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Gary Freeman allowed back in to Canada

No One Is Illegal - Toronto is delighted to welcome our comrade and ally Gary Freeman back to Canada.

We have supported Gary Freeman since he was arrested in 2004 outside a Yonge Street library in Toronto for shooting a Chicago police officer Terrence Knox in self-defence in 1969.

Listen to an interview we did with his family in 2008:

Toronto Star coverage from today (with video):


Stop an Unjust Extradition to the United States!


TORONTO, FEBRUARY, 2006 -- It seems that Black History Month is an appropriate time to reflect on the case of one Douglas Gary Freeman (the former Joseph Coleman Pannell, Jr.), a 56-year-old African American man sitting in a Canadian jail almost two years as he fights extradition to the United States.

As with Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month is often an excellent opportunity missed. Focusing on the horrible crimes of slavery, colonialism, and the struggles to overcome such evils as segregation and apartheid, it sometimes feels like "black history" is just that -- a fascinating, inspiring, yet somehow disconnected frame of time unrelated to the present.

Yet there are many from "back then" who are still paying the price for standing up, for resisting racism (The Angola 3, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, to name a few).

And then there's this Freeman guy. He would be the first to admit he's nobody famous. He was never a leader or high-profile activist. But these are not prerequisites to walk into the gun-sights of racist America. All it took in his case was a simple matter of the wrong skin pigmentation, an incident of racial and political profiling.

MARCH 1969

"Man" had yet to walk on the moon when Freeman, then 19 years old, was walking down a Chicago street in 1969. It is hard for most people in Canada, especially those of us who enjoy what can only be described as white skin privilege, to imagine what would be going though Freeman's mind when he was arbitrarily stopped by a white police officer and asked to identify himself. After all, this was 1960s Chicago, when the police department had a hard-earned reputation as one
of the most corrupt and brutal in North America. Chicago officers were given "shoot-to-kill" orders during 1968 disturbances by then Mayor Richard J. Daley. A combined city/federal effort boosted the police Red Squad and other agents of repression to isolate and "neutralize" peace and anti-poverty groups.

The stench of racism hung particularly heavy during those years, as Martin Luther King found when he was exposed to racist mobs in Chicago far worse than any he had survived in the south while campaigning for civil rights. Incidents of police brutality were an everyday occurrence, and the African-American community quite appropriately viewed the Chicago police as an occupying army.

During 1969, a committee formed whose title painfully illustrated the social scene at the time: The Committee to End the Murder of Black People. The Chicago police murders of 11 young black men, so long a part of daily life that it hardly made the news, had reached such proportions that the community had to stand up and name this police practice for what
it was: outright murder. According to The Boston Review, "In the late 1960s, Chicago police led the nation in the slaying of private citizens, who were euphemistically characterized as 'fleeing felons' to mask the routine use of excessive force by police against racial minorities. The police also exploited seemingly benign offense categories, such as disorderly conduct, vagrancy, and loitering to bully minority youths and adults who had the audacity to challenge police authority."

Freeman's Choice: Become a Statistic or a Survivor?

Court documents indicate Mr. Freeman attempted to defend himself when his life was threatened. Freeman appears to have had two choices: become a statistic, or a survivor.

One could argue over the details of what happened that day (and argument is about all one could do, since physical evidence was destroyed, and there are no surviving police witnesses other than Terrence Knox, the officer involved in the incident), but suffice it to say, Knox was hospitalized with a wounded arm, and Freeman was jailed. Two weeks after the 1969 incident, Freeman was indicted by an all-white jury of his non-peers. After a number of years in custody, fearing for his life and realizing he could not get a fair trial in Chicago, Freeman jumped bail and came to Canada.

Given the intense climate of fear and racism at the time, it is unlikely anyone would have listened to what Freeman said in his defence. As leading civil rights attorney William Kunstler wrote in the late 1980s, "For more than twenty years my representation of black defendants has been motivated by one of my strongest beliefs: that our society is always racist. None of our institutions, including our legal system, deliver on this country's fundamental promise that we are all created equal, especially those of us not born with white skins. ...Rodney King [The L.A. motorist whose vicious beating by L.A. police was videotaped from afar] brought it home once again: No matter what the cops do, even if you have it on tape, they will not be convicted."

