Angela Davis, an anti-racist activist and scholar, claims that Anthony Gay, a prominent Black liberation activist and jailhouse lawyer, was falsely convicted. Gay and his supporters claim Gay was tortured in solitary confinement because he had untreated mental illness.
Gay was released in 2018 from an Illinois prison where he had spent 22 years in solitary confinement. To secure his release, he convinced a local state’s attorney that he had been wrongly condemned to serve consecutive rather than concurrent sentences for the rest of his life. Gay was a prominent advocate for a bill to limit Illinois’ use of solitary confinement to 10 days within a 180-day period.
However, in May 2019, he was arrested during a traffic stop and charged with allegedly illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition after fleeing from Rock Island, Illinois police — a charge that activists say is patently false. Gay was riding in a car that was stopped for a traffic violation on May 31, 2019. Federal prosecutors claim Gay tried fleeing and was caught after being found a short distance away. Prosecutors claim a handgun was allegedly found by police in Gay’s “path,” according to a brief statement from U.S. attorney’s office for central Illinois. Two weeks later, police claimed that they had found ammunition for the handgun in a search of Gay’s motel room at the time of his arrest.
Gay and his supporters insist that Gay was discriminated against in the courtroom and was made to appear by police. The court was not provided with any physical evidence that Gay had the gun allegedly found on the scene in May 2019. According to the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression, Gay is not a member of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression.
Gay, a Black defendant in a federal trial that ended in a hung jury, was convicted on May 19 by an entirely white jury.
“His first federal trial on these charges less than a month earlier, ended in a hung jury, demonstrating that Anthony had convincingly argued that these charges were false,” Davis said in a statement on Monday. “Even more remarkably, he achieved that hung jury pro se – that is, representing himself.”
Supporters say Gay’s latest conviction echoes the state’s prior attempts to keep him locked away for most of his life. Gay was initially incarcerated when he was 20 years old for driving without a license and stealing $1 and one hat. After he developed mental illness in prison, his already harsh seven year sentence was extended multiple more times.
Instead of providing mental health treatment, the Illinois Department of Corrections locked him in solitary confinement — living alone with very little human contact, in a tiny cell— for years after allegedly getting into fights, according to a lawsuit Gay filed in federal court. According to the United Nations special rapporteur for torture, even 15 days in isolation is torture. Supporters contend Gay was “brutalized” by prison guards and locked in solitary confinement for defending himself and defying prison authorities.
People with mental illness are often subject to isolation, which is widely considered a form torture. Gay claims he was diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder. He was also known to have practiced self-harm without proper treatment.
Advocates say that he was not only punished for his mental illness but also for advocating for himself.
“Anthony has no law degree,” Davis said. “He learned the law through his own independent studies while spending 24 years in Illinois prisons, twenty-two of which were spent in solitary confinement.”
Davis and other activists believe Gay is once more a political prisoner.
“There is no physical evidence tying Anthony to the gun they convicted him of possessing,” Davis said. “The police officer who testified that Anthony looked like he had a gun also falsified some of his testimony.”
The Rock Island Police Department’s chief of police did not respond to a request to comment.
After the gun charges were dropped in the federal trial, Gay was allowed to represent himself again. Supporters claim Gay was retried by the same white federal court judge who colluded to prosecutors to ensure Gay would face an entirely white, pro-police jury in Peoria Illinois. This is a place where 27 percent of the residents are Black. Gay claimed that police didn’t have any physical evidence to prove that he was carrying the gun. Law enforcement claimed it was stolen and had crossed state lines.
“No fingerprints or DNA were found on the pistol the police found near where Anthony was arrested,” Davis said. “Even harder to explain, there were there no prints or DNA on the bullets.”
At the same time, Gay and his attorney recently agreed to $25,500 settlement, plus attorney’s fees and court costs, to be paid by the City of Rock Island over a civil case alleging police misconduct one week before Gay’s arrest on gun charges. Gay claimed that he was in a car along with his family members when he was shot at thirteen times while being stopped at an intersection. Gay claims that the officers who responded to his call blatantly violated all of his rights. accordingTo the Quad-City Times:
Gay claimed he was held at gunpoint by J.T., a Rock Island police officer. Key to his knees and put his hands in the air. He claims another officer, Scott Gable, “aggressive cuffed and forced” him to his knees after telling officers he could not kneel. While cuffed, Gay alleges Key “ran up and kneed” him in the face.
He also claimed that police illegally searched his cell phone, threw it, and illegally seized $1500 in cash, and a key to a hotel.
The suit alleges that Rock Island police violated his Fourth Amendment rights, which prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. Other charges include battery, intentional injury of emotional distress and unlawful detention, unlawful imprisonment, denial or equal protection.
Gay’s claim that police seized his hotel key shortly before he was arrested for gun and ammunition possession — with the bullets allegedly confiscated from his hotel room — is evidence that Gay was framed in retribution for his activism, accordingTo supporters.
Gay faces a sentence of up to 10 year imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Gay appeals the conviction and appeals for support from antiracist activists around the world.
“The banality of our racist system of mass incarceration is punctuated with the heroism of stories of unconquerable souls,” Davis said. “Like George Jackson and Frank Chapman, Anthony not only educated himself in prison, but he also politicized himself.”
Before the retrial that ended in conviction, Gay said he was facing an uphill battle, but it’s a battle he is “cut out for.”
“I don’t think no one should back down from corruption,” Gay said. “I don’t think no one should back down from being wrongly prosecuted. You should always be strong. And since that’s my belief, I believe I have to lead by example.”