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Amerikan Crime: May 13, 1985: The MOVE Massacre

THE CRIME: 5:35 am, May 13, 1985. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor aims his bullhorn at the house at 6221 Osage Avenue and declares: “Attention MOVE! This is America.”

Seven adults and six children, members of the MOVE organization, were in their home. Outside, hundreds of heavily armed police and city officials surrounded them.

Fifteen minutes later the police assault began. Explosives blew holes in the side of the house and tear gas was pumped in; fire hoses streamed water onto the roof. Police opened fire with over 8,000 rounds from handguns, Uzis, and anti-tank weapons. There was no solid evidence that the people inside ever fired a shot.

When the occupants still did not come out, a police helicopter hovered over the roof and dropped a powerful bomb. The roof burst into flames so hot that homes across the street ignited. Flames raced downward through the MOVE house toward the people huddled in the basement. The fire trucks on hand did nothing to stop the fire, which then quickly spread to the surrounding homes.

The MOVE house became an unbearable hell of intense heat, fire, tear gas. and smoke. Some residents burst outside, but were met by police gunfire and either killed or forced back into the flames, to be burned alive.

By the end, five children ages 9 to 14 were murdered by the police, as were six adults, their bodies mostly in pieces. Sixty-one homes were burned; 250 people rendered homeless. The one adult who survived—Ramona Africa—was arrested and served seven years in jail. The one child survivor was torn from those who love him and put in foster care.

Above: Osage Avenue burns after Philadelphia police dropped bomb on MOVE house. May 13, 1985. 11 people died and 61 homes burned down.

THE CRIMINALS AND CO-CONSPIRATORS: Mayor Wilson Goode, the first Black mayor of Philadelphia, authorized and oversaw the massacre, along with other city leaders, which included former generals, and FBI agents.

The Philadelphia Police Department carried it out.

The FBI took part in the months of planning that went into this atrocity, and provided the city with the military-grade C-4 explosives for the bomb and other heavy weaponry.

The news media collaborated, before and after the crime, in painting MOVE as “dangerous terrorists” who left the authorities “no choice” except a full-scale military assault.

Dozens of political leaders, including U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III, defended and praised Mayor Goode for his handling of the assault. Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates called Goode a “hero.” Not a single major political leader—Democrat or Republican, Black or white—denounced it.

THE ALIBI: Philadelphia authorities claimed that MOVE was a violent terrorist organization, holding a peaceful neighborhood hostage. The city claimed that it “just wanted to protect the neighborhood,” and that MOVE was digging a network of tunnels, building a weapons stockpile and plotting a major incident, perhaps a hostage taking. They further claimed that MOVE “wanted a violent confrontation” and the city was just responding to that threat. According to then-district attorney Ed Rendell, “These are people who essentially committed suicide, and murdered their own children.”

Above: As the neighborhood burned, hundreds gathered in the street, indicting the police and chanting “Murderers! Murderers!”

THE ACTUAL MOTIVE: MOVE was a Black radical organization formed in the early 1970s that refused to respect present-day America and its prevailing values. It exposed the rulers of this society for the liars, racists and murderers they are, denounced their brutal police, and talked about “revolution.”

MOVE thought of revolution as changing people’s thinking and behavior, not overthrowing the whole system, and MOVE’s political actions were peaceful. But when MOVE members were threatened and confronted by the authorities, they did not back down. The rulers of this system considered this to be intolerable, especially coming just a few years after the U.S. had been rocked by mass rebellions of Black people.

Over a year before the May 13 attack, city authorities began meeting and planning how to put a stop to MOVE once and for all—these plans included building models of the MOVE house and practicing exploding it!

Mayor Goode said: “If I had to make the decision all over again, knowing what I know now, I would make the same decision because I think we cannot permit any terrorist group, any revolutionary group in this city, to hold a whole neighborhood or a whole city hostage. And we have to send that message out loud and clear, over and over again…” (Emphasis added.) Never mind the fact that the most common definition of terrorism is the murder of innocent civilians for a political purpose—and that MOVE never did anything remotely resembling that, while Goode committed exactly that crime in his bombing.

