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“Lenin Peace Prize,” given to her in a Moscow cer­e­mony by Soviet leader Leonid Brezh­nev him­self.

Of course, Ms. Davis, too, was a trailblazer in her own way.

She was the sec­ond black woman to make the FBI’S Ten Most Wanted list. She earned that dis­tinc­tion as a fugi­tive wanted on mur­der and kid­nap­ping charges stem­ming from her role in a no­to­ri­ous at­tack on a court­room in Marin County in Cal­i­for­nia.

On Aug. 7, 1970, a black 17-yearold named Jonathan Jack­son, tot­ing a small arse­nal of guns, en­tered the court­room of Judge Harold Ha­ley, where con­vict James McClain was fac­ing mur­der charges in the death of a prison guard. Bran­dish­ing a gun, Jack­son halted the pro­ceed­ings and then armed Mcclain, af­ter which they to­gether armed two other con­victs, who’d been called as wit­nesses in the case. Jack­son and the three freed pris­on­ers then took Judge Ha­ley, the pros­e­cu­tor and three fe­male ju­rors hostage, bar­gain­ing chips in their ef­fort to force the re­lease from prison of older brother Ge­orge Jack­son, an armed rob­ber who also was un­der in­dict­ment on mur­der charges in the death of an­other prison guard.

A ca­reer crim­i­nal turned Black Pan­ther prison or­ga­nizer, Ge­orge Jack­son was the au­thor of “Soledad Brother,” a col­lec­tion of his mil­i­tant prison let­ters. The ab­duc­tors fled with their hostages — Judge Ha­ley now with a sawed-off shot­gun taped un­der his chin, the oth­ers bound with pi­ano wire — in a wait­ing van. They didn’t get far be­fore reach­ing a po­lice road­block, where a shootout erupted, leav­ing Judge Ha­ley, Jonathan Jack­son and two other kid­nap­pers dead, the pros­e­cu­tor par­a­lyzed for life and a ju­ror wounded.

It was quickly es­tab­lished that An­gela Davis had pur­chased at least two of the guns used in the deadly at­tack, in­clud­ing the shot­gun that killed Judge Ha­ley, which she had bought two days ear­lier and which was then sawed off. Cal­i­for­nia law con­sid­ered any­one com­plicit in com­mis­sion of a crime a prin­ci­pal. As a re­sult, Marin County Su­pe­rior Judge Peter Smith charged Ms. Davis with “ag­gra­vated kid­nap­ping and first-de­gree mur­der” and is­sued an ar­rest war­rant for her. In­stead of sur­ren­der­ing for trial, Ms. Davis went into hid­ing. She was cap­tured by the FBI al­most three months later at a Howard John­son mo­tel on 10th Av­enue in the heart of New York City.

Ms. Davis claimed that she was in­no­cent, and her case be­came a cause cele­bre, as the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nist move­ment bankrolled her de­fense and or­ga­nized a world­wide move­ment to “Free An­gela.” Even­tu­ally, she was ac­quit­ted in 1972, de­spite her proven own­er­ship of the mur­der weapons and a cache of let­ters she wrote to Ge­orge Jack­son in prison ex­press­ing her pas­sion­ate ro­man­tic feel­ings for him and un­am­biva­lent sol­i­dar­ity with his com­mit­ment to po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence.

As in the O.J. Simp­son trial, how­ever, many re­mained con­vinced of the de­fen­dant’s guilt de­spite the jury’s ver­dict. Ms. Davis was ac­quit­ted, wrote au­thor and ex-rad­i­cal David Horowitz for his Front Page web­site, “in part be­cause of the dif­fi­culty the pros­e­cu­tion had in es­tab­lish­ing in court the real con­nec­tions be­tween Davis and Jack­son, and in part be­cause the jury was stacked with po­lit­i­cal sym­pa­thiz­ers like Mary Ti­mothy, an anti-viet­nam [War] ac­tivist,” who, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Horowitz, would later be­come the “love in­ter­est” of Bet­tina Aptheker, a prom­i­nent Com­mu­nist Party ac­tivist and or­ga­nizer of the Na­tional United Com­mit­tee to Free An­gela Davis and All Po­lit­i­cal Pris­on­ers.

There is a fur­ther irony in the homage to Ms. Davis’ “great­ness” dis­played for ju­rors in the D.C. Court­house, the scene of peo­ple tried for actual crimes who might go to prison: Ms. Davis is these days a driv­ing force in the pris­on­abo­li­tion move­ment and founder of a group called Crit­i­cal Re­sis­tance, which is ded­i­cated to smash­ing what she calls “the prison-in­dus­trial com­plex.”

Ms. Davis holds that any black serv­ing a prison sen­tence in the United States is in re­al­ity a “po­lit­i­cal pris­oner,” what­ever of­fense they may have com­mit­ted. In her lex­i­con, those con­victed are only vic­tims of “masked racism.” As she wrote in 1998, the poverty in which blacks are “en­sconced” causes them to be “grouped to­gether un­der the cat­e­gory ‘crime’ and by the au­to­matic at­tri­bu­tion of crim­i­nal be­hav­ior to peo­ple of color.” The pur­pose of prison, in her eyes, is sim­ply to “dis­ap­pear” peo­ple who come from “poor, im­mi­grant and racially marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties.”

Ms. Davis im­putes to the Amer­i­can rul­ing class what she terms “ra­cial as­sump­tions of crim­i­nal­ity,” which en­able the na­tion to lock up the in­no­cent un­der a ve­neer of le­gal­ity and “dis­ap­pear the ma­jor so­cial prob­lems of our time.” As she ex­plains, most peo­ple “have been tricked into be­liev­ing in the ef­fi­cacy of im­pris­on­ment,” even though “prisons do not work.” Ms. Davis en­vi­sions link­ing her strug­gle against this “com­plex” with other “strands of re­sis­tance” to build a new “pow­er­ful move­ment for so­cial trans­for­ma­tion.”

In the D.C. Court­house, as ju­ror se­lec­tion takes place, lawyers for both sides daily strive to win­now out even sub­tle bi­ases that could im­pinge on a jury’s im­par­tial hear­ing of trial ev­i­dence. With her blan­ket dis­missal of ev­i­dence as ir­rel­e­vant in tri­als of (au­to­mat­i­cally in­no­cent) mi­nor­ity de­fen­dants, Ms. Davis in­dicts the en­tire Amer­i­can le­gal sys­tem as a rigged farce.

Did it oc­cur to any­one in the D.C. court sys­tem that hon­or­ing her for the ben­e­fit of its jury pools might send a mixed mes­sage?

While Ms. Davis proudly wore the badge of po­lit­i­cal pris­oner, and ap­plies it to any black per­son who is held in prison, even when she was await­ing trial she stead­fastly backed the im­pris­on­ment of Soviet po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents, whom she called com­mon crim­i­nals. When Rus­sian tanks and troops in­ter­vened in Cze­choslo­vakia in 1968, she proudly de­fended the Soviet in­va­sion. No­bel Lau­re­ate Alek­sandr Solzhen­it­syn told the AFL­CIO in 1975 that given her own cam­paign on be­half of her free­dom, it was more than hyp­o­crit­i­cal for her to op­pose an ap­peal made to her for free­dom by Czech dis­si­dents. Ms. Davis has de­nied the claim.

Is An­gela Davis, one must ask the fed­er­ally funded D.C. Courts, re­ally the kind of per­son to honor in their halls of jus­tice as an es­teemed per­son of color for ju­rors in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal to em­u­late and look up to?

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