Kathy Boudin, radical imprisoned in fatal robbery, dies at 78

Kathy Boudin, who as a member of the radical Weather Underground of the 1960s and 1970s participated in the deadly Brink’s armored truck heist in 1981 and then, in prison and after being released two decades later, helped inmates who were struggling to save their lives. on track, died on Sunday At New York. She was 78 years old.

The cause was cancer, said Zayd Dohrn, whose family adopted Ms Boudin’s son, Chesa Boudin.

One day in March 1970, Ms. Boudin was taking a shower in a townhouse on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village when an explosion caused the walls around her to crumble. She and other extremists had made bombs there, the intended target was the army base of Fort Dix in New Jersey. Three of them were killed instantly. A naked Ms. Boudin managed to flee with a colleague and found clothes and brief refuge in the home of a woman living downstairs.

She then disappeared.

Within a few years, the Weather Underground did the same. A splinter faction of left-wing students for a democratic society, it called itself Weatherman, borrowing from “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, a 1965 Bob Dylan song with the lyrics “You don’t need a weatherman to know in which direction the wind is blowing”. The name evolved into Weather Underground.

In this era of turmoil over civil rights and the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War, the group detonated bombs at the United States Capitol, New York City Police Headquarters, and other buildings. On the contrary, he was more apt to publish long manifestos, loaded and leaden with references to Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, and to assert that the “main struggle” of the world was that “between American imperialism and the national liberation struggles against him”. .”

As the Weather Underground faded in the mid-1970s as the war ended, its leaders, one by one, came out of hiding to face the legal ramifications of being on the most wanted list. by the FBI.

Not Madame Boudin (pronounced boo-DEEN). “The very status of being underground was an identity for me,” she recalled years later in interviews with The New Yorker at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County, NY, where she was imprisoned. She continued, “I didn’t make a difference, so I made it a big deal that I was underground.”

It ended in October 1981, when she teamed up with gunmen from another radical group, the Black Liberation Army, to rob a Brink’s truck in Rockland County, NY, winning 1, $6 million. During the robbery, the gunmen killed a security guard, Peter Paige. They transferred the cash to a waiting U-Haul truck about a mile away. Ms. Boudin was in the cab of the truck, a 38-year-old white woman serving as a decoy to confuse officers looking for black men.

The U-Haul was stopped by police at a roadblock. Ms. Boudin, who was unarmed, immediately surrendered with her hands in the air. But gunmen jumped out of the back of the truck and opened fire, killing Sgt. Edward J. O’Grady and Officer Waverly L. Brown. Although some accused her of surrendering as a tactic to get police to lower their guns before being attacked, Ms Boudin insisted that was not the case.

More than half a dozen suspects were captured and most were sentenced to prison terms long enough to amount to life imprisonment. Among them was David Gilbert, whom Ms. Boudin married after their arrests and with whom she had a son, Chesa, who was 14 months old at the time of the Brinks’ labor. Divorced in prison, they reunited in 2021 after Mr Gilbert’s 75-year sentence was commuted and he was released. Chesa Boudin, raised by Weather Underground couple Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, was elected as San Francisco’s district attorney in 2019. She is survived by her husband and son.

After rounds of legal wrangling, Ms Boudin pleaded guilty in April 1984 to first degree robbery and second degree murder in the death of Mr Paige. Although unarmed and not even at the scene where the guard was killed, the judge agreed with prosecutors that she bore responsibility and sentenced her to 20 years to life in prison.

During her sentencing, she turned to the relatives of the victims. “I know that anything I say now will ring hollow, but I offer you my deepest sympathy,” she said. “I feel real pain.” As for his motives, “I was there through my involvement in the black liberation struggle and its underground movement. I am a white person who does not want crimes committed against black people to be carried out in my name.”

She proved to be a model prisoner in Bedford Hills, mentoring other inmates, caring for people with AIDS, writing poetry, and expressing remorse for her role in the Brink’s murders. In September 2003, after 22 years behind bars, she was released on parole.

Not everyone was happy. Diane O’Grady, Sergeant O’Grady’s widow, wrote in the New York Post that she “did not believe there was an ounce of guilt, shame, or remorse felt by inmate Boudin.” But Ms. Boudin enjoyed widespread support, including from a few Bedford Hills employees. Even arch-conservative William F. Buckley Jr. signed a letter to the parole board affirming his belief in “the possibilities of human rehabilitation and transformation.”

In a 2004 article for a magazine called Fellowship, written before she was released from prison, Ms Boudin said she had come to “fully embrace the enormity of my human responsibility: I supported and participated in a theft that risked and then destroyed human life”.

A graduate of Bryn Mawr in 1965, she earned a master’s degree in adult education and literacy from Norwich College while incarcerated and then, five years after her release, a doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University. After prison, her work has focused on current and former inmates, especially women, helping them get parole and preparing them for life on the outside, down to basics like how to behave in job interviews.

She was also one of the founders of the Center for Justice at Columbia, exploring the social consequences of mass incarceration. What many people don’t understand, she said in a 2021 interview for this obituary, is that “there are tremendous resources waiting to be realized in those who are too often defined like disposable people.

Kathy Boudin was familiar with radical politics almost from her birth in Manhattan on May 19, 1943. Her father, Leonard B. Boudin, was a civil rights attorney with a client list that amounted to a leftist Who’s Who, including Paul Robeson . , Daniel Ellsberg and anti-war doctor Benjamin Spock. His mother, Jean (Roisman) Boudin, was a poet. His great-uncle was Louis Boudin, a prominent civil rights lawyer, and an uncle was liberal journalist IF Stone.

Besides Mr. Gilbert and his son, she is survived by her son’s two adopted brothers, six grandchildren and an older brother, Michael, retired federal appeals court judge and political conservative, Mr. Dohrn , one of the adoptive brothers, said on Sunday.

Ms. Boudin attended Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village, graduating in 1961. During her senior year, she visited Cuba, a country she traveled to again in 1969 with other radicals.

At Bryn Mawr, she majored in Russian studies, earning her bachelor’s degree in absentia because she was studying in Moscow. During the summers, she worked in a hospital, in a camp for handicapped children and in a blood bank. Later, she became a community organizer in Cleveland.

His activism continued to grow. She joined the “Days of Rage” in October 1969, a window-smashing rampage in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood by anti-war activists. She and others were charged with conspiracy and violating riot laws, cases ultimately dismissed on the grounds that the government obtained evidence illegally. Around this time, she co-wrote ‘The Bust Book’, which offered advice on what to wear at a protest and what to do if arrested.

Hiding after the townhouse explosion, Ms Boudin took on various aliases and took on low-paying jobs in New York, including as a waitress and as an employee of a catering company during the tournament United States Open tennis court in Queens. She was “very social”, a company official said.

Then came the Brink heist. “Remorse will always guide me,” she wrote for Fellowship. “It’s a very personal journey with stops along the way. It’s an endless road.

Alyssa Lukpat contributed report.

Leave a Comment