Ramona Africa
While the perpetrators of this horrendous crime – the mayor and the police – walked free, the only adult survivor, Ramona Africa (shown here speaking in 2014), was arrested and spent seven years in prison for refusing to renounce MOVE, while the surviving child, Birdie Africa, was seized by the system and taken away from his family. Photo: YouTube

Addendum: Repeat Offenders

The MOVE massacre is not the first time this system has bombed and burned out rebellious Black people.

In June 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a white mob attempting to lynch a Black prisoner was stopped, partly by Black residents armed with shotguns. In response, white supremacists went on a rampage. A mob of over 1,000—and including police—stormed the Greenwood area, at that time known as the “Negro Wall Street” because of its vibrant Black-owned economy. Looting, burning, and shooting people, the mob met fierce resistance from armed Blacks. The police commandeered a half-dozen small planes, supposedly to provide surveillance for their attack, though many reported that the planes also dropped explosive and incendiary devices on the Black community.

By the time it was over, up to 100 Black people had been murdered, and perhaps two dozen of their white attackers killed. The population of Greenwood had been rounded up by police and forced into detention centers. The whole neighborhood, including 1,256 homes, had been burned to the ground; only a few buildings survived.

Taken in by an unending media and police campaign against MOVE and shocked by the scale of violence unleashed against MOVE, too many people stood by paralyzed and did not rise up in response. A “Draw the Line” statement, initiated by Carl Dix and others, was signed by more than 100 prominent Black figures and others denouncing the collusion of Black elected officials in the repression of the Black community.
Draw the Line Statement about MOVE Massacre
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How 20,000 Blacks died through starvation and overwork in the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’ labour camp in Mississippi


In America’s chequered history, the South is regarded as the more villainous; on account of their treatment of enslaved blacks and great lengths it went to recapture slaves, who attempted running away to freedom.

But the North proved that on its own account, it was as vile thanks to the fate that befell supposed free Blacks in Natchez, Mississippi in the 1860s.

America, supposed land of the free and great opportunities, had its own concentration camp which some estimate claimed 20,000 Black lives

With Black males being convinced to fight on the North’s behalf against the South with a promise to gain freedom, there was hope that life will get better after the civil war (1861 to 1865) but any such hope soon floundered.

After the Civil War, Natchez Mississippi experienced an enormous influx of former slaves as new inhabitants trooped in but the unenthused locals constructed an ‘encampment’ forcing all former slaves to live there. The area was then walled off with the former enslaved refused the option to leave.

Former Director of the Natchez City Cemetery Don Estes revealed in a news report: “So they decided to build an encampment for ’em at Devil’s Punchbowl which they walled off and wouldn’t let ’em out.”

Estes further added: “Disease broke out among ’em, smallpox being the main one. And thousands and thousands died. They were begging to get out. ‘Turn me loose and I’ll go home back to the plantation! Anywhere but there’.”

Devil’s Punchbowl via

It will take some time for the atrocities meted out to these Blacks to be revealed. Regarding how the camp came by its curious name – ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’ – it was due to how the area is shaped with the camp located at the bottom of a cavernous pit with trees located on the bluffs above.

While a propaganda of the North was that the South’s attempt to secede will break up the union and make the U.S vulnerable, another was that the South’s long slave trading of Blacks was inhumane and had to be stopped. It was on the back of abolishing the war and freeing up the enslaved which gingered many Blacks to fight alongside Union soldiers against the Confederates soldiers of the south but soon after victory, the Union troops showed they didn’t care about the well being of blacks rather to contain the economic advantage of the South made possible by the hard work of enslaved blacks.

Union soldiers unhappy with arce swell in the population of Natchez from 10,000 to 120,000 by freed Blacks recaptured free males and forced them into the labour camps while the women and children were locked behind the concrete walls of the encampment and starved. Within a year, 20,000 freed slaves were killed in the concentration camp.

But what caused such rapid deaths?

The Union Army forbade the removal of dead bodies, instructing them to “bury their dead where they fell.”

