Berkeley Criticizes Biased Prosecutions

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Decrying vindictive and discriminatory prosecutions practiced across the nation, the Berkeley City Council is taking action to halt unfair practices and cases of racial profiling.

Within the next week, the council will send a letter to Gov. Gray Davis and the Los Angeles District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, expressing their disapproval of the conspiracy charges against Sara Jane Olson, a former Berkeley resident who is implicated in more than 22 major felonies.

Olson, 53, also known as Kathleen Ann Soliah, was arrested June 16, 1999 for allegedly trying to bomb police cars in retribution for the shoot-out that led to the death of six Symbionese Liberation Army members. Olson pled not guilty in the case.

According to the Peace and Justice Commission, which submitted the original measure requesting that Davis grant Olson a pardon, the courts lack sufficient legal evidence for Olson's prosecution. Since the court will permit prosecutors to include the entire liberation army's history, which implicates Olson in numerous felonies, the chances of an unfair trial are profoundly increased, the commission said.

"The city seems to be saying enough is enough of political prosecution," said Elliot Cohen, a

commission member. "It came down to that these trials in the country have been used against political activists. The case of (Olson), with the conspiracy trial, is that they were bringing in things that happened years before, using it solely to bring forward evidence that had nothing to do with the case, but 'guilt by association.' She had nothing to do with the 22 felonies brought against her."

Cohen said that even the prosecutor admitted the case against Olson was very weak.

The measure also requested that the court take into consideration the contributions to society that Olson had made in the past 25 years.

Since the original incident more than 25 years ago, Olson moved to Minnesota, married a doctor, and raised three daughers, becoming a "model citizen." She spent a year in Africa and helped to establish a health clinic in the area, Cohen said. It was not until June last year that allegations resurfaced when the FBI located her in St. Paul on a 23-year-old California warrant.

"She deserves a fair trial," Councilmember Dona Spring said. "She should be charged on specific charges with testimony and evidence - the use of conspiracy is not appropriate."

Los Angeles District Attorney Garcetti could not be reached for comment, although in the past he has proclaimed Olson's guilt during statements made on radio.

As part of a larger movement to end these alleged injustices, the City Council approved a related measure that calls for all forms of racist, sexist, political and religious profiling in U.S. law enforcement to be stopped immediately.

The measure mandates an end to all forms of "secret evidence" prosecutions, where the accused are deported or held indefinitely, without charge, on the grounds of withheld evidence.

Councilmember Diane Woolley, who sponsored the measure, said the case against Olson is vindictive and that it is part of a larger picture, where people of color experience these types of injustices in their everyday lives. She said that the history of justice in the U.S. has "a shadow side."

Woolley gave the example of airports, where it is necessary to show a government identification, "all in the name of anti-terrorism."

Since Olson is white and is still receiving an unfair trial, she said the problem is even more paramount for minorities.

"They don't have money to defend themselves and often get poor representation," she said. "The judicial system has a bias against people of color."

In her measure, Woolley said that people labeled as security threats have been held without charge for years on the basis of this secret evidence, which is released only after a fight.

Recently, a U.S. House of Representatives committee passed a bill that will curtail the use of "secret evidence" in courts, according to city papers.

Opponents to Olson's prosecution say there is no direct evidence relating her to the criminal activity.

"There is a fabrication of evidence," said Diana Block, of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners in San Francisco. "It is aimed not only at one woman but at today's younger generation of activists."


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