30 November 2018
The Frame-Up of the Omaha Two
Free Ed Poindexter!
(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)
For 48 years, Ed Poindexter has been locked behind bars for the “crime” of being an unbending fighter for black freedom. Along with his codefendant Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, then known as David Rice, Poindexter was framed up on bogus charges of killing Omaha, Nebraska, police officer Larry Minard in an August 1970 bomb explosion. Without a shred of physical evidence and based on the perjured testimony of teenager Duane Peak at their 1971 trial, Poindexter and Mondo, leaders of the National Committee to Combat Fascism (NCCF), a Black Panther Party (BPP) affiliate, were sentenced to life. Mondo died in prison in 2016. The racist capitalist rulers have made it clear that is the only way they will let Poindexter leave his prison hell.
A July 2018 book by Michael Richardson, Framed: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two Story, lays bare the racist conspiracy by the FBI and Omaha police to frame up Poindexter and Mondo as part of the murderous FBI COINTELPRO vendetta against the Panthers. Based on a decade of meticulous research, the book exposes the lies of cops, prosecutors and FBI agents. It details collusion at the highest levels of the FBI with the Omaha police to suppress evidence, as well as prosecutorial intimidation and coaching of Duane Peak to concoct a scenario that tied Poindexter and Mondo to Minard’s killing.
Like the Panthers, the NCCF rejected the turn-the-other-cheek pacifism of Martin Luther King Jr., advocating armed self-defense in the face of racist cop terror. The avowedly revolutionary and anti-capitalist BPP crystallized the best of a generation of black militants. But the program of the Panthers was disdainful of the multiracial working class, which has real social power based on its role in production. This isolation from the proletariat left the Panthers especially vulnerable to government repression.
FBI head J. Edgar Hoover declared the Panthers to be the “greatest threat to the internal security of the U.S.” He said of an expanded COINTELPRO: “The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalists.” Hoover spelled out what he meant in 1968, when he stated: “The Negro youth and moderates must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries.”
This was no idle threat. Thirty-eight Panthers were killed and hundreds more arrested on bogus charges. Richardson describes the 4 December 1969 FBI-orchestrated raid by Chicago cops on the apartment of 20-year-old Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was assassinated together with Mark Clark as they slept in their beds. Four days later, a SWAT team laid siege to the Panther office in Los Angeles, firing thousands of rounds of ammunition. The primary target was L.A. BPP leader Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), a Vietnam War vet whose military knowledge was crucial that day to saving his own life and those of his comrades. Geronimo was subsequently framed up for a 1968 murder and spent 27 years in prison (eight of them in solitary) before his conviction was overturned and he was freed in 1997; he died in 2011. Those the authorities couldn’t kill were railroaded to prison hell. Among them is class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was falsely convicted of the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
The sinister motivation for the frame-up of Poindexter and Mondo was made clear two decades later by Jack Swanson, the Omaha Police Intelligence Division liaison with the FBI. In a 1991 documentary by George Case, Black Panthers, Swanson boasted: “I think we did the right thing at the time, because the Black Panther Party...completely disappeared from the city of Omaha.” For his role in the frame-up, Swanson was promoted to lieutenant and later became Omaha’s chief of police.
By the time he joined the BPP, Mondo was known as a performance artist and anti-poverty worker. Like many military veterans, Poindexter was radicalized by the Vietnam War and sought in the BPP the vehicle to place his military experience in the service of the black freedom struggle. The two joined with the BPP in response to relentless racist police brutality—which brought Omaha to a boil with the killing of black 14-year-old Vivian Strong, who was shot in the back of the head by a cop in the summer of 1969. Strong’s killer was acquitted by an all-white jury. A year earlier, a black high school student had been shot dead by the cops during protests against arch-segregationist George Wallace, who held a rally in the city during his presidential election campaign.
In the early morning hours of 17 August 1970, Omaha police received a 911 call from a man speaking with a deep gravelly voice, reporting that a woman was screaming from a vacant house. When the cops arrived, the house was empty except for a suitcase inside the doorway. That suitcase exploded, killing Minard. Afterward, Omaha police rounded up dozens of black people in a racist dragnet. Richardson points out that within hours, the FBI knew from its informants that Mondo and Poindexter were not involved in Minard’s death—but it is the two of them that the cops and FBI targeted.
Among those picked up was 15-year-old Duane Peak, who confessed to placing the bomb. Peak told the cops at least six versions of what happened. Initially, he stated that he acted alone, and that Poindexter and Mondo were not involved. Threatened with the death penalty and promised a deal, Peak agreed to implicate them.
At a preliminary hearing, he effectively recanted his accusations against Poindexter and Mondo. The prosecution asked for a break. Two hours later, Peak returned to court wearing sunglasses, which when removed revealed swollen eyes. He then repeated his earlier fabrication that Poindexter had built the bomb using dynamite that was stored in Mondo’s basement. The next day, Peak confided in a letter from jail to a family friend, Olivia Norris: “From now on I refuse to call myself a man, or anything close to a man, because I did what I did.” He added, “I not only turned against those two bloods, but I turned against myself and my own people.” That letter, which prosecutors knew about, was suppressed along with other evidence.
