Monday, March 28, 2005

In today's LA TIMES (3/28/05) ANDREW BLANKSTEIN wrote a profile of ROBERT BLAKE'S defense attorney, GERALD SCHWARTZBACH. For those who didn't already know, Schwartzbach has been an activist bay-area lawyer for decades. In his piece, Blankstein mentions one of Schwartzbach's most famous cases, defending STEPHEN BINGHAM, another activist bay-area lawyer. Bingham had been accused of smuggling a gun in a tape recorder to the infamous GEORGE JACKSON who was in San Quentin's Adjustment Center at the time awaiting trial for the murder of a prison guard.

Jackson used the gun in an escape attempt and was killed by gun rail guard. Blankstein says, "Six people, including two prison guards, were killed during an escape attempt in which prisoners used the weapon." In actual fact, three prison guards were killed, not two. For the record, they were JERE GRAHAM, FRANK DELEON and PAUL KRASENES. Two other guards, BRECKENRIDGE and RUBIACO nearly bled to death and might have died if COs hadn't blasted their way into the adjustment center to rescue them. Two other inmates (KANE and LYNN) were also killed that day, but not by guards. They were two white inmates who were delivering food to the cells when Jackson pulled the ASTRA 9 mm pistol and took over the tier in the adjustment center. Jackson and his crimies killed the two inmates just because they were there and they were white.

According to the surviving witnesses of that afternoon on August 21, 1971, Jackson personally shot Graham execution style with one round to the back of the head after saying about the gun, "Let's see if this thing works." DeLeon and Krasenes died a slower, more painful death. They were first beaten, then stabbed and then their throats were cut from ear to ear. They bled out over a period of half an hour.

KANE and LYNN, the white inmates, were hogtied with bedsheets and basically slaughtered with razor blades and shanks. You would think that Jackson, described by BLANKSTEIN as "a leader of a black prison rights movement," would have had some compassion for inmates who were trapped in the same "prison industrial complex" he condemned in his books.

In the Blake case, Schwartzbach, according to Blankstein, "steered clear of the media." "The media, Schwartzbach believed, had already tried his client."

In the Bingham case, for those who remember, Schwartzbach went the other way and courted the media in the runup to the trial. A Bingham Defense Fund was set up and donations solicited through the usual channels. The Defense Fund was run by the same people that provided Bingham with a false passport, identity papers and thousands in cash when he fled the country. House parties were organized where Stephen spoke about his upcoming trial and his 13 years as a fugitive. Selected media, which is to say sympathetic media, was invited to these events. The ground was being softened. Doubts were already planted in the public's mind about Bingham's reason for hiding out in Europe for 13 years. The story for public consumption was that Bingham was afraid he'd be railroaded by a vindictive justice system for the murder of three prison guards. The friendly SF alt press went out of its way to concoct and postulate other possible scenarios for how the gun might have been smuggled to Jackson. These included wild theories that prison officials had actually given Jackson the gun in order to have an excuse to kill him. That it was all part of a larger conspiracy to break the back of the Black Panthers. Never mind the fact that Jackson and Huey Newton were at war at the time of his escape attempt and Newton got a triple bonus from Jackson's death. He gained a martyr to the cause. He got rid of a rival for control of the Party. And he now had complete control of the profits from Jackson's best-selling book, SOLEDAD BROTHER. And never mind the fact that Penny Jackson, George's sister went to the Panther headquarters in Oakland immediately after the escape attempt and railed at Vanita Anderson and the other Panthers in residence that they were responsible for the death of her brother.

Ultimately, Bingham, like Blake, was found not guilty. In both cases, however, common sense would say otherwise.