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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | International | U.S. | Education & Student Activism | Police State and Prisons | Racial Justice
United Native Americans SAVES the american indian movement
Dr.Lehman Brightman SAVES Dennis Banks
United Native Americans Harbored DENNIS BANKS When He was On The FBI's 10 Most Wanted
In July 1975, a South Dakota jury convicted him on charges of riot and assault with a deadly weapon for his role in the 1973 riot at the Custer County Courthouse. The conviction carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Before sentencing, Banks heard prison guards say he would not last 20 minutes in the South Dakota State Penitentiary. He fled, only to be arrested by FBI agents on January 24, 1976, at Famous Native American Scholar and Civil Rights Leader Lehman L. Brightman's Home in Northern California. Lehman Brightman-National President of United Native Americans,Inc. was charged with Harboring a known Fugitive, charges against Professor Brightman were later dropped in the Interest of Justice. Lehman Brightman Lead a massive petition movement which was supported by Native American Singer Buffy St. Marie, Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, and Marlon Brando appealed to Governor Brown on Banks's behalf. "If during the American Revolution, George Washington knocked on your door and he was being chased by British soldiers, would you help him?" Brightman asked. "He was not George Washington, but he was another Indian who was being hunted down by the goddamn government." Brightman Said
Militant Protest Mounts: "STOP THE EXTRADITION OF DENNIS BANKS"
(Oakland, Calif.) -- It was more than a good feeling, rather, a rare, militant spirit of struggle and unity that pervaded Fremont High School's auditorium last Friday evening as a large, multiracial crowd of over 750 turned out to "Stop the Extradition of Dennis Banks" and demand that all charges in the federal government harassment campaign against the American Indian Movement (AIM) co-founder and leader be dismissed.
Sponsored by the Dennis Banks Bicentennial Legal Offense Coalition and the Student Coalition Against Racism, the gathering was a highly successful prelude to a massive march and rally scheduled to be held in San Francisco on April 3. Last Friday's rally clearly displayed the growing, broad-based interest and support surrounding Banks' fight to avoid extradition to South Dakota, where racist state officials have publicly issued death threats upon his life.
Featured speakers at the rally were: Lehman Brightman, a leader of United Native Americans, Inc., against whom charges were recently dropped of "harboring" Banks; Clyde Bellecourt, an AIM co-founder; Miguel Angel, a Laney College professor representing La Raza Educators; and Elaine Brown, leading member and chairperson of the Black Panther Party. Rashaad Ali of the Student Coalition Against Racism served as the fiery and fervent moderator.
In the early morning hours of January 24, Dennis Banks was arrested on a federal fugitive warrent when 40 FBI agents, armed with shotguns and M-16 rifles, surrounded Lehman Brightman's El Cerrito residence. Banks had been sought by the authorities since August 5, 1975, for failure to appear for sentencing following a frame-up conviction on riot and assault charges in Custer, South Dakota.
Leading off the program last Friday, Brightman focefully detailed the "double standard of justice" the Banks' conviction represents.
Briefly, Brightman explained an "incredible" sequence of events which began with the barroom murder of John Wesley Bad Heart Bull, a young Sioux man, by an arrogant White racist named Darald Schmidtz.
Three days later, Schmidtz was arrested for second degree manslaughter, although there were six eyewitnesses to the slaying who all heard Schmidtz say he was "going to kill an Indian" a few minutes before he plunged a knife through the young Sioux's heart. Schmidtz was later found guilty but only received a probation sentence.
In protest of the sentence, a meeting was arranged in Custer, South Dakota, attended by several AIM leaders, including Dennis Banks, and Sarah Bad Heart Bull, the dead you youth's mother.
While Banks and the other AIM members were allowed into the courthouse meeting, Mrs. Bad Heart Bull was denied entrance. When she persisted to demand her rights, a White state trooper grabbed her and began to strangle her in front of several hundred shocked Indian supporters.
When the Native Americans moved to protect Mrs. Bad Heart Bull, the state troopers attacked both the demonstrators and the group meeting inside. Before the incident was over, scores of Indian people were beaten and arrested. The Custer courthouse and chamber of commerce were also burned to the ground.
As a result of the incident, Mrs. Bad Heart Bull was sentenced to one to three years in jail. She served six months. Dennis Banks, who admits to using a police bill club to break out a window and escape the tear gas filled meeting room, was sentenced to 15 years on the trumped-up charges.