It seems Knox and Chicago police knew of Freeman's whereabouts in Montreal during the 1970s, but no one bothered to seek extradition at the time. Flash forward some 30 years, and now the case is in the news again. Chicago headlines scream out hysterical, unfounded accusations (from "Black Panther militant" to "accused murderer"--hardly the stuff that creates an unbiased community pool for jury duty!)


So why now? A full 37 years after the original incident? What can be gained? Knox refuses to see anyone other than himself as the victim in all this. True, his arm was never the same; that is unfortunate and sad. But there are still big questions that Knox has yet to answer, questions that would point to the fact that Freeman was also victimized here: why the arbitrary stopping of a mature looking 19-year-old when Knox claimed he wanted to ask him if he was in school? Why the dramatic discrepancies in the various statements Knox has made? Why was the physical evidence destroyed? Why does Knox claim he fears Freeman is coming after him when Knox's name is in the Chicago phone book?

Freeman does not appear to be the kind of guy who recklessly goes about shooting up police officers; in fact, he has never been involved in another incident like that on March 7, 1969, and instead settled down, got married, raised four kids in suburban Mississauga, and worked in a library -- hardly the life of a criminal fugitive hiding out in a mountainside cabin. Indeed, the guy was so boring that he forbade violent video games and movies in his household. Rather than stocking up
on beer and shoot-em-ups, he mentored his kids' friends on African-American history and jazz and related philosophical topics, and paid his taxes. His only run-ins with the law seem to be for occasionally motoring over the speed limit on our nation's highways, a common enough ticketing offence.

Sure, Freeman could go back to Chicago, and plead self-defence. He may get off, he may get nailed. But surviving until trial might be another matter. Knox was a member of the city's notorious Red Squad, the subject of massive and, to this day, ongoing litigation over that department's illegal surveillance, infiltration, and disruption of progressive organizations. Any trial involving Knox would inevitably bring up these memories that Richard Daley, Jr., the current mayor, would prefer to keep under the rug.

And loyalties run deep in police departments, especially when it comes to suspects who are accused of shooting one of their own.

A Racist System Through and Through

Although there were many changes in American society during the civil rights era, the years under Reagan, Clinton, and Bush I and Bush II have served as an attack on and rollback of those gains. A simple look at prison statistics reveals little has changed. The current U.S. rate of incarceration for African American males is four times what is was under apartheid South Africa. Whereas white males are jailed at a rate of 649 per 100,000, black males are thrown into prison at a rate of 4,810 per 100,000 (as of June, 2002).

Amnesty International reports that "application of the death penalty in the United States is racially biased -- and in some jurisdictions is reserved solely for non-white defendants," describing the U.S. justice system as "infected with racial prejudice."

A landmark Human Rights Watch report found systematic torture practiced by Chicago police. In their 1998 report, Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States, the group noted "The People's Law Office, an activist firm, conducted an investigation and identified sixty-five suspects who were tortured by [Chicago Police Commander Joe] Burge or other officers and detectives between 1972 and 1991...A report by the police investigatory agency, the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), found that physical abuse 'did occur and that it was systematic....[T]he type of abuse described was not limited to the usual beating, but went into such esoteric areas as psychological techniques and planned torture. The evidence presented by some individuals convinced juries and appellate courts that personnel assigned to Area 2 engaged in methodical abuse."

The acknowledgement that police engaged in torture goes higher still, as then-Republican Governor of Illinois George Ryan in 2003 pardoned numerous death row prisoners who said they had signed confessions tortured out of them by police under the direction of Police Commander Burge. CNN reported on January 14, 2003, that Burge "was fired after internal police investigators found systemic evidence of physical abuse of suspects. The four men 'were tortured,' the governor said. 'There isn't any question about that.'"