Peak testified that he carried the suitcase bomb around North Omaha from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., taking it into three different cars and two residences. Four witnesses, including two cousins of Peak, testified that Peak was never together with Poindexter and Mondo at the times and places that Peak claimed. Peak also testified that it was he who made the 911 call. A recording of the 911 call was never played for the jury. Omaha police had sent a copy of the tape to FBI headquarters for analysis but later asked that no written report be issued, putting a stop to the search for the identity of the caller. An FBI memo pointed to a warning by the Omaha assistant chief of police that use of the tapes “might be prejudicial to the police murder trial.” Hoover himself signed off on this suppression of evidence. Testifying at a 2007 hearing on Poindexter’s petition for a new trial, vocal analyst Tom Owen confirmed that Peak could not have made that phone call.
Peak testified that he never entered into a deal with the prosecution, and the prosecutor denied that any bargain was struck. After testifying against Mondo and Poindexter, Peak pleaded guilty to juvenile delinquency in juvenile court.
The cops’ claim that they had recovered dynamite from the basement of Mondo’s house was transparently false. Of the more than two dozen police photos of the basement, not one shows any dynamite—which only appears in photos of the trunk of a police cruiser. Jack Swanson testified at the 1971 trial that he found the dynamite in a coal bin but changed his story in a 1974 federal appeal hearing, saying he saw it by the furnace. In the 2007 hearing, another cop who at trial had backed up Swanson’s story claimed that he, not Swanson, discovered the dynamite. The court ruled these contradictions “immaterial.” Neither Mondo’s nor Poindexter’s fingerprints were found on the dynamite. In the George Case documentary, Marvin McClarty, a former Omaha policeman present at the search, said he knew that the cops “were out to get those two,” adding: “To this day I still believe that it [the dynamite] was planted in that house.”
The cops also claimed that residue recovered from Mondo’s pants and Poindexter’s pockets tested positive for dynamite. A photo of Mondo taken moments before he surrendered his pants showed him with his hands deeply thrust in his pockets, yet swabs from their hands tested negative. In 1999, a retired top FBI explosives expert, Fred Whitehurst, submitted an analysis. “I still find that suspicious. The dynamite is in cartridges that don’t need to be opened ever except to punch a hole in them and stick a blasting cap in them. But there are dynamite particles in many places. This is not right.” He concluded: “Something doesn’t add up here unless that evidence was salted.” Many of those initially rounded up tested positive for dynamite, only to be released with charges dropped immediately after Poindexter and Mondo were convicted.
Mondo remained an unbroken fighter against racial oppression until his last breath. Poindexter, who just turned 74, remains unbowed despite numerous health conditions, including recent triple-bypass heart surgery, no doubt exacerbated by nearly five decades of vindictive and inhumane treatment. He has earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees and is recognized as a caring mentor for fellow prisoners.
COINTELPRO was formally terminated two weeks after the conviction of the Omaha Two in the early 1970s. But it lives today not only in the ongoing imprisonment of a generation of Panthers and other fighters for black freedom but also in the surveillance, harassment and state terror directed against those who oppose depredations of racist American capitalism.
In 1974, a federal district court overturned Mondo’s conviction based on the illegal search of his house, a decision affirmed by a federal appellate court a year later. But in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the case returned to Nebraska state court. The Nebraska Supreme Court then ruled that Mondo’s time to appeal had lapsed. Since 1993, Nebraska’s Parole Board has voted for the release of Poindexter and Mondo. However, the Nebraska Board of Pardons, made up of the governor, the attorney general and secretary of state, has refused to commute the life sentences to a term of years—a prerequisite to a grant of parole.
The FBI, cops and courts are core components of the capitalist state, whose purpose is to safeguard the bosses’ profit system through breaking strikes, terrorizing ghetto and barrio youth and repressing social protest. There will be no end to cop terror and racist frame-ups without getting rid of the capitalist system and its state through workers revolution. Ed Poindexter is an innocent man—Free him now!
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Ed Poindexter is among the 11 class-war prisoners receiving stipends from the Partisan Defense Committee, which is preparing to hold its 33rd annual Holiday Appeal fundraiser in support of this program. We first started providing stipends to Poindexter and Mondo in 1986. For more information about the PDC and its class-war prisoners fund, see www.partisandefense.org. You can write to Poindexter at: Ed Poindexter, 27767, 1-A-09, Nebraska State Penitentiary, P.O. Box 22500, Lincoln, NE 68542-2500.
The article “Free Ed Poindexter!” (WV No. 1145, 30 November) incorrectly stated that Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton was 20 years old when assassinated by the cops. He was 21 years old. (From WV No. 1146, 14 December 2018.)
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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1145, 30 November 2018)
Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.