Labeling South Dakota "the Alabama of the North," Brightman brought out several outrageous features concerning Dennis Banks' trial in Custer, including:
(1) That state Attorney General William Janklow, a known rapist of a 15-year-old Indian woman on the Rosebud Reservation, personally tried the case against Banks, intimidating his lawyer to the point that he resigned in the middle of the trial;
(2)That murderer Darald Schmiditz, his wife and two cousins were seated on the jury to try Banks. Although Schmidtz and his wife were eventually removed, the cousins remained to return the guilty verdict.
"Many young Indians in this country look upon Dennis Banks with great respect," Brightman said in concluding his speech. "They look upon him as a man who stood up to the full might of the U. S. government and defied them …Dennis Banks is a symbol of strength…an honorable man."
Following Brightman, Black Panther Party chairperson Elaine Brown delivered a stirring solidarity message in support of the fight against extradition.
Pledging to do "all that we can to see that Dennis Banks remains in some sort of asylum." Elaine added that she fully understands the heart of the issue since, "We also had a member of our Party, Huey P. Newton, who had to do the same thing Dennis Banks did, who had to avoid the so-called court system and avoid certain death in the California prison system."
Saying that "The Black community of Oakland. I am certain, will become more involved in the issue of Dennis Banks," Elaine explained the "natural coalition" between Black people and Indian people:
"Not only did they come here and rip off this country from the Indian people, they also ripped off our territory and brought us here to work for them. The Indian people taught them what to do because they were too stupid to know how to work the land and then they broke our backs to do the work."
Continuing to stress the theme of a "natural coalition" that can survive the racism and divisiveness of the FBI and other government forces, Elaine added, "We must continue to build this coalition so that at least one state in this union can say, 'Listen, we are going to provide an asylum for Dennis Banks. We will all be Lehman Brightman. We will all open our homes. We will open up this state so that Dennis Banks does not have to back to South Dakota to be killed…'
"We have the power," Elaine said. "We the people are the majority …This is not just an `Indian issue.' This is not a `White issue' or a
-- 15 --
`Black Panther issue.' This is an issue of human beings who are beginning to struggle together, who believe in Power to the People."
Clyde Bellecourt, who spoke next on the program, eloquently presented the history of the American Indian Movement, while attacking the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Christian Church and the educational system as "three institutions that work day in and day out to strip Indian people of their language, their identity and their culture."
At the time of AIM's founding on July 28, 1968, Bellecourt charged that the average life span for Indian people was 43.5 years (compared with the national average of over 70 years); that 82 per cent of all Indian people in America lived in substandard housing, with 76 per cent lacking running water; that the average Indian annual income was $1,500; and that the suicide rate for Indian people was seven times higher than the national average.
Bellecourt said that AIM was intended to be a "different" kind of organization, one in which "Indian people would make decisions for themselves" and that its founders would be "willing to give their lives" in the "militant struggle for self-determination and sovereignty."
During Bellecourt's moving dialogue, he asked the audience to rise, and led by a group of young students from the AIM-sponsored Heart of the Earth Survival School, the AIM national anthem, a sacred Indian fire song, was presented.
Receiving a standing ovation as he took the podium. Dennis Banks gave a brief address on the complexities of his case and the need "for the first time in this country's history for non-Indians to stand in support of Indian people's rights." He added that AIM estimated that Califfornia Governor Brown had already received over 100,000 letters, telegrams and signed petitions opposing his extradition.
Stressing the April 3 march and rally, Banks explained that he was not the only one seeking "sanctuary" since, "Poor people everywhere are seeking sanctuary from poverty.
"People are running from poverty," Banks said, "running from slum conditions, running from substandard housing and seeking a decent way of life." That too, he said, would be a central theme of the April 3 demonstration.
"For those of you who feel oppressed in this 200th anniversary of Ameirca," Banks said, "think how we Indian people felt during the first 200. This is our second 200 years, you know. It's been a long time."
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To VIEW More Videos of When UNA SAVED aim Contact:
San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive
J. Paul Leonard Library, San Francisco State University
1630 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132
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KQED News Collection
Brightman, 1/26/76 - KQN 2483
Dennis Banks, 2/9-10/76 - KQN 2493
Dennis Banks, 2/23/76 - KQN 2503
KPIX News Collection
Dennis Banks leaves El Cerrito Jail, 1/26/76 - KPIX 129681
March & Rally for Dennis Banks, 4/3/76 - KPIX 130535
Indians talk about Brightman/Banks developments, 2/16/77 - KPIX 135371
Dennis Banks, 4/25/77 - KPIX 136270
Dennis Banks responds to Governor Brown, 4/26/77 - KPIX 136287
Dennis Banks: Pre Trial, 11/09/77 - KPIX 138293
Governor Brown won't send Dennis Banks to South Dakota, 4/19/78 - KPIX 140065
Lehman Brightman Saves Dennis Banks