Since 1991, appellate courts have thrown out the murder confessions of at least 70 defendants in [Chicago's] Cook County -- more than half because police arrested people with insufficient evidence before interrogating them. Taking people into custody without probable cause is both illegal and a precursor to many false confessions. But in Cook County, an appellate judge wrote last year, that prohibition is "routinely ignored." (from "Coercive and illegal tactics torpedo scores of Cook County murder cases," December 16, 2001)

It is clear that systemic abuses continue to occur, and that the allegations against Mr. Freeman would make him a prime target for police retaliation while in custody. As the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights points out, "The treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system is the most profound civil rights crisis facing America in the new century. It undermines the progress we have made over the past five decades in ensuring equal treatment under the law, and calls into doubt our national faith in the rule of law....Unequal treatment of minorities characterizes every stage of the process. Black and Hispanic Americans, and other minority groups as well, are victimized by disproportionate targeting and unfair treatment by police and other front-line law enforcement officials; by racially skewed charging and plea bargaining decisions of prosecutors; by discriminatory sentencing practices; and by the failure of judges, elected officials and other criminal justice policy makers to redress the inequities that become more glaring every day."

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clarke, in an August, 2005, Toronto Star Interview, has urged Canada to refuse the extradition. "Surely law enforcement has something better to do in these difficult times, where its resources are stretched, than to pursue this man...It is a clear sign of either overzealous protection of police conduct or a vendetta by an individual officer to request extradition after a biblical generation against an alleged perpetrator who has long since embarked himself on a new and constructive life."

The Extradition Act: A Rubber Stamp for Shaky Requests

Mr. Freeman's fate lies in the hands of a white-run justice system in Canada, where a decision about whether to hand Freeman over to the U.S. will likely be made this year. That decision, already rubber-stamped by a court and now awaiting the decision of the Justice Minister, hinges to a great deal, according to extradition precedents, on faith in the judicial system of the extradition partner. Ask anyone on the streets of Canada whether they think a black man can get a fair trial even in today's U.S., and they will likely laugh you to the other side of the street.

Try a simple computer search of Illinois and, specifically, Chicago police, and you will find up to the minute reports of police
brutality and racial profiling, torture-induced confessions, and mistreatment of inmates at Cook County Jail. Ask yourself: if you were in Freeman's shoes, would YOU feel comfortable going back to the United States?

Perhaps most galling is the state of Canadian law, which allows this country the perceived right to hand over someone based on false and contradictory evidence. As constitutional law expert Gary Botting points out, "The overall scheme of the legislation is so patently unfair that eventually the Supreme Court of Canada should strike down significant parts of the Extradition Act, especially those parts dealing with evidence, and with the perceived apprehension of bias of the
Minister of Justice/Attorney General in being both the prosecutor and the judge at every stage of the procedure."

Indeed, at the recent hearing for his extradition, Freeman's attempt to introduce some of the contextual, historical background to the events of March 1969 was ruled irrelevant. The judge also had no problem accepting false and contradictory evidence. Rather, all he had to do was meet the very narrow guidelines laid out for him in the act, and pass Freeman into the hands of the Justice Minister.

And so to this day Freeman sits, and waits, at Toronto's Don Jail, a rotten place to spend the night, much less two years.

In the end, if we had a restorative system of justice (as opposed to a system based on vengeance), this might have a much happier ending for two men and their families. Freeman carries the weight of history on his shoulders. He is someone who has known what it means to feel real, skin-tingling fear, to never feel comfortable inside his own skin, because that skin comes from the wrong end of America's colour divide. And then there is Knox. We don't know a lot about him, other than that he himself is haunted by being shot in the arm and losing its full use. And that he cannot help as a white person but carry the poisoned inheritance of racism which all of us must acknowledge in ourselves if we are to end this vicious cycle.

Under a system of real and compassionate justice, these two might be brought together and some reconciliation might occur. But we remain shackled to a system based on punishment and informed by bias, fear, and hatred.

Given the unlikelihood of a total transformation of the two judicial systems, we are left with a number of questions. How are the best interests of justice served by sending Freeman away from his family to face possible punishment both before and after a trial? Would YOU feel comfortable being sent to the United States if you were in his shoes, based on a story that seems to keep changing? As with any traumatic act, there needs to be some form of closure. This just doesn't seem to be the right way to do it.