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Philosophers & Panthers

To the Editors:

At its May 23 meeting, the New York group of the Society for Philosophy and Public Affairs adopted the following resolution concerning the Trial of the New York Panther 21:

The treatment of the New York Panther 21 by courts of the State of New York represents what we regard as a judicial outrage. The evidence brought against the defendants seems far from conclusive; yet the defendants have been placed under excessive bond that they have no chance of meeting, and that is far greater than the bond imposed on other defendants in New York charged with similar crimes and confronted with greater evidence against them. Eleven of the defendants have spent the past year in jail. In jail they have been the victims of gross brutality. In courtrooms they and their lawyers have been constantly harassed and have been denied elementary rights necessary for the conduct of a fair trial.

We believe the defendants in this case must immediately be granted bail that they can afford to pay. Also we believe that Justice Murtagh, who is conducting the pre-trial hearings in the case, has shown himself to be prejudiced against the defendants and should be disqualified from presiding at further proceedings. If, as we sadly believe is very possible, the defendants cannot be given a fair trial in any court of this state, then the charges against them must be dismissed. Also we believe that official investigations must be conducted into all aspects of the handling of this case by police, the courts, penal institutions, and the district attorney’s office. Unfortunately, it would appear necessary in the course of any thorough investigation to consider the possibility that this case is part of a nationwide “police conspiracy” to destroy the Black Panther Party.

The crimes committed against these defendants by our judicial system not only endanger the lives of the defendants and the Black Panther Party, but also endanger the very legitimacy of the courts of our state. In the face of this crisis of legitimacy the New York chapter of the Society for Philosophy and Public Affairs believes that militant nonviolent actions, including acts of civil disobedience and symbolic contempt of court, can be permissible means to help secure for these defendants their rights to a fair trial and to be free on reasonable bail until proven guilty, and the chapter calls upon its members to establish or join committees on their respective campuses to raise money for and give other appropriate aid to the Panther 21.

Kai Nielsen

President, New York Chapter

Society for Philosophy and Public Affairs

and Chairman, Department of Philosophy

Washington Square College

New York University

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