imc indymedia

Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News

white themeblack themered themetheme help
About Us Contact Us Calendar Publish RSS
Features
latest news
best of news
syndication
commentary


KILLRADIO

VozMob

ABCF LA

A-Infos Radio

Indymedia On Air

Dope-X-Resistance-LA List

LAAMN List




IMC Network:

Original Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: ambazonia canarias estrecho / madiaq kenya nigeria south africa canada: hamilton london, ontario maritimes montreal ontario ottawa quebec thunder bay vancouver victoria windsor winnipeg east asia: burma jakarta japan korea manila qc europe: abruzzo alacant andorra antwerpen armenia athens austria barcelona belarus belgium belgrade bristol brussels bulgaria calabria croatia cyprus emilia-romagna estrecho / madiaq euskal herria galiza germany grenoble hungary ireland istanbul italy la plana liege liguria lille linksunten lombardia london madrid malta marseille nantes napoli netherlands nice northern england norway oost-vlaanderen paris/Île-de-france patras piemonte poland portugal roma romania russia saint-petersburg scotland sverige switzerland thessaloniki torun toscana toulouse ukraine united kingdom valencia latin america: argentina bolivia chiapas chile chile sur cmi brasil colombia ecuador mexico peru puerto rico qollasuyu rosario santiago tijuana uruguay valparaiso venezuela venezuela oceania: adelaide aotearoa brisbane burma darwin jakarta manila melbourne perth qc sydney south asia: india mumbai united states: arizona arkansas asheville atlanta austin baltimore big muddy binghamton boston buffalo charlottesville chicago cleveland colorado columbus dc hawaii houston hudson mohawk kansas city la madison maine miami michigan milwaukee minneapolis/st. paul new hampshire new jersey new mexico new orleans north carolina north texas nyc oklahoma philadelphia pittsburgh portland richmond rochester rogue valley saint louis san diego san francisco san francisco bay area santa barbara santa cruz, ca sarasota seattle tampa bay tennessee urbana-champaign vermont western mass worcester west asia: armenia beirut israel palestine process: fbi/legal updates mailing lists process & imc docs tech volunteer projects: print radio satellite tv video regions: oceania united states topics: biotech

Surviving Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: canada: quebec east asia: japan europe: athens barcelona belgium bristol brussels cyprus germany grenoble ireland istanbul lille linksunten nantes netherlands norway portugal united kingdom latin america: argentina cmi brasil rosario oceania: aotearoa united states: austin big muddy binghamton boston chicago columbus la michigan nyc portland rochester saint louis san diego san francisco bay area santa cruz, ca tennessee urbana-champaign worcester west asia: palestine process: fbi/legal updates process & imc docs projects: radio satellite tv
printable version - js reader version - view hidden posts - tags and related articles

Last Man Standing -- The Story of Geronimo Pratt

by Paul H. Rosenberg Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2000 at 2:23 PM
rad@gte.net

Jack Olsen’s *Last Man Standing: The Triumph and Tragedy of Geronimo Pratt* is much more than an isolated but compelling story of justice tragically perverted and eventually triumphant. Here I focus on lessons directly relevant to struggles ongoing in LA today, looking forward to October 22.

Last Man Standing Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt
      By Jack Olsen
      Published by Doubleday
      500 pages; .50

Reviewed by
      Paul Rosenberg

Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt is a multifaceted story with many lessons in it--some quite obvious, others less so. Pratt served over 26 years for a 1968 murder committed in Santa Monica while he was under FBI surveillance in Oakland, 350 miles away. The FBI not only knew Pratt was innocent, it actively participated in framing him. Pratt was targeted because he was a leader in the Black Panther Party, but the perverted criminal justice system that kept him locked up for more than a quarter century is precisely the same system that produced the Ramparts scandal, the Rodney King beating and countless other brutal violations of fundamental human rights. The problems revealed aren't simply those of "a few bad apples," they encompass the entire criminal justice system: police, prosecutors, judges, prison officials, and politicians. The depth of the problems clearly shows that nothing currently contemplated will come close to solving them.

