Militant Journalism

Legacy of injustice: Free Ruchell Magee

On Dec. 19, the Free Ruchell Magee Coalition gathered with local organizers and community members outside CNN’s Hollywood headquarters in Los Angeles to hold a press conference demanding freedom for Ruchell Magee. They also condemned establishment politicians for their long-standing complicity in the injustice done in Magee’s case.

Ruchell “Cinque” Magee is a revolutionary and the longest-held U.S. political prisoner, incarcerated for 58 years. Magee was arrested in 1963, charged with kidnapping and robbing an associate in a $10 drug trade, convicted and sentenced to seven-years-to-life.

In 1970, after 15 long years in prison, Magee joined in an act of liberation that became known around the world: the Marin County Courthouse Rebellion. Magee was in court and on the witness stand when 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson broke into the courtroom and demanded the immediate release of the Soledad Brothers — George Jackson, a Black Panther Field Marshal and his brother, Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette. Jackson asked Magee if he wanted freedom, and offered weapons to him and two other prisoners, William Christmas and James McClain. Magee responded, “Take these chains off, I’m a free man!”

In the tragic massacre of this modern day slave rebellion, the San Quentin guards shot and killed Jackson, Christmas, McClain, and even Judge Harold Haley in a brutal onslaught. Magee and a prosecutor were critically wounded. For this action Magee was again convicted of kidnapping in 1975 and sentenced to life in prison. He has repeatedly been denied parole.

Thomas Zenteno, a Los Angeles PSL member, opened the press conference: “We’re here at the CNN headquarters today because the mainstream media has ignored this story for far too long.”

Harold Welton, former Los Angeles Black Panther Party member and cofounder of the Coalition, found it ironic that a man could be imprisoned for a marijuana charge while, at that very intersection, there was a billboard advertising legal marijuana. “Democratic politicians like to wax poetic about BLM, while upholding the same systemic racism that not only put Magee in prison, but keeps him there to this day,” Welton said.

Since Magee was imprisoned in 1963 nine California governors have come and gone. Every single governor, including current Governor Gavin Newsom, had the power to pardon Magee and free him from prison, but none did. This year marks the 58th anniversary of Ruchell’s original sentence, far exceeding the average punishment for kidnapping.

Michelle Zuno of the ANSWER Coalition said, “The real criminals live life in mansions and yachts.” John Parker of the Harriet Tubman Center saw Magee’s only crime as trying to escape enslavement, and called Magee a danger to corporate profits. Both speakers stressed that Ruchell has not been kept in prison because of his crimes, nor because he represents a danger to society, but because of his radical political views.

Noname, of the Noname Book Club and Hood Library, commented that, “this is a somber occasion.” Not only is Magee’s case still unknown to many people, but it’s not unique. That there are many similar cases is a testament to the injustice inherent in the U.S. justice system.

Magee turned 82 years old in 2021. He is ill and is subject to incredible inhumanity. Yet, California’s so-called justice system continues to deem him a “possible threat.” Unsurprisingly, on July 15, 2021, he was denied parole for the 13th time. Magee will not be eligible for parole again until July 2024, and some worry he may not live to see the day.

Click here for more information on the Coalition and to find out how to help free Ruchell Magee:

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