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The Case of Martin Sostre

To the Editors:

…The case of Martin Gonzalez Sostre, an Afro-Puerto Rican revolutionary writer, has not received the attention from either the media or the public that it deserves…. Martin Sostre was the owner of the Afro-Asian Bookstore in the black ghetto-colony of Buffalo, New York. On July 14, 1967, following the civil disorders of the summer, the police raided the store and arrested Sostre on narcotics, riot, arson, and assault charges. To those who knew Sostre and the political nature of the books and pamphlets he sold, it was obvious that a classical frame-up was underway, Its social purpose was clear: to appease “Mr. Backlash,” conservative white public opinion that was demanding its “nigger to the tree” rather than an amelioration of the unconscionable living conditions in the ghetto.

Of course, Mr. Sostre was afforded his right to a fair trial. The fact that the jury was all white, mostly middle- and upper-middle-class suburbanites from de facto segregated neighborhoods, must have been reassuring to the defendant who was heard to remark, “This is a stacked jury of white racists.” Sostre was convicted and sentenced to serve forty-one years and thirty days behind bars, which he is now doing in what he calls the “Walkill Concentration Camp.”

What has happened since could be put into Kafkaesque nightmares: Sostre was put into solitary confinement for thirteen months at Green Haven Prison (where he witnessed a fellow prisoner beaten to death by guards), government agencies began systematic surveillance of his supporters, and a co-defendant, Ms. Geraldine Robinson, was put in jail for two years.

Sostre has recently won two landmark legal cases involving prisoner rights: Sostre v. Rockefeller and Sostre v. Otis. According to Sostre, these decisions constitute “a resounding defeat for the establishment who will now find it exceedingly difficult to torture with impunity the thousands of captive black (and white) political prisoners illegally held in their concentration camps.” In earlier legal activity, Sostre secured religious rights for Black Muslim prisoners and also eliminated (in the words of Federal Judge Constance Motley) some of the more “outrageously inhuman aspects of solitary confinement in some of the state prisons.”

At present Sostre is struggling with the courts for a new trial (a key prosecution witness reversed his testimony) and, if this is granted, Sostre may get out on bail. Only hitch: no bail money, Sostre is now working on a book (which he says will be a “real smoker”) but he cannot count on this to provide bail money, at least not for a while.

Anyone who would like to make a tax-deductible contribution or who could do something creative to aid the cause (a benefit concert, etc.) should contact the address set forth below.

Gerald J. Gross

Ms. Geraldine Robinson

c/o Vanguard Defense Committee

for Martin Sostre

P.O. Box 839, Ellicott Station

Buffalo, New York 14205

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