LARAMIE - Civil rights advocate Angela Davis, a central figure in a 1970 murder case that arose from a California prison break, told a university audience Wednesday that "historic racism is very much alive today" and is probably most obvious in the nation's prisons.
Davis, a professor in the History of Consciousness department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, made headlines when California Gov. Ronald Reagan removed her in 1969 from a position in the philosophy department at the University of California, Los Angeles, citing her membership in the Communist Party, USA, and her association with the Black Panther Party. Davis no longer identifies herself as a communist.
She was placed on the FBI's Most Wanted List in 1970 after she was charged with conspiracy, kidnapping and homicide and evaded police for two months. The charges arose from an escape attempt at the Marin County, Calif., Hall of Justice on August 7, 1970, in which four persons were killed. The victims were Judge Harold Haley; San Quentin State Prison inmates James McClain and William Christmas, and Jonathan Jackson, who stormed into the courthouse with a gun and demanded the release of his brother, George, who had been indicted for the murder of a prison guard.
Davis was acquitted on all three charges on June 4, 1971. Reagan said the jury's verdict underscored his faith in the American judicial system. He said he had always thought it would be difficult to connect her beyond a reasonable doubt to the killings.
Speaking in the jam-packed Yellowstone Ballroom of the University of Wyoming Union as part of the observance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, Davis challenged the audience to preserve King's "legacy of bold action for the cause of justice and peace."
The rights of American citizens are endangered by "the so-called war on terrorism . . . the policy of global war" and the use of torture, Davis said.
The policy of capital punishment, which has taken the lives of two inmates in California prisons in a little more than a month, leads to "an assembly line of torture and death," Davis added.
The United States under the Bush administration has become "a great purveyor and exponent of violence in the world," Davis said.
On the issue of crime and punishment, she said, "Historic racism is very much alive today and probably more obvious in our prison system than anywhere else."
Saying that most prison in prison are functionally illiterate, she said that "imprisonment becomes a way of disappearing people in he false hope of disappearing the problem they exemplify."
She said Americans have too often accepted the idea that "the eradication of racial laws from the books is tantamount to the elimination of racism."
"We have been basically persuaded that we should not talk about racism," Davis said.
She also argued that security is being used as a pretext for violations of the rights of American citizens.
Her talk was interrupted a number of times by applause from the audience.
Star-Tribune correspondent W. Dale Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)