To the Editors:
Eldridge Cleaver, Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party, former Presidential candidate, author of Soul on Ice and Senior Editor of Ramparts Magazine, has been forced into becoming a fugitive from political persecution at the hands of the Adult Authority of the State of California—a group of political appointees, unqualified to control the lives of prison parolees and acting on behalf of the Reagan State Administration.
The process which resulted in Cleaver’s flight from oppression began at 3 A.M., April 6, 1968, when the Adult Authority (in a series of telephone conversations) prejudged Cleaver guilty of charges for which he was not scheduled to face trial until December 21, 1968, and summarily returned him to prison without due process of law, without having conducted a hearing of any kind and with a bullet in his leg. The Adult Authority’s action was “officially” prompted by Cleaver’s alleged part in an alleged shoot-out between members of the Black Panther Party and the Oakland Police Department.
Thus Cleaver, who had previously been referred to as “a model parolee” by the Adult Authority’s own staff, was deprived of his parole and held in Vacaville Prison until June, 1968. At that time, Judge Raymond Sherwin of the Solano (California) Supreme Court ordered that Cleaver’s parole be reinstated and that he be released from prison. Judge Sherwin based this ruling on grounds that Cleaver had been imprisoned because of his political beliefs.
The State then demanded an outrageously high bail bond of $50,000. The Black Panther Party paid $5,000, but in addition to the cash fee, the bondsman required that six people sign a surety bond, guaranteeing the $50,000. The signators to this letter are five of the six who signed that bond, because we believed then that Eldridge Cleaver was a political prisoner, as we believe now that he is a political fugitive.
Cleaver was completely willing to stand trial for the alleged shoot-out, for he was certain, as we were, that his innocence would be demonstrated at the trial.
However, the Adult Authority, which was not to be thwarted, managed to make it impossible for Cleaver to stand trial—from the minute he walked out of Vacaville, the Authority launched a determined campaign to get Cleaver back into prison, still attempting to suspend his parole on the basis of charges for which he had not even been tried. In so doing, the Authority was demonstrating to every parolee in California that they have no rights of any kind and that they can be returned to prison at the whim of the Adult Authority.
Indeed, even if it had been possible for Cleaver to stand trial for the alleged shoot-out and he had been completely exonerated of all charges, the Adult Authority had the power to revoke Cleaver’s parole and return him to prison for four more years. We are convinced that the Authority would have done this, and that they would have done so simply because Cleaver is one of the most articulate and militant spokesmen for the rights of black people in America.
Cleaver, then, was faced with the almost inevitable prospect of another four years in jail, regardless of the outcome of his trial, and he was convinced from past experience that he faced the gravest risk of being killed in prison because of his politics. He therefore decided to forfeit bail on the pending trial, rather than obey the Adult Authority’s dictum to return to prison last November.
We respect his judgment and his right to remain alive. We have no regrets about his action. We accept our responsibility for the ransom payment. To all who believe in freedom, including freedom for those with whom they disagree, Eldridge Cleaver’s life is worth much more than $50,000. We now ask those people to share the financial burden.
Checks should be made out to: Cleaver Bail Fund, c/o Charles Garry, Att., 341 Market Street, San Francisco, California 94105.
Dr. Philip Shapiro
February 13, 1969