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THE CASE OF WALTER COLLINS, a black activist thrown in jail for resisting the draft, has not received the same attention in the North as the cases of Angela Davis or the Berrigan brothers.
Last Monday, March 20, Carl Braden, information director of the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) spoke at Boston State College to bring the issue to the attention of the Boston area.
Speaking to small gatherings of students throughout the day, Braden emphasized how "the war and the draft are used as a means of repression--especially in the black community. "He pointed out that the case of Walter Collins is ' typically horrible example of racism and political repression." Braden called for an unconditional total amnesty for all those who have opposed the war.
The Collins case deserves national attention because his persecution by the authorities is one of those classic illustrations of how "coincidences" or "mistakes" pile up, pointing to a conspiracy of government to remove a political activist from his work.
COLLINS HAS SPENT the last sixteen months in the federal penitentiary in Texarkana, Texas. Convicted of five concurrent maximum sentences of five years and a $2,000 fine on November 27, 1970.
Perhaps Walter Collins was destined to wind up on the wrong side of the law. His mother, Virginia Collins, has been a long time civil rights activist and is now a vice-president of the Republic of New Africa (RNA), a national board member of the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and a member of he executive board of the National Committee for Amnesty Now. Her father was a follower of Marcus Garvey and a leader of the early voter registration programs. The junior Collins, raised in the black section of New Orleans called Carrolton, is one of ten children--all of whom have been arrested in some connection with civil rights activities.
COLLINS, who is now 27 years old, entered the civil rights movement from the ground floor. In 1963, he participated in the early sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters and theaters in New Orleans. Soon after, he joined SNCC to help register voters in Louisiana and Mississippi and with the '64 Mississippi Summer Project.
Collins graduated from LSU and went on to receive a Master's degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In late 1966 he was working as a fulltime graduate student on a Ph.D. thesis on the subject of mathematics as related to social change when his draft board cancelled his 25 deferment and classified him IA. At the time, graduate student were still legally entitled o student deferments. Within two weeks of his reclassification, his draft board ordered his induction.
COLLINS WENT TO New Orleans to plead his case personally before his draft board and request a conscientious objector application. He was told that since he was a full-time student, he would be reclassified 25. Collins was satisfied and returned to Michigan, dropping the CO matter. Upon arrival, he was greeted by an induction order dated before his trip. Since the date of induction had already passed, he returned immediately to New Orleans to clear himself and seek a CO form. The clerk instructed Collins that it was too late to apply for CO status because he had already been ordered to induction. (Courts have since ruled that a registrant may apply for CO at any time.)
This evidence was uncontested by the government in Collin's subsequent trial after an indictment of six counts of refusal of induction (count each "refusal"-all six of them).
WITHOUT knowing about the background of Collins and the nature of his draft board, one could excuse this case as an error of justice. While it was certainly that, there is strong reason to suspect that various government agencies wanted Collins put away for a while.
Collins's all-white draft board cannot be cited as a mode of community representation even though in May of 1967 a "token Negro" was subsequently appointed to the six man board, the area served by this board is two-thirds black.
Basing their argument on the precedent set by Whitus V. Georgia, Collins's attorneys argued in their brief filed before the Supreme Court that "Negroes have been systematically excluded from membership on the board where, in view of the racial composition of the area served by the board, it would be expected that in the absence of systematic exclusion, Negroes would have been appointed."
The Selective Service Act stipulates that board members mist live in the country that the aboard serves and the internal regulations state that they must live within the area. (This requirement was abolished by executive order on September 2, 1970.) Yet only one member of Collin's Board lived in his area, and the chairman lived in another county. The Sixth Circuit Court has found (U.S. v. Cabbage) that these violations of residency requirements were usually racially motivated to preserve segregation.
COLLINS'S POLITICAL ACTIVITY strongly indicates why his draft board wanted to put his away. In addition to his graduate work, Collins continued in the fight for social justice. At the time of his induction proceedings he was a staff member of SCEF, helping to form a black-white alliance of workers in the Masonite Corporation in Laurel, Miss. According to Braden, Collins's work paid off last fall in the successful woodcutters strike. Braden claims. "The black white unity of the recent strike was, in a large part, due to the work of Walter Collins."
Collins was also the regional director of the National Association of Black Students (NABS) and a founder of the National Black Draft Counsellors. Through his own experience, Collins had found that it is blacks who consistently are misinformed about their rights. He felt that they need a unified information agency with an expanded network of weeks before he was to open the first convention of his new organization in Chicago, he was arrested, even though al appeals channels had not (and have not yet) been exhausted.
THE AMERICAN judicial system has shown as much disregard as the draft board for Collins's rights. the trial and subsequent appeals have hardly been a model of jurisprudence. The selection of the jury gave the prosecution a stacked deck. Before the foreman of the jury was accepted, he asked, "I'm a spy, a secret agent for the Army. Would that prejudice the case?" In addition, several women on the jury were wives and mothers of policemen.
Collins's appeal is based on the technical grounds that he had received incorrect information from his draft board. But more importantly, there is the issue of the residency requirement of members of the draft board. His lawyers claim in their briefs (citing the "lawless board" doctrine found in the Court's ruling in Oestereich v. Selective Service System Local Board), "There should be one law for the governors and the governed, binding both alike. A draft board not constituted in accordance with the statute and regulations is a "Lawless board" without the power to classify at all or to issue valid orders to report for induction."
