Tag Archives: Criminal Injustice

Subversive Historian – 08/26/09

Fannie Sellins

Back in the day on August 26th, 1919, labor organizer Fannie Sellins was brutally gunned down in West Pennsylvania. Dubbed ‘the angel of mercy’ for her unionizing efforts, Sellins had successfully organized workers in Missouri and West Virginia before United Mine Workers of America leader Philip Murray, impressed by her dedication, offered her a position with the union. Sellins then moved to Pennsylvania to begin organizing in the western part of the state. Assigned to the Allegheny-Kiski Valley, the area had a dubious reputation for repressing unionizing efforts. Undeterred, Sellins successfully organized workers anyway in the anti-union lands known to labor as “Black Valley.” As part of her efforts, Sellins was present on that fateful night when the workers of the Allegheny Coal and Coke Company were confronted by company guards and deputies. In the ensuing violence, she was shot to death as was a miner named Joseph Starzeleski.

As has been all too historically the case with the criminal injustice system, no one was ever convicted of killing Fannie Sellins. The “angel of mercy” was shown none.

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Subversive Historian – 08/03/09

The Wheatland Hop Riot

Back in the day on August 3rd, 1913, the Wheatland Hop Riot took place in Northern California. Nearly two-thousand agricultural hop pickers toiled at Durst Ranch working long hours in the hot sun for low pay. Many of the workers slept a mile from the ranch in the open air without blankets in cold night temperatures while others had tents. All were subjected to unsanitary water supplies in labor conditions that screamed for unionization. The Industrial Workers of the World heeded the call of the hop pickers as leaders such as Richard Ford spoke to them about the need for a strike. The meeting continued until members of the local sheriff’s posse confronted Ford and attempted to arrest him. Workers sought to protect Ford, when shots were fired in the air. A riot ensued that left four people dead – a worker, the district attorney, the deputy sheriff, and a young boy who was a bystander.

Though Ford preached non-violence the state arrested him and Herman Suhr, a wobbly organizer who wasn’t even present for starting the riot. They were convicted of second–degree murder and sentenced to life. The Wheatland Hop Riot, nevertheless, harvested future organizing in the fields of California.

Subversive Historian – 07/22/09

The Preparedness Day Parade Bombing

Back in the day on July 22nd, 1916, a suitcase bomb exploded during the Preparedness Day Parade in San Francisco killing ten and wounding forty more. With World War I raging in Europe, the city’s Chamber of Commerce organized the event in support of the United States entering the conflict militarily. With sizable public sentiment against such a move, and with labor strife gripping San Francisco, the parade was criticized as an instrument for self-interested war profiteers. The bomb was detonated about a half-hour into the procession as the investigations that followed were immediately focused on the radical left. Two labor organizers, Thomas Mooney and Warren K. Billings, were arrested and tried in connection with the crime. Despite false testimony and perjury, the two men were found guilty with Mooney sentenced to death. After much protest, an investigative commission was set up and Mooney’s sentence was commuted to life in prison.

With overwhelming evidence of their innocence mounting, the persecuted labor leaders were finally released only after two decades of their lives were spent behind bars.

Subversive Historian – 07/20/09

The 20th Anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi’s House Arrest

Back in the day on July 20th, 1989, Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in Rangoon by the military regime in Burma. The daughter of an assassinated independence hero, Suu Kyi joined forces with the National League for Democracy as uprisings in the country that took place the year prior demanded freedom and democracy. Forcing the military junta’s hand, general elections were set for 1990, and when Suu Kyi began campaigning for the NLD, she was detained under martial law for three years without charge or trial. Despite her detention, the NLD won in a landslide victory that the junta, of course, refused to recognize. Since that time, Suu Kyi status under house arrest has been continually extended without fail. In the latest injustice, she was jailed earlier this year just two weeks before her most current house arrest was due to expire.

The ruling military junta claims Suu Kyi violated the terms of her house arrest when a man from the United States swam to her home. However, a general election is set for 2010 in the country, an occasion that the regime marks with detentions.

Subversive Historian – 06/26/09

The Incident at Oglala

Back in the day on June 26th, 1975, FBI agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams followed a red pick-up truck onto the Jumping Bull Ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The FBI would later claim that the two were in pursuit of a Native American named Jimmy Eagle purportedly accused of stealing cowboy boots. As Pine Ridge had been subjected to the “reign of terror” conditions imposed following the violent end of the American Indian Movement’s 71- day occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, a shootout ensued. After the agents received swift backup, Coler and Williams were found dead as was a Native American man named Joe Stuntz. Known as the “Incident at Oglala,” the shootout led to a major manhunt that resulted in the arrest of three AIM members, including Leonard Peltier, for the deaths of the agents. In a separate trial, the other two AIM members Dino Butler and Robert Robideau were found not guilty. Peltier, who was extradited from Canada, was found guilty by an all-white jury and given consecutive life sentences in an unfair trial.

Repeatedly denied parole and executive clemency, Leonard Peltier has garnered international support as the one of the longest-serving political prisoners in the United States.

Homies Unidos Releases Statement on Alex Sanchez’s Arrest

Alex Sanchez, founder and Executive Director of Homies Unidos, was arrested this Wednesday on federal racketeering charges. By the irresponsible account of most write ups in the corporate press, the anti-gang activist, who was indicted alongside Mara Salvatrucha gangmembers, has basically been presumed guilty in print of the allegations he was taken in custody for. With that in mind, Sanchez’s organization hadn’t yet made a public statement about his arrest until today:

“The Homies Unidos Board stands united in full support, behind our executive director, Alex Sanchez and his family. For the past 11 years, Alex has been committed to helping bring about change in his community. He is an exemplary leader, respected colleague and dedicated husband and father. Just as we are confident in Alex’s innocence, we are confident that Los Angeles and the nation will remember that an indictment is an allegation only. As stated in the FBI press release, “Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.”

We have sought another path, a peacemaker’s path, through intervention and prevention, and we remain committed to it. We appreciate the tireless work of peacemakers in all these arenas and the danger that sometimes accompanies it.

We thank our staff, partners, community allies and generous donors and funders who have supported our work during the past 11 years and encourage you to remember the positive impact that Homies Unidos has had on countless lives and improvements in our communities.

In Alex’s absence, board and staff will continue to lead these important efforts and we ask for your support during this critical time.”

Subversive Historian – 06/04/09

Arthur League and the Black Panthers in OC

Back in the day on June 4th, 1969, Santa Ana police officer Nelson Sasscer was shot while on duty and eventually died as a result. The shooting, which took place exactly forty years ago, resulted in the arrest of Black Panther Party member Michael Lynem the very next day. Two other Black Panthers, Arthur League and Odis Grimes, were also sought in connection with the slaying of “1968 Rookie of the Year” officer.

The community of Santa Ana, including groups not in line with Panther politics, would organize to assail tactics employed by the police in the search for League and Grimes. In a meeting with Police Chief Edward Allen, members of the NAACP reportedly objected to his referencing of African-Americans as “colored people.” An incident towards the end of June increased already mounting tensions between the black community of Santa Ana and the police as officers effectively occupied the southwest side of the city. In July, the charges against Lynem had been dropped, however League and Grimes were arrested later on that month.

Grimes, like Lynem would go free, but League, who helped organize for the Santa Ana branch of the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party, continued to be held. In the subsequent trial, he was convicted of second degree murder after nine days of deliberation by an all-white jury . Despite a key witness testifying being threatened by the District Attorney to say League was the shooter, the panther party member was given a seven year sentence. Having completed his term in prison, League continues his activism to this very day advocating for prisoner rights with the organization “All of Us or None,” because the struggle never stops.