Sunday, October 25, 2020

Dr. Alan Berkman's Case Revisited: Part 3 of book review

 Dr. Alan Berkman’s Case Revisited: Part 3

Despite the FBI’s increased illegal surveillance of the above-ground May 19th group members involved in constitutionally protected political activity in the last years of the 1970’s, Professor Reverby’s Co-Conspirator For Justice book notes in chapter 7, however, that “alliances with Black and Puerto Rican revolutionaries were cemented” by May 19th group members during the same period; and “on the international level, anti-imperialism was ascendant” because in the late 1970’s the “Sandinista National Liberation Front had overthrown the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua,” the Shah of Iran’s dictatorship had been overthrown in Iran and Zimbabwe had won its independence (by means of armed struggle).

Yet a footnote to the same chapter also observes that after the six men and five women who were arrested by police in Evanston, Illinois on Apr. 4, 1980 were identified by the FBI as “long-sought members of the FALN” group of revolutionary Puerto Rican nationalists (whose struggle May 19th members had expressed solidarity with at the public meetings the May 19th group organized), the name of Dr. Berkman’s wife and May 19th member, Barbara Zeller, also “comes up many times between 1981 and 1982 in the FBI M19, Batches 1 and 2” de-classified FBI surveillance files on the May19th group; including de-classified FBI reports indicating she was under FBI surveillance while doing political support work in Chicago for the FALN defendants in the early 1980’s.

Chapter 8 of Co-Conspirator For Justice then attempts to historically summarize what happened on Oct. 20, 1981 in Rockland County, New York, when a member of the above-ground May 19th group and the above-ground John Brown Anti-Klan Committee (that May 19th members had taken the lead in creating and in which Dr. Berkman was also involved), Judy Clark, was arrested; after she participated, under the leadership of some armed members of an underground early 1980’s Black Liberation Army [BLA] unit, in a politically-motivated action that resulted in the deaths of a Brink’s guard and two policemen, prior to her arrest.

Professor Reverby also notes that (according to Dr. Berkman’s unpublished memoir and an Oct. 21, 1989 letter he wrote to a friend while imprisoned) later in the evening of Oct. 20, 1981 Dr. Berkman was asked to provide needed medical attention for another white woman anti-imperialist left activist who participated in the BLA-led action, Marilyn Buck (who had accidentally shot herself in the leg while driving away from the scene of the Oct. 20, 1981 shoot-out with police in Nyack, New York). And after agreeing to do so, Dr. Berkman was eventually driven to the underground BLA unit's safe house in Mount Vernon, New York even later that evening, where “he saved Marilyn Buck’s life.”

In its “Immediate Aftermath,” “Defense, Conspiracies, and The Grand Jury,” “Alan, The FBI And The State” and “One More Step” sections of chapter 8, Co-Conspirator For Justice indicates how the FBI and local police then utilized the politically biased, “trial by press”-type corporate media coverage of the Oct. 20, 1981 action to arrest or jail above-ground Republic of New Afrika [RNA] and May 19th members, above-ground BLA supporters and even above-ground former Weather Underground members, who “had done nothing except be friends or in political groups with those who had” been arrested for participating in the Oct. 20, 1981 BLA-led action.

As Professor Reverby recalls, “FBI and local police swooped down on” an RNA leader “outside Jackson, Mississippi, with tanks, guns and helicopter,” one above-ground May 19th organizer was “jailed for 17 months until the grand jury’s work was finished,” and “thirteen more men and women from the BLA, May 19th, and the remains of Weather would also be jailed for refusing to cooperate” with the grand juries. According to Dan Berger’s 2006 book, Outlaws Of America, “people were jailed for periods of 7 to 18 months for refusing to co-operate” with grand juries; and 1970’s WUO leader Bernardine Dohrn, for example, “spent 7 months in jail,” even though she had no information to give and disagreed with the Brink’s action, because she refused to testify before a grand jury.

So, not surprisingly, Dr. Berkman was also imprisoned between May and November 1982 as a grand jury resister, before going underground in February 1983, after being indicted for having provided life-saving medical care on Oct. 20, 1981, for the now-deceased longtime U.S. political prisoner Marilyn Buck (who nearly three decades later died of uterine cancer, less than two weeks after her release from prison in 2010).

Chapter 9 next gives readers some indication of how Dr. Berkman and the other anti-imperialist left members of the clandestine revolutionary group, which he then joined (that included Marilyn Buck), operated underground between 1983 and the arrest of its members in 1985; and it also describes what kind of politically-motivated “armed propaganda” actions the group was responsible for in the 1980’s. 

(end of part 3, to be continued. This article was originally posted on Upper West Side Patch website).

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