Availability of Food and water is key for human survival but at the encampment alias ‘Devils Punchbowl’ lacked fresh food and water and soon enough disease and starvation will combine to claim loved ones rapidly and in astounding numbers.

For southern plantation workers who endured brutal conditions to be so overwhelmed with their Natchez experience to plead with their white guards to let them return to the plantations, underlined the atrocious living conditions.

Aside thousands of men, women, and children perishing because of exhaustion and starvation, there were also disease outbreaks chiefly smallpox.

Amerikan Crime: #15 Chicago 1919: The Racist Riot and the Righteous Resistance


July 27, 1919. Late in the afternoon of a hot Chicago day, a Black teenager named Eugene Williams and some friends went out into Lake Michgan from an unofficial “colored” beach at 29th Street to cool off and have some fun—a simple act of the kind that has so often proved deadly for Black youth, from that time and before, on down to the present day.

The kids drifted across the invisible line to the adjacent “white” area. Here is how the anti-Black Chicago Daily Tribune described what happened at the time1:

A snarl of protest went up from the whites and soon a volley of rocks and stones were sent in his direction. One rock, said to have been thrown by George Stauber of 2904 Cottage Grove avenue, struck the lad [Williams] and he toppled into the water.

Colored men who were present attempted to go to his rescue, but they were kept back by the whites, it is said. Colored men and women, it is alleged, asked Policeman Dan Callahan of the Cottage Grove station to arrest Stauber, but he is said to have refused.

This brazen murder by racist whites backed by the cops sparked an immediate clash between Blacks and whites on the adjoining sections of the beach, which spread like wildfire through a large part of the city.

There are various accounts of what happened, but what is clear is that gangs of white youths, soldiers, sailors, and other white racists went on a rampage against Chicago’s small Black community, which was less than 5% of the city’s population. Again, from the Daily Tribune, under the subhead “Drag Negroes From Cars”:

Negroes who were found in street cars were dragged to the street and beaten. They were first ordered to the street by white men and if they refused the trolley was jerked off the wires….

News of the afternoon doings had spread through all parts of the south side by nightfall, and whites stood at all prominent corners ready to avenge the beatings their brethren had received. Along Halsted and State streets they were armed with clubs, and every Negro who appeared was pommeled.

Another account reported that “groups of whites had driven a truck at breakneck speed up south State Street, in the heart of the Black ghetto, with six or seven men in the back firing indiscriminately at the people on the sidewalks.”2 Black homes were set afire, especially those of families who had dared to move outside the Black Belt. According to the Chicago Defender(Chicago’s main Black paper), “[Black] Workers thronging the loop district to their work were set upon by mobs of sailors and marines roving the streets and several fatal casualties have been reported. Infuriated white rioters attempted to storm the Palmer house and the post offices, where there are a large number of [Black] employees….”3

This mass lynch-mob pogrom was fueled by social, political, economic, and demographic changes that were stressing and challenging the traditional white supremacist, highly segregated order in Chicago and across the U.S. The “Great Migration” of Black people from the South to the North had more than doubled Chicago’s Black population between 1909 and 1919—from 44,000 to 100,000—but housing remained rigidly segregated, often imposed through private “covenants” forbidding white homeowners from selling to Black people.

The new migrants seeking jobs found themselves in fierce competition with Chicago’s white residents, and the desperation of Black people was often used by big capitalist employers to bring down wages or to break strikes, further fueling resentment. This clash was especially sharp in Chicago’s sprawling stockyards.4 Meanwhile, World War 1 had just ended, and many returning Black veterans brought with them a defiant spirit and were less willing to tolerate open Jim Crow humiliation and brutality.