But Last Man Standing is not just a story about the injustice of the system, it's also the story of a man who eventually triumphed over that injustice. Author Jack Olsen takes us back to Pratt's childhood in Morgan City, Louisiana, a town of 15,000 where blacks and whites lived civilly with one another thanks to the protection of a group of black veterans from World War II and Korea known simply as "the elders." The elders descended from a self-defense organization called the Legionnaires founded by Marcus Garvey in the 1920s. (The Louisiana chapter went by the name Deacons For Defense and Justice.) Following a Klan ambush that killed one of the first black deputies in Louisiana, the elders summoned Pratt and instructed him to join the army, so that he could join their ranks in defending his community. He ended up doing two tours in Vietnam, and getting a first-hand education in the nature of imperialism. When he got out, the elders sent him to Los Angeles to help train the fledgling Black Panthers in community self-defense.

This backstory of how Pratt became a Panther leader is atypical, but historically revealing of a tradition that most Panthers and their supporters knew only by reputation, and that most Americans today remain totally ignorant of. Yet the Panther's full name--the Black Panther Party for Self Defense--clearly claimed a place squarely within that tradition; it's impossible to have any understanding of the Panthers without taking this tradition into account. It's also impossible to understand the Panthers without realizing how tenuous this connection really was. Pratt's military experience was so valuable and so rare within the Panthers that eventually he was sent across the country training (and where necessary establishing) local Panther chapters. But Pratt himself had never served an apprenticeship in the Deacons for Defense and Justice. Thus, the Panthers were part of tradition they had only the most tenuous links to--primarily those of legend and imagination.

The weakness of their foundation was one of the crucial factors making them vulnerable to FBI's vicious COINTELPRO program, which was directed to infiltrate, sabotage and destroy the Panthers in clear violation of the First Amendment and a host of criminal statutes beginning with murder. Four days after the Chicago PD murdered Fred Hampton, 39 LAPD and FBI agents clearly had murder on their minds when they attacked the LA Panthers' headquarters in a predawn raid on December 8, 1969. The furious assault--with thousands of rounds of police gunfire, tear gas canisters fired from grenade launchers and dynamite dropped from helicopters--eventually involved over 200 officers but failed to kill a single Panther thanks to fortifications installed under Pratt's instruction. Twelve Panthers surrendered after a 5-hour standoff. Pratt was arrested in his sleep over a mile away, and charged with conspiracy.

This arrest began a period of continuous harassment and phony charges that became so routine, that Pratt at first took no special notice of the case charging him with the 1968 murder of Caroline Olsen--it was just another bogus charge intended to harass him, tie up his energy, keep him on his heels. But this one bogus charge was different--it was the one that the FBI, the LAPD and the DA decided on to put him away once and for all. To pull it off they played very dirty, but the key to their success in convicting Pratt was the larger success in splitting the Black Panther Party into factions by using informers, infilitrators, provocateurs, anonymous disinformation and other means to capitalize on every internal disagreement or misunderstanding. As one result, by the time of Pratt's trial he'd been expelled from the Party and everyone in the Party had been ordered not to cooperate in his defense. None of the high-ranking Panthers who could place him in Oakland on the day of the shooting testified--Kathleen Cleaver, herself exiled, did testify for Pratt, but couldn't say for certain that she'd seen him that precise day.

In the run-up to the trial, the author takes us part way behind the scenes, so we can see the routine level of official skullduggery in the framing of Pratt. The initial eye witness identifications--including police sketches approved by the witnesses--didn't match him. At one point the police fixed on another suspect, and the victim's ex-husband even made a positive ID before the police discovered that their suspect had been incarcerated when the murder took place. A police informant, Julio Butler, who'd been expelled from the Panthers by Pratt, told a wildly improbable tale that had one thing going for it: it fingered Pratt for the murder. Butler fingered another Panther, Tyrone Hutchinson, as Pratt's accomplice, but when he was pulled in for questioning, Hutchinson identified two young addicts as the murderers, and named 3 other men who'd heard the addicts brag of their crime. The LAPD sergeant who interrogated him "warned him to 'keep your mouth shut about this if you know what's good for you.'" Hutchinson's name dropped from the case, the leads he offered were never investigated, but the rest of Butler's story was still treated like gospel.

