Bear Lincoln is Free
Revolutionary Worker #926, October 5, 1997
Bear Lincoln is free! This is a real victory for the people!
On Tuesday, September 23, Eugene "Bear" Lincoln was found NOT GUILTY on charges that he murdered a Mendocino County Sheriff's deputy. He was also found NOT GUILTY on charges he was responsible for the murder of his friend Leonard "Acorn" Peters. And the all-white jury deadlocked, voting 10-2 for acquittal on lesser manslaughter charges. Later that evening a bond for $50,000 was posted. And after being in prison for two years, Bear was released to the cheers of his supporters.
"There was a gathering the night Bear was released and Bear acknowledged all of the support," a Lincoln Peters Defense Alliance supporter told the RW. "He thanked everyone for the help. He said that, while he was sitting in jail, knowing that there were people out here supporting him was very helpful."
The day after his release Bear was interviewed on Flash Points on KPFA radio. Bear is still bound by the judge's gag order and so he couldn't discuss the facts of the case. But, after being behind bars awaiting trial for the last two years, he talked about how he was enjoying California's early fall heat wave. And he talked about the impact that his trial had and the importance of the movement that has developed around his case. He said, "The public's eyes were opened. We accomplished a lot.... We had a really good turnout. A lot of good people came together. We have a real strong group now and it was a big help. I was really happy with it."
Turning the Tide
"Had there not been the spotlight on this case that the community generated Bear would be on death row right now."
--An activist with the Lincoln Peters Defense Alliance
Police violence against the people on the Round Valley Reservation and against Native American peoples throughout northern California is widespread. When the police murdered Acorn Peters on April 14, 1995 and when they launched a manhunt for Bear they didn't expect to have to answer for their crimes.
During the summer, Cora Lee Simmons of Round Valley Indians for Justice told the RW, "I know that they thought the Indians would take this lying down and that we wouldn't say anything. Did they get the surprise of their lives because we said, `NO MORE!' "
Round Valley Indians for Justice was formed in response to these attacks. Residents put out press releases denouncing the Sheriffs Department's outrages. People from other cities in Mendocino came to Round Valley to monitor police abuse. A Round Valley Support Committee was formed. People packed meetings of the Board of Supervisors demanding justice.
In the course of Bear's trial more people have come forward. Hundreds rallied on the courthouse steps as the trial began. Bear's supporters packed the court and held signs for cars driving by in front of the courthouse. The Mendocino Environmental Center let Bear's supporters use their office. A local radio station started broadcasting the trial and many people throughout Mendocino were drawn into listening to the trial. There was drumming for Bear every Monday in front of the courthouse.
"You know this case has really been unique and people who have been involved in it all recognize there is a different element about this," one of Bear's supporters told the RW. "It has built some bridges and established new ties among the white and Native American community that we want to nurture and not let go."
A Railroad Derailed
"He wasn't presumed innocent. There was every indication that he was presumed guilty."
--A Bear Lincoln supporter on the radio
From the very beginning, when their attempts to kill Bear failed, the authorities set out to railroad Bear despite the overwhelming evidence pointing to his innocence.
The media has parroted the lies of the Sheriff and called Bear "a vicious cop-killer." The media never questioned the many contradictory versions of the events told by the Sheriffs Department. As the case went to court the judge placed a gag order on the case, preventing the defense attorneys and Bear from talking to the press. This gag order made it more difficult for the defense to get its side of the story out. People who objected to the death penalty were not allowed to be on the jury. Anyone with negative experiences with law enforcement was excluded from the jury. All Native Americans and all other oppressed nationalities were kicked off the jury by the prosecution. The Sheriffs Department engaged in jury tampering. A juror revealed in court that a deputy told him that Bear had confessed --which was a complete lie. Despite the fact that this type of jury tampering is a felony, the Deputy remains in the Department and the investigation of the incident is still being kept secret both from the public and from the Bear Lincoln Defense Team.
The kind of railroad that Bear faced is typical of what poor, Native American people face. Bear's legal team and supporters were able to derail this railroad, breaking through the media lies and blackout, and exposing the lies of the Sheriffs and District Attorney. In the process they were able to expose the racist brutality of the Mendocino County Sheriffs. This has helped create favorable conditions to continue the struggle against police abuse.
"I wonder how many innocent Native people are in jail now who don't have the kind of representation and support that Bear has had," Cyndi Pickett, Acorn Peters widow, told the RW.
Bear's Life Threatened
Some of Bear's supporters fear that his life might be in danger now from Sheriffs' deputies or their supporters who are angered by the not guilty verdict. The Sheriffs Department has already shown that they would like to see Bear dead. On the night of April 14, Bear had to run for his life after seeing his friend Acorn gunned down in front of him for no reason. That night, people on the reservation who were monitoring police scanners heard the police give a "shoot-to-kill order." Then the police occupied the reservation, kicking down doors and searching houses with their guns cocked. And after governor Pete Wilson offered a $100,000 reward for Bear's arrest, bounty hunters on dirt bikes and horses roamed through the hills trying to hunt Bear down. Later, while in jail, Bear exposed threats against him by the authorities.
As Bear was being released he was confronted by Mendocino County Sheriff Alvin Tripp. Tripp approached Bear in a threatening manner and shouted a racist comment at him. Tripp said, "You lie with a forked tongue. You know what I mean." Then Tripp almost ran over one of Bear's supporters in his car. People on the Round Valley Reservation are familiar with Tripp. According to residents, 10 years ago Tripp arrested a Native American man on the reservation, handcuffed him and shot him in the back of the head.
Bear still faces some serious charges. Starting on Monday, September 29, the jury will decide whether Bear is guilty of a weapons charge of being a felon in possession of a handgun. The D.A. could also retry Bear on the manslaughter charges even though this jury voted overwhelmingly for acquittal.
It's also possible that the authorities could use an 18-year-old conviction to try Bear under California's notorious three strikes law. If they are allowed to count this conviction from Bear's youth as a strike, then a weapons charge could be a second strike. The authorities could send Bear to jail for 25 years to life if he is retried (for the manslaughter) and convicted even of involuntary manslaughter.
Bear's supporters are continuing to mobilize to defend him. They are also planning a pow-wow to celebrate the victory in the trial.
A Bear Lincoln supporter said on the radio, "There's a great deal of commitment from other people in Mendocino County and also outside the County to continue the support not only for Bear but also for the community of Round Valley. Bear's acquittals don't solve all the problems of the community. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It's something that had been going on and is continuing to go on. But this incident has really galvanized the community."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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