In Chicago (and many other cities), white youths were organized into racist gangs (the so-called “Athletic Clubs”) which had as part of their explicit principle that “they didn’t allow niggers in [their] neighborhood.” These gangs were closely tied to the Democratic Party machine in Chicago; in fact, Richard J. Daley, who went on to become Chicago’s most powerful mayor, emerged as a leader of one such gang after the 1919 pogrom.5

And the gangs were quite active in the years leading up to the 1919 pogrom. Between January 1918 to August 1919, there were 20 bombings of Black homes outside the Black Belt… but only two arrests.6 And they were itching to start a race war that would pit the small Black minority against the large white population. One gang even donned blackface and set fire to homes in a Lithuanian and Polish neighborhood in hopes of turning these new immigrants against Black people.7

All of this came into play in Chicago on July 27, 1919, in a storm of anti-Black violence in which thousands of white people participated while, for the most part, cops either stood idly by or actually helped the racists. And similar pogroms were unleashed in many other cities—from Washington, DC, to Charlotte, South Carolina. In DC, “200 sailors and marines marched into the city, beating African American men and women. A group of whites also tried to break through military barriers to attack African Americans in their homes.”8

But these racist pogroms did not go unresisted, in Chicago or elsewhere. Harry Haywood (who later became a communist) was just back from the war. When he saw what was happening, he and other vets set up in a strategically located apartment with a submachine gun and rifles to defend the neighborhood. In another incident, Haywood said that Black vets ambushed a truck that was speeding through the ’hood shooting at people. The vets

pulled in behind and opened up with a machine gun. The truck crashed into a telephone pole at Thirty-ninth Street; most of the men in the truck had been shot down and the others fled. Among them were several Chicago police officers—“off duty,” of course!9

And there were many instances of crowds of Black people freeing others from the clutches of the police or white mobs, as well as counterattacking against white areas that were concentrations of the racist assault, and against white-owned businesses in the Black Belt. Much of this resistance was armed. (As inevitably happens in such a chaotic situation, there were also some innocent white people who were attacked when they strayed into Black areas.)

And the same was true elsewhere. In Washington, DC, “Determined to fight back, a group of African Americans boarded a streetcar and attacked the motorman and the conductors. African Americans also exchanged gunfire with whites who drove or walked through their neighborhoods.”10

In Chicago, the anti-Black violence was cheered on by major newspapers and political institutions. The Chicago Daily Tribune focused on the small minority of white people who were hurt (or even were the “victims” of “insulting remarks”) by Black people. One Daily Tribune headline screamed about “A Crowd of Howling Negroes.” Another paper headlined an article “Negro Bandits Terrorize Town.”11

Moreover, the Chicago Police Department had a consistent practice of either not arresting white rioters at all, or arresting them and letting them go. In one incident, cops arrested five whites and a group of Blacks. The Blacks stayed in jail; the “five whites were released and their ammunition given back to them with the remark, ‘You’ll probably need this before the night is over.’”12 The “athletic clubs” were never prosecuted for their role in the violence, although the “Chicago Commission on Human Relations eventually concluded that without these gangs ‘it is doubtful if the riot would have gone beyond the first clash.’”13

And key figures wanted to amp things up even further. Joseph McDonough, a rising Democratic Party political figure who was “mentor” to the “Hamburg Athletic Club”—future-mayor Daley’s gang—claimed that police captains were telling South Side whites, “For God’s sake, arm. They are coming; we cannot hold them.” And McDonough told police chief John J. Garrity that “unless something is done at once I am going to advise my people to arm themselves for protection.”14

In the days following July 27, area cops called for all police and reserves in the city to concentrate around the Black Belt (as Chicago’s Black ghetto was known), and thousands of National Guard as well as sheriffs from surrounding counties were brought in. That, together with heavy rains, brought relative calm, though sporadic fighting continued for another week.

By August 3, when the fighting ended, 38 people were dead (25 Blacks, 13 white) and at least 500 wounded; thousands of Black people (and some whites) had been driven from their homes.

But that was not the end of the assault on the Black community. The very next day, a special grand jury issued indictments for “rioting and murder”… against 17 Black people! The judge hearing the indictments “exhorted the jury to deal with [the riots] as anarchy” and promised “speedy trials” (i.e., rapid convictions) for the indicted Black people. Meanwhile, over 10,000 troops, police and deputies continued to patrol the Black community, and Black homeowners living on the edge of “the negro district” received letters warning them “to move within two days or their homes would be burned and bombed.”15

Nationally, this period of racist violence was dubbed “The Red Summer” by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson. The official death toll was 150 people, mainly Black.