Most of these backdoor shenanigans never saw the light of day in open court, despite the prosecution's legal responsibility to turn over such information. Everything the prosecution couldn't bury completely was buried as much as possible under an avalanche of courtroom lies. The mistaken identification did make it into court, but both the witness and the officer involved committed perjury, claiming it wasn't a positive ID. Both eyewitnesses disavowed their initial descriptions, blamed police sketch artists for doing a poor job, and pretended that they hadn't been satisfied with the sketches, despite having okayed them. Butler's role as an informant was simply denied.

The similarities to the Ramparts scandal are striking--blatantly falsified testimony that wasn't even superficially plausible was used to convict an innocent man. In Pratt's case as in Ramparts both judges and DAs had to know that their witnesses were lying. As officers of the court, they had a legal and ethical obligation to report this, and not to allow this evidence to be used to convict. In both cases, the entire criminal justice system blinded itself in the course of going after a designated, demonized enemy--in Pratt's case it was the Black Panthers, in the Ramparts scandal it was the gangs. In both cases, the criminal justice system turned itself into a force of lawlessness.

There is much, much more than this in Last Man Standing. There's the story of Pratt's first eight years in prison spent entirely in the hole, the story of repeated harassment and attempts to get him killed by prison officials, the story of his emergence as a prison leader with an inner strength that commanded respect much the same way that Nelson Mandella did, the story of the repeated perversion of his prison review and parole hearing process, and the career destruction of the one prison psychologists who refused to break the rules to get at Pratt. Finally, there's the story of the seemingly endless struggle to overturn a conviction based on a towering edifice of lies.

This last story cannot be overstressed. For decades now conservatives have been railing against the appeals process for supposedly giving convicted (therefore guilty) prisoners endless opportunities to overturn convictions on "mere technicalities." Pratt's case is a textbook refutation of such nonsense. Again and again Pratt's lawyers went into court with evidence and arguments that met every legal requirement to overturn his conviction, or at the very least to justify a full evidentiary hearing. But the deck was stacked unfailingly against them. Every time a judge made a legally insupportable ruling, that ruling was protected from further scrutiny by judges following routine procedure. It was strikingly similar to the kind of "justice" blacks had received for generations in the South. Only the appearance of procedural fairness was more elaborate.

Ironically, what finally got Pratt released was an attempt to sink him that backfired. For decades Pratt had been forced to fight the entire LA County legal establishment. The whole cozy system that turned a blind eye toward the Ramparts scandal turned a blind eye toward all the rotten lies and coverups involved in Pratt's case as well. As Pratt sought to prove that Butler was an informant, that the prosecutions key witness had committed perjury, his case was suddenly transferred to Orange County--seemingly out of the frying pan, into the fire.

But only seemingly.

Orange County is significantly more conservative than Los Angeles County. But Pratt's case goes to show that overt ideology is far less important than institutional self-protection. Once his case was removed from the poisonously prejudiced L.A. environment, where everyone had a stake in seeing the system protected, the overflowing contradictions in the case against Pratt were impossible to ignore. The judge who ordered Pratt's release was a conservative Republican appointee. LA's democratic DA, Gil Garcetti, tried to appeal, but was turned down 3-0.

There are many morals to be drawn from Pratt's story, and there's much more to Pratt's story than I've described here. But for those who continue to fight for an end to the unjust criminal justice system here in Los Angeles, one moral is particularly clear: the entire system is rotten to the core. It's not just a few bad apples in the LAPD, it's the entire mindset of the LAPD. And it's not just the LAPD, but the mindset of the DAs office as well. And it's not just mindset of the DA, it's the mindset of the judges, from the trial level on up the ladder. Every step of the way there are courageous individual exceptions--a few non-rotten apples. But the system itself is rotten to the core. It took nearly 27 years to exonerate Geronimo Pratt, and it only happened by a fluke. Justice, when it finally came, was an accident, showing up by surprise when least expected.

Of course there's more to the problem than just a rotten criminal justice system. There are also rotten laws produced by an equally rotten political system. Tobacco, which kills 400,000 people a year is a legal, unregulated product whose manufacturers are amongst the most powerful corporations in the world. Marijuana and cocaine, utterly harmless by comparison, have no such protection--whole prisons have been built and filled with the unprotected sellers of these relatively innocuous drugs. But part of the way to undo the madness of these laws is to expose the madness of the system that enforces them. Last Man Standing does exactly that.

