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Pat Wall

Racism in America

Free Gary Tyler!

(July 1977)

From Militant, No. 317, 2 September 1977, p. 8.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

New Orleans, Louisiana, 17th JulyLast month I attended a social, a fairly typical social. The teenagers and the record player occupied the garage; neighbours, family and friends conversed, ate and drank; TV addicts captured the settee to watch a satire shows and small children ran in and out of the house.

736 Mockingbird Lane, Destrehan, is a pleasant suburban house on a new estate close to the levees which protect against the floodwaters of the Mississippi river. Apart from the temperature, still in the 80s in late evening, the garden marks the only difference from what one would find in the West Riding. Backing on to almost limitless semi-swamp land it allows the keeping of poultry, a goat and a pig.

Another small difference: every time a beer or a coke is taken from the ice box, or a hamburger from the stove, a small sum of money is deposited in a tin in the kitchen cupboard. It is from this simple act, not unknown to ‘Militant’ fund raisers, that you’d realise that this was not so typical a social, nor is this so ordinary a family. For over two years Gary Tyler has been incarcerated in prison, some of it on death row and much of it in the notorious Angola State Penitentiary.

Gary Tyler is innocent – yet another victim in the long line of racialist frame-ups. Every cent in the cupboard goes to the ‘Gary Tyler Defence Fund’, organised full time by his mother.

Until October 7th, 1974, Gary Tyler was a student at Destrehan High School in St Charles Parish (County) Louisiana. Since 1968, white racialist opposition to school desegregation in the parish had often turned to violence. On this particular day a brick-throwing mob of white youths and adults surrounded the black students’ bus as it left school.

Gary Tyler was on that bus. The students saw a white man in the mob with a shotgun and ducked under the seats for cover. A shot rang out and Timothy Weber, a 13 year old white student near the bus, fell dead.

The police searched the bus and its occupants twice for three hours without finding any gun. The black students were forced to lie on the ground while being searched. During the second search at the police station, female students were forced to strip and several male students were beaten. No-one from the white mob was arrested or even searched.

Gary Tyler protested against police harassment of his cousin and for this he was arrested for disturbing the peace. Gary was severely beaten, the police attempting to force him to say that he had seen who fired the shot. One of the deputies who beat him was V.J. St Pierre, a cousin of the dead youth. Gary was later charged with first-degree murder.

The Evidence

Only one witness said she saw Gary Tyler fire a gun: Natalie Blanks, one of the 65 students on the bus. She later admitted she had lied under police pressure.

The so-called murder weapon which could not be found in two searches covering three hours was suddenly discovered at a later time when the bus was empty. Surprise, surprise, the point-45 which the police claimed killed young Timothy Weber had disappeared from a firing range used by the police! No fingerpints were found on the gun. Bus driver Earnest Cojoe, a 25 year veteran of the US Marines, testified no-one could have fired a point-45 within the bus as the sound would have been deafening. All witnesses agreed that the shot sounded no louder than a fire-cracker.

The Sentence

Gary Tyler’s original attorney, Jack Williams, failed to ask the judge to move the trail out of St Charles Parish, despite an atmosphere of racialist hysteria. A Klu Klux Klan Rally was held at Destrehan High School the day after Gary’s arrest. Klan leader, David Duke, flew into Destrehan from Boston where he had been involved in racialist opposition to bussing.

Williams made no attempt to oppose the selection of an all-white jury. Mrs Tyler was subpoenaed as a defence witness, but never called by Williams, thus giving Judge Marino an excuse to exclude her from the courtroom during her son’s trial. After deliberating for only two hours the all white jury found Gary guilty of first degree murder. Judge Martino handed down the mandatory death sentence and sent Gary Tyler to Death Row.

The Appeal

Not surprisingly Mrs Tyler retained a new lawyer, Jack Peebles, to defend her son. In April 1976 star witness Natalie Blanks testified at a hearing for a new trial that police and prosecutors had forced her to lie at the trial, and that she had not seen anyone fire a gun. Natalie Blanks and another witness, Loretta Thomas, told the court that the police had threatened to charge them as accessories to murder unless they testified against Gary.

Natalie Blanks’ lawyer, Sylvia Taylor, testified at the same hearing that Judge Marino and Prosecutors L.J. Hymel and Norman Pitre had granted Natalie immunity in exchange for her trial testimony. In spite of this overwhelming new evidence of Gary Tyler’s innocence, Judge Marino denied the motion for a new trial.

Supreme Court

In July 1976 the US Supreme Court abolished Louisiana’s Death Penalty (although upholding it elsewhere). This set aside Gary’s death sentence. On November 10th, 1976, Gary’s appeal to the Louisiana State Supreme Court was denied. The State showed its determination to uphold the conviction by employing six Assistant Attorney Generals to prepare the brief to deny a new trial.

Not only was a new trial denied, but the Louisiana Supreme Court invented a new penalty for Gary: life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 20 years. Yet when Gary was convicted no law existed which could sentence a juvenile to life imprisonment.

On this basis his lawyer Peebles petitioned the US Supreme Court for a new trail. On May 16th this year they refused to hear the case. No reason was given.

The Harassment

The Tyler family and other supporters of Gary have been harassed by police and white racialists. On March 27th, 1976, white night riders shot and killed Richard Dunn, a young black man returning from a fund raising dance at Southern University in New Orleans. Klu Klux Klan members dressed in robes have driven through the Tyler’s community and followed members of the Tyler family.

Terry Tyler, only 16, and key defence witness Donald Files, were both arrested on the charge of burglary. Yet on the night in question, May 16th, Terry was addressing a meeting on behalf of his brother in Detroit! Bond was set by Judge Marino at $5,000 each. In June Marino held yet another brother, Steven, on $2,700 on a phoney charge of disturbing the peace. In January of this year police invaded and searched the Tyler household at gun point.

The Fight

The fight goes on to secure justice for Gary Tyler goes on. His lawyer has filed a writ of habeas corpus in the Louisiana court system demanding a fair trial. Gary Tyler fights on. In a recent interview with the American socialist press he said:

“Tell the people, no matter what, keep the faith. I am determined to fight, not only for my own case. My case is not unique. I’m depending on the people and only them, not the court system. The only way for me to be freed is by the people. They are my liberators.”

Mrs Tyler and her family are 100% with Gary. She told the court:

“We are with what Gary wants and Gary is determined to see it through and we are with him all the way.”

Our Fight

In a week when it was finally admitted that the famous socialists Sacco and Vanzetti, framed and executed on a murder charge by the police in the 1920s, were innocent, the fight to free Gary Tyler is our fight. Mrs Tyler is most anxious to receive support from abroad. With her, I appeal for resolutions demanding Gary’s release from all sections of the labour movement.

Letters of protest should be sent to Governor Edwin Edwards, State Capitol, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. Copies of any such protests and donations should be sent to Gary Tyler Defence Fund, PO Box 52223, New Orleans, Louisiana 70152, USA. Messages of solidarity can also be sent direct to Gary Tyler, 84156, Angola State Penitentiary, Angola, Louisiana, 70712, USA.

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Last updated: 3 June 2016