.
A public peace between Freeman and Knox may just be the balm needed to fix it, or so the theory goes.
Says Coelho, “It’s difficult for us as a family. There has been a lot of pain over the last three and a half years. I still have the same fears. But at the same time, we think the time is right for him to go back.”