For Black people, their sense of safety was utterly devastated, and for many it was a turning point towards radicalization. Harry Haywood had this realization: “I had been fighting the wrong war. The Germans weren’t the enemy—the enemy was right here at home.”16


During the frenzy of white lynch-mob violence, Chicago newspapers and political leaders either outright blamed Black people (as with the articles cited above depicting Black people as a “Howling Mob”) or emphasized the injuries to white people. Or they played the “violence on both sides” card, failing to distinguish between the organized, violent racist assault on Black people and their heroic resistance to that violence.

And they completely obscured the role of their own system in systematically preparing the ground for the pogrom with racist agitation, the organization of racist gangs and the complicity of the police. Instead, they drew the “lesson” that Black people and white people just can’t live together without fighting.

Since then, for the most part this massive anti-Black pogrom has been blotted out of history. In the whole city of Chicago, there is exactly one site commemorating what happened—a plaque affixed to a boulder near Lake Michigan that was paid for by suburban high school students.17


What lay behind the 1919 Chicago pogrom, and the whole “Red Summer” of anti-Black violence, was the need for the U.S. ruling class to maintain the brutal oppression of Black people, and the whole white supremacist hierarchy upon which U.S. society was built from even before its birth as a nation, under new conditions.

The Great Migration, the return of Black veterans from World War 1, and other social, economic, political, and demographic changes that were taking place confronted the ruling class with the “problem” of how to maintain Black people in an oppressed position outside the apparatus of racist sheriffs, KKK, and predatory white landowners that—more or less—had held Black people in the rural South “in check.”

Former rural peasants, moving into the cities to jobs where they would be super-exploited as the lowest-paid workers in the worst jobs—a source of enormous profit to U.S. capitalism for several generations to come—had to be beaten into submission through terror, their defiant spirit suppressed, and white people (including oppressed white people) enlisted to serve and identify with the whole oppressive order to carry this out.

One upshot of the 1919 violence was a conscious decision on the part of the Chicago authorities to replace informal segregation with a more formal system. As a Chicago Tribune article earlier this year noted: “[A]fter the riots, the city—meaning white Chicago—essentially decided to separate the races officially. ‘The city’s response to the cataclysmic events of the riot in many ways was to double down on segregation as a solution to keep the peace,’… Housing segregation of course has been a dominant shaping factor within the city and has largely structured it as a dual and unequal city in relation to whites and blacks.”18 In 1920, the Chicago Realtor’s Board voted “unanimously to punish by ‘immediate expulsion’ any member who sold property to a black on a block where there were only white owners.”19


The mainstream newspapers, which whipped up racist sentiment before and during the 1919 racist riots.

The “Athletic Clubs” of racist white youths who spearheaded the pogrom, as well as the all-too-broad sections of white people, numbering well into the thousands, at least, who joined in, and the hundreds of thousands of others who stood aside and were thus complicit in this orgy of racist violence.

The Chicago city political structure, including the Democratic Party (and future mayor Richard J. Daley), which organized and ran the “Athletic Clubs” as a conscious tool for maintaining power on a white supremacist basis in Chicago.

The real estate industry, which maintained and profited from speculation and then whipped up and profited off of white fear and white flight, and the big capitalist factory, mill, and packinghouse owners who pitted Blacks against white workers.

The whole damn system of capitalism, which arose and throve on the enslavement of Black people and has continued to find yet new forms of oppression from which to increase its power and profit.


1. “A Crowd of Howling Negroes,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1919.  [back]

2. Black BolshevikAutobiography of an Afro-American Communist, by Harry Haywood, chapter 5, “History Is A Weapon,” Chicago, Liberator Press, 1978.  [back]

3. From the Chicago Defender, ”Ghastly Deeds of Race Rioters Told,” 1919, cited by “History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web.”  [back]

4. “Chicago and Its Eight Reasons,” by Walter White, October 1919.  [back]

5. American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley—His Battle for Chicago and the Nation, by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, New York, Back Bay Books, 2001, Excerpt.  [back]

6. “Chicago and Its Eight Reasons,” