Free the San Francisco 8!

John Henry Bowman III: Tribute to a hero (1947-2006)

John Bowman (1947-2006)

John Bowman (1947-2006)
(Photo: Scott Braley)

John Bowman rememberd at the African American Art and Culture Complex

From the SF Bayview - week of 1/31/07. By Wanda Sabir.

The Buriel Clay Theatre was full when I arrived, but not so full that I couldn't find a seat next to Sister Hamdiyah and Sister Yasmin and in front of Claude Marks and a fellow board member of the California Coalition of Women Prisoners when the program began. This tribute to Black Panther veteran and torture survivor John Bowman, at the African American Art and Culture Complex in the Fillmore on Sunday, had been planned after he passed on December 23 but before January 23, when eight of his comrades were jailed in 34-39-year-old cases, including the killing of a San Francisco police officer in 1971.

I saw many former members of the Black Panther Party I'd met at the 40th anniversary of the Party last October. My friend Shabaka ji jaga was in the lobby, Kiilu Nyasha was inside, Marina Drummer was across the room from me and Elder Freeman greeted me kindly as he always does. I'd been worried I wouldnât have anyone to sit next to; I don't know why I thought that.

Though I'd never met Brother John Henry Bowman III, it felt like I had, the film, Legacy of Torture, fresh in my mind after two to three viewings and all the stories told that afternoon about his work and life. The memorial was an occasion to remember a warrior, as those left behind spoke of love and courage and continuing the battle, 'cause after the events of last week, the war was certainly not over.

A legacy of persistence, fearlessness, and kindness

Bowman was a lot of things to many people, yet one characteristic which kept coming up was his persistence, his fearlessness and his kindness. Abducted 30 years ago with other Black Panther Party members, he was arrested in New Orleans and tortured until he signed coerced statements written by the cops. Aaron Shuman, the last person to speak, told us about Jericho's request to Rep. John Conyers, now chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to call a hearing to examine Cointelpro in light of USA Patriot Acts I and II. I asked him: Is evidence formerly disallowed now admissible?


When I spoke to Wayne C. Thompson, executive director of the Oklahoma Health Care Project, private investigator and assistant to counsel for the cases of the Grand Jury Resisters – Bowman and four of his comrades just rearrested had been jailed in 2005 for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury – he told me that at the hearing Monday bail had been set for all eight men at $3-5 million each. He also said that the evidentiary hearing is February 14, but the date might be changed just because the time is so short.

Obviously the court doesn't want the men to make bail. What we need to be doing is raising money for their defense. Richard Brown, Richard O'Neal, Hank Jones, and Ray Boudreaux are in the San Francisco County Jail. You could write to them (see addresses), put money on their books and show up on February 14.

Sunday, the film screening prior to the tribute had been so well-attended at the Roxie Cinema that another screening was held. I saw many people at the memorial with copies of the now available video in their hands. The proceeds help raise money for the case. I couldn't stomach watching the film again. I couldn't get past my disappointment in not seeing the brothers there Sunday afternoon. I couldn't believe that they'd been arrested again. I wondered out loud: "Is the government going to torture them again? Do they dare? Will we let them?"

All of Us or None

I hadn't known Bowman was the co-founder of All of Us or None, an organization whose purpose is to strengthen the voices of formerly incarcerated people and their families. This organization's mission is full restoration of a citizen's rights after release. It is sponsored by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children in San Francisco and the Oklahoma Health Care Project in Oklahoma. Many members of the national chapters were there at the tribute.

How many lives touched

The family filled two rows and then some. One of my favorite pastors, Rev. Arnold Townsend, was the master of ceremonies. Sister Soffiyah Elijah, Esq., spoke of her former client and friend. Bowman's daughter, Victoria Muhammad, his nephew, son, many friends and adopted family also testified.

It's amazing how many lives this one man touched and continues to touch as the torch still lit is passed on. Instead of flowers, donations can be sent to Committee for the Defense of Human Rights at the address below. [See also "Hunting the Dead"].

Free the San Francisco 8 buttonCommittee for the Defense of Human Rights
P.O. Box 90221
Pasadena, CA 91109

(415) 226-1120
E-mail: freethesf8 [at] gmail [dot] com
About CDHR