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BE021354The trial of Angela Davis, a black American Communist revolutionary, lasted 13 weeks and ended on June 5th 1972. She was found not guilty of all three charges by an all-white jury: kidnapping, conspiracy and murder.

The crime: Her gun had been used by a friend to kidnap a judge in order to free three prisoners. In the shoot-out that followed her friend, the judge and two of the prisoners died.

Under California law at the time she was, strictly speaking, party to murder since it was her gun. But they could not prove she wanted anyone dead or knew what her friend was up to (conspiracy).

A white service station owner said he saw her with her friend on the morning of the shoot-out but it turned out that he had a hard time telling black women apart, even light-skinned ones with Afros.

When they arrested her the state hoped to prove she had political motives to use violence to free the Soledad Brothers and others from prison, thus the shoot-out (though it was not the Soledad Brothers themselves who were being freed in that instance).

Libertad_angelaBut when it came time for the trial they could no longer use that argument: by then she had become world famous as a political prisoner, putting America to shame, a country that prides itself on supposedly not having any political prisoners.

Besides, it would have been a hard thing to prove: while she had given plenty of speeches urging the freedom of the Soledad Brothers and against the police and the prisons, she always pushed for peaceful protests, never violence. She knew blacks were hopelessly outgunned. She was not the violent revolutionary some made her out to be.

So instead the state wound up trying to prove she had fallen in love with one of the Soledad Brothers and was therefore driven by passion to desperate measures to free him. It was sad: while she had written many letters to the Soledad Brothers there was no sign of a love affair in any of them.

She had been in prison a year and a half, having been hunted down and arrested by the FBI after two months on the run across the country. She was denied bail because it was a capital case.  During the trial, however, California overturned capital punishment and she got out on bail.

On the last day of the trial during lunch word came from the FBI that some black men had hijacked a plane in Seattle and, landing in Oakland, were waiting for her. They wanted her to stand at the end of the runway in a white dress with a half million dollars and parachutes enough for them and her. What a great Hollywood ending – I imagine them parachuting into Cuba as their plane crashes into the sea – but none of it was true.

Then the jury gave the verdict. After she heard the third not guilty after the third charge she broke down and cried.

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