I don't know
what Phyllis Pollack expected when she filed a request for James
Brown's FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act. I figured
she might find some information about his international connections,
his work in the civil rights movement, and his meetings with President
Nixon and Vice-President Humphrey.
nothing in the file she received about any of that, which doesn't
mean that the Bureau doesn't have it. FOIA requests are routinely
given the back of the government's hand, especially by the F.B.I.
feds have released about James Brown is dynamite, though. All
of it relates to an accusation made in January 1989 by his then-wife
Adrienne. Mrs. Brown accused local police and judges in South
Carolina and Georgia of violating her husband's civil rights.
The FBI pursued the case for about 10 days and then so listlessly
that to call the investigation superficial would give it way too
and Adrienne Brown tell a very different story than what the public
heard. Only an article by Jesse Jackson in Jet got it anywhere
near straight. The charge that sent James Brown to prison was
a so-called "blue light violation." It's all but unprecedented
to be given six years in prison for such a crime (refusing to
pull over for the cops), let alone receive that punishment from
two states. (A young white man sentenced for the same violation
the same day received a suspended sentence.)
wasn't sent to prison because he was a PCP-crazed soul man with
a gun. He went to prison because he fled the cops, all right,
but he fled them with good reason, For 18 months Brown had been
targeted for harassment by cops in Aiken, South Carolina and Richmond
County, Georgia, which sits right alongside Beech Island, SC,
where the Browns resided.
It began when Brown got into a fender bender on the Georgia highway
he had to use to get home. That one resulted in Brown being jailed
after some very dubious proceedings, and allegedly being punched
in the mouth.
FBI report also reveals that Brown did not lead cops on a high
speed chase through two states. The police admitted that they
followed Brown but they never "chased" him - they never even turned
on their lights or sirens. Nevertheless, there were 17 bullet
holes in the cab of Brown's truck when it was over. Brown did
have a shotgun, of course. It was unloaded and "inoperative."
charge that sent James Brown
to prison was a so-called
"blue light violation." It's all but
unprecedented to be given six years
in prison for such a crime
(refusing to pull over for the cops),
let alone receive that punishment
from two states. (A young white man
sentenced for the same violation
the same day received
a suspended sentence.)
the police shot into his car while it was parked in South Carolina,
where Brown came to a stop and began talking to local officers.
(One Georgia officer took the trouble to knock out the glass in
the passenger window with the butt of his gun.)
that Brown was high on PCP came from a local police analysis of
an improperly administered blood test. The cops first said that
it showed Brown high on cocaine, then changed their story. The
next day, when Brown was again arrested, he was not out careening
around the countryside high on anything. He was at the Georgia
War Veterans' Home in Augusta, visiting his father.
been a couple of police visits to the Brown home. Adrienne offered
credible explanations for each of them. One wound up with Brown
agreeing to put on a benefit concert for local disabled children
but it was "a failure due to the fear of the local black population
of the police, who boycotted the concert."
of the incident that sent him to prison conforms in its essentials
to his wife's. Brown adds that, while handcuffed, he was punched
in the jaw by a cop.
Brown also claimed that the trial was unfair, the judge strongly
involved in jury selection, a change of venue denied even though
90 local news reports had carried only the police version of the
events. Brown had left the country for a European tour, but returned,
ill-prepared, for the trial. Nevertheless, the judge forced him
to spend the entire trial in the local jail.
You may think
that this is just James and Adrienne Brown's attempt to rationalize
his misbehavior. That's what you're supposed to think. You're
also supposed to think that James and Adrienne Brown had a terrible
relationship, that he abused her and may have fired his gun at
her. If that's true, then why would Adrienne step up to try to
get James out of prison? Why do James, interviewed in prison,
and Adrienne Brown, interviewed in an FBI office, tell essentially
the same story? Why is there no record in the FBI report of a
contrary version of the story from the police? Because the Feebs
held it back to protect the guilty officers? Or because they didn't
bother to talk with the Georgia and South Carolina police on the
why did no one except Jesse Jackson manage to put even a semblance
of the Browns' side of the story into print when America's greatest
living musician was sent to prison?
where is the FBI's account of the rest of the political and social
activism that occupied James Brown's attention during the late
1960s and much of the 1970s? - Rock & Rap Confidential
Dave Marsh (along with Lee Ballinger) edits Rock & Rap Confidential,
one of CounterPunch's favorite newsletters, now available for
free by emailing [email protected].
Marsh's definitive and monumental biography of Bruce Springsteen
has just been reissued, with 12,000 new words, under the title
regularly hammers out rantings like this one for Holler If Ya
Hear Me, the new collective blog about the music industry. Marsh
can be reached at: [email protected]
Bono's Bullshit, by Dave Marsh
An Interview With Dave Marsh