Revolutionary Worker #1007, May 23, 1999
Ukiah, CA--The crowd in the courtroom erupted into cheers and shouts of joy on April 23 after Judge Golden dismissed the last charges against Eugene "Bear" Lincoln. The next day Bear Lincoln was part of the contingent from Round Valley Indians for Justice in the Millions for Mumia march in San Francisco. The contingent carried a banner demanding that all the charges against Bear be dropped. Spray painted across the banner in large red letters was the word VICTORY.
Bear Lincoln's ordeal began on April 14, 1995 on the Round Valley Reservation in Northern California. Mendocino County Sheriffs ambushed Bear and his friend, Leonard "Acorn" Peters. The deputies murdered Acorn in cold blood. One deputy was killed, most likely by "friendly fire," as the cops wildly fired their automatic weapons on the unlit dirt road. When Bear escaped, the authorities launched a huge manhunt. Cops from all over the state flooded into the reservation, raided homes and held guns to the heads of pre-schoolers. Governor Wilson offered a $100,000 reward for Bear's capture. Bounty hunters on dirt bikes and horses roamed the hills around the reservation. People on the reservation reported that it was clear that the police were out to kill Bear.
After three months Bear turned himself in so he could challenge the Sheriff's actions, especially Acorn's murder. The government was determined to do in the courts what they were not able to do on the night of April 14. Bear was charged with not only the murder of the deputy but also the murder of his friend, Acorn. He faced the death penalty. A gag order was placed on Bear and his attorneys. Meanwhile, the mainstream media parroted the lies of the Sheriff and called Bear "a vicious cop killer." The prosecutor kicked all Native Americans and other oppressed nationalities off the jury. Anyone who opposed the death penalty or who had negative experiences with law enforcement was also not allowed on the jury. There were several incidents of jury tampering by Sheriffs.
A broad coalition came forward to defend Bear--Native people from throughout Northern California, environmental activists, civil libertarians, anti-police brutality groups, Green Party members and others. The group Round Valley Indians for Justice was formed on the reservation to defend Bear and to fight other injustices. Noted defense attorney Tony Serra joined the defense team. There were many demonstrations and people packed the courtroom every day during Bear's trial.
On September 23, 1997 a jury found Bear Lincoln not guilty of the murder charges. In a hung jury, they voted 10-2 to find him not guilty of manslaughter charges. Many of the jurors were so outraged by what they heard in the court that they became activists for Bear. A majority of the jurors signed a statement asking that the remaining charges be dropped. However, the District Attorney announced that she would retry Bear on manslaughter charges.
The railroad that Bear faced was typical of what the "justice" system in the U.S. offers poor Native American people. Bear's legal team and supporters were able to derail this railroad, breaking through the media lies and exposing the brutality and cover-up of the Sheriffs and District Attorney. The fight to defend Bear created favorable conditions for struggle on many fronts. Last year, when Marvin Noble, a mentally ill African-American, was killed by police in Ukiah, activists in the Bear Lincoln case became the core of the fight against this new incident of police murder. And people continued to mobilize for the dismissal of ALL charges against Bear. Juror forums--community meetings where jurors and Bear Lincoln spoke out--were held throughout Mendocino County and in the Bay Area, 250 miles to the south. Hundreds of people rallied at every one of Bear's court dates. Thousands of signatures were collected demanding that the DA drop the charges. Bear has spoken at rallies demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. And he spoke on October 22, 1998 at the Third National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation in San Francisco.
Many of Bear's supporters hoped that the government would stop its railroad at the last court hearing on January 15 of this year. Over 100 supporters packed the courtroom. The newly elected district attorney had pledged during his campaign that he would not retry Bear unless there was new evidence. However, as the new DA stepped up to speak, he was nudged aside by a representative of the California Attorney General who announced that their office was taking over the case. It is very unusual for a local case to be taken over by the State Attorney General's office.
At a rally in front of the courthouse before the January 15 hearing, Ron Norfolk--a former logger and a member of the jury in Bear's trial--told the crowd that he admired Bear's honesty and the courage. He said that he was upset to learn how the deputies mistreated Bear's mother and family on the night of the shootings. And he talked about why he decided to become active in defense of Bear: "For me it would be a sin not to try to speak out and not to do my best to let people know about the injustices and all these horrible things. I think Bear has suffered long enough. I think his people have suffered enough, and I think its time to get it over with."
On April 23, following a three-month review of the case, the California Attorney General announced in court that they had decided not to try Bear on the manslaughter charges and moved to dismiss the case. Commenting on the dismissal Bear said, "There was no evidence in the beginning. I never should have been tried and I never should have spent one day in jail. And so the logical thing to do would be to dismiss it. You can't count on law enforcement to be logical, but in this case they were kind of forced to be. They didn't have anything in the file; no evidence against me. There was a lot of evidence of a police cover-up, a massive cover-up. There was evidence of a police ambush, police murder, police brutality, law enforcement tampering with the jury. It just goes on and on. That's the only evidence there really was. That's why it was dismissed today; they were forced to dismiss. If they had one thing, one shred of evidence they probably would have gone on. But it was dismissed and it's been a good day for dismissal. So we're really happy; I and everyone here, supporters and friends, we're overwhelmed."
Outside the courtroom a reporter asked Bear what it felt like to be free of all charges. "Well I'm absolutely free, but I don't really feel that," Bear responded. "The battle is still there with law enforcement. I believe that if they caught me at the wrong place at the wrong time I'd probably be shot to death, or beaten to death. So the battle isn't over, and I don't feel 100 percent free. Maybe I will later but with all the police brutality and murder going on how can any of us be free, 100 percent free? We have to come together and be strong and stand against corrupt law enforcement."
Bear Lincoln's victory is tempered by the knowledge that the police who killed Acorn have not been brought to justice. Cyndi Pickett, Acorn's partner, writes: "We all rejoice at Bear's victory after all these years, two of them spent in jail waiting for his trial. Nonetheless, it is only a partial victory. Acorn Peters, Bear's companion that fateful night on Little Valley Ridge and the father of six children, is still dead and as yet no one has been held responsible. Acorn's three youngest children were 15, 13 and 7 and were living with him at the time of his death. Their lives were devastated and their pain persists today. His children need justice in the death of their father. We all need justice in Acorn's death."
"My friend was murdered by law enforcement, but they don't have to answer for that. I'm not satisfied with his death," Bear Lincoln told reporters on the day his charges were dismissed. "He was killed by police officers; they came to my reservation and committed first degree murder, in my opinion, and they're getting away with it. I'd like something to happen. I'll continue to speak out against the police brutality and police murder we've been seeing, like in New York with Amadou Diallo, and with Tyisha Miller in Riverside, murdered by the police for no reason. It happens over and over again, but there's more publicity coming out, and law enforcement is being exposed to the public. I'll be doing as much as I can to expose corrupt law enforcement and help as many people as I can."
The dismissal of the charges against Bear Lincoln is an important victory. It shows the power of the people in the face of injustice. The strength and unity of the people, forged in this battle, are a strong basis to carry forward the fight for justice for Acorn Peters and the fight against the many other injustices of the system and its enforcers.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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