Report this post as:

Local News

Summer 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert! J10 11:58PM

Watch the Debate: Excluded Candidates for Governor of California M30 10:20PM

Change Links June 2018 posted M28 12:41AM

The Montrose Peace Vigil at 12 Years M22 1:01PM

Unity Archive Project M21 2:42AM

Dianne Feinstein's Promotion of War, Secret Animal Abuse, Military Profiteering, Censorshi M17 3:22PM

CA Senate Bill 1303 would require an independent coroner rather than being part of police M10 2:08PM

Three years after OC snitch scandal, no charges filed against sheriffs deputies M10 1:57PM

California police agencies violate Brown Act (open meetings) M02 1:31PM

Insane Company Wants To Send Nuke Plant Waste To New Mexico A29 4:47PM

Change Links May 2018 A27 1:40AM

Worker-Owned Car Wash on Vermont Closed A26 10:37PM

GUIDE TO REBEL CITY LOS ANGELES AVAILABLE A12 5:39PM

lausd whistle blower A10 11:58PM

Website Upgrade A10 3:02AM

Help KCET and UCLA identify 60s-70s Chicano images A04 1:02PM

UCLA Luskin: Casting Youth Justice in a Different Light A02 11:58AM

Change Links April 2018 A01 11:27AM

Nuclear Shutdown News March 2018 M31 6:57PM

Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018! M29 7:00PM

Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018! M29 6:38PM

Spring 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert! M19 2:02PM

Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Shows Shocking Eviction Trends in L.A. M16 5:40PM

Steve Mnuchin video at UCLA released M15 12:34AM

Actress and Philanthropist Tanna Frederick Hosts Project Save Our Surf Beach Clean Ups M06 12:10PM

After Being Told He's 'Full of Sh*t' at School Event, Mnuchin Demands UCLA Suppress Video M02 11:44AM

Resolution of the Rent Strike in Boyle Heights M01 6:28PM

What Big Brother Knows About You and What You Can Do About It M01 3:30PM

More Local News...

Other/Breaking News

Fbi deletes this report on their atrocities J18 7:43PM

police crimes J18 1:26PM

America is Suffering Under an Ego Driven Fascist Pig While Spineless GOP Proudly Looks On J18 12:01PM

Paraphysique de synecdoque J18 12:34AM

Le capital ou l'épouvante permanente J15 11:30PM

Authoritarian Capitalism and Digital Demagogue J15 3:08AM

The Shortwave Report 06/15/18 Listen Globally! J14 4:23PM

Autisme sociétal J13 10:53PM

Georgias Poultry Justice Alliane Helps Workers in SE J13 8:50PM

Greedy Animal Researchers Hide Truth About Alzheimer's From Public J13 3:59PM

Austerity Policy as Momentous Mistake J12 5:19PM

Abrégé de la connerie J12 1:35PM

May 2018 Honduras coup update J10 7:30PM

Neoliberalism and Authoritarianism - A Symbiotic Pair J10 7:50AM

La société au TOUT dégueulasse J09 11:48AM

New Low Power Fm is being planned 4 hopi people AZ J07 9:56PM

The Shortwave Report 06/08/18 Listen Globally! J07 4:24PM

Asylum Seekers Heinously Abused By Trump, Sessions, Kelly, Nielsen, Miller Etc J06 5:15PM

Neoliberalism or New Freedom for Corporations J06 5:29AM

Neocon Black Op Of Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, Lucianne Goldberg, Isikoff, Drudge J05 12:01PM

De GLI-F4 au E579, E585 J05 1:43AM

Orthodromie succincte J03 2:16AM

Cape Cod: From Colonial Plunder To Atomic Revenge J01 11:05PM

Israeli Manipulation Of US 2016 & Other Elections J01 3:44PM

G7 Hurricane Debt Relief Caribbean/Small Islands J01 10:46AM

Trade War and Zero Deficit Myth J01 12:33AM

The Shortwave Report 06/01/18 Listen Globally! M31 4:28PM

Paraphysique des perturbateurs attentionnels M31 3:25PM

More Breaking News...
© 2000-2018 Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Running sf-active v0.9.4 Disclaimer | Privacy