Solicitor General and former Dean of the Harvard Law School (1946-67). Irwin Griswold, responded to this position in the government's brief with the astounding argument that the composition of local boards does not "deprive the orders of the local boards of legal effect because...they are acts of a de facto political authority." In other words, draft hoards are above their own laws.
COLLINGS'S ARREST came eleven days after the Supreme court refused to hear his, even though the law allows 25 days to file an appeal. The arrest itself was indicative of the treatment Collins continued to receive, Federal Marshals, who usually serve notice and let the person settle personal affairs and surrender, came to Collin' home in New Orleans, handcuffed him and took him off without allowing him to grab his coat or a toothbrush.
In jail, the harassment has continued. Mail, reading matter, and visitors have been arbitrarily denied him. His attorney. William Allison, charges that the excuses have ranged from the trivial to absurd. He was told by prison authorities (who were unavailable for further comment) that Collins had too many books which were becoming a burden to the prison. All this led to a federal suit to stop this interference.
It seemed that there would be hope for Collins's appeal. On April 24, 1970 the Sixth District Court in New Orleans threw out the conviction of a white man. Oscar E. Clinton, for draft evasion, Like Collins, Clinton claimed hat board members lived outside his area. The Court ruled that this violated the defendant's rights. But the Sixth District Court of Appeals in New Orleans apparently choice to ignore this ruling three days later when it upheld Collins's conviction.
THIS INCIDENT illustrates the gap between whit and black justice. Of the 28 draft resister cases reviewed by the Supreme Court since 1965, only three of the appellants were black. Muhammad Ali has been the only black draft resister in this group to win at this highest level, but the fight caused the destruction of his career. In addition to Collins's case the Supreme Court has refused to hear many other cases of the Supreme Court has refused to hear many other cases black activists convicted of draft evasion, including those better-known cases of Fred Brooks, Nashville black student movement leader, and Mike Simmons, a SNCC leader who refused induction and took part in one of he first induction center demonstrations in Atlanta in 1966.
The Selective Service has a documented history of racism. the issue of black representation on local boards raised in Collins's case is a sore point for the draft boards. In 1942 only 250 draft board members (slightly over 1 per cent of the total) were black. In 1967, twenty-five years later, blacks had only scored a net gain of eleven members, up to 261. Progress has been made since then, but he total now only gives blacks 6.6 per cent (1.265 blacks out of a total of 18.968)
According to Ken Lawrence's documentation of racism in the Selective Service, racial lines are most distinctively drawn around the treatment of war objectors. Of the total of Camps (CPSC) as Cos during World War II, 10 per cent were black. But in dividing this total, one finds a vast racial gap between those imprisoned and put in CPSC. One per cent of the total of those put in CPSC were black (122 out of 11,896). Of those who sere sent to prison, 18.1 per cent were black (2.208 out of 12.183). To look at the totals another way, 45 per cent of the white war objectors were imprisoned, while 95 per cent of the blacks were sent to prison!
THE FIGHT TO free Walter Collins has been spread by Braden and Virginia Collins, who have been touring the country for a year. Amnesty International has joined the effort by circulation an amnesty petition throughout Europe While support for Collins has been building, Allison is not satisfied after seeing the response of the courts to this point. "Our only hope is that enough people are raising hell," He said.
Even at this stage, the government has tried to bread the movement. This time the FBI has stepped into the picture by going around to the homes of those known to associate with Braden and Collins. Mrs. Collins has files a suit in federal court to enjoin this type of harassment by the FBI.
THIS fight for Collin's freedom can only be understood within the context of the amnesty issue.
The word amnesty comes from the Greek root amnestia, which means to forget, overlook, or become oblivious to. Amnesia has the same root. Amnesty does not mean to ask forgiveness--but to wipe the slate clean. To demand this is to ask the government to admit to the American public that its Asia policy was wrong and that those who have opposed it were right.
It is estimated that about 500,000 people would be affected by a general amnesty. According to the statistics of Harrop F. Freeman of the Cornell Law School, there are at least 200,000 AWOLs ands draft resisters. 100,000 who have failed to register, and 200,000 who have been prosecuted in some way for anti-war activities.
The President told Dan Rather, CBS correspondent, recently that he would consider amnesty only after all American POW's have been released. While this is a change from his former refusal to discuss the issue. Selective Service Director Curtis Tarr views the Pentagon's needs in a different light. He testified at Sen. Kennedy's judiciary subcommittee hearing on Feb. 28 that declaring a general amnesty now would wreck the draft system because it would give some "a free ride" and punish those who have submitted to the draft.
Some Senators have introduced legislation to grant conditional amnesty to those draft resisters willing to submit to some form of alternate service. But amnesty on such a punishment basis denies the whole concept of wiping out the past records and the government's acknowledging its mistake. One group has proposed legislation for a genera amnesty. "The National Committee for Amnesty Now" calls for "the full restoration of all civil, political, and property rights" for people under or subject to prosecution "for not complying with any duty to serve in the Armed forces in Indo-China or for engaging in any activity in protest of the Indo-China or for engaging in any activity in protest of the Indo-China War."
Amnesty for Walter Collins and all those who have protested the War means more than forgiveness. Some wounds run too deep for just that--particularly those of Asians. With thousands dead, maimed and jailed because of the War, amnesty can only be seen as a first step--but a vital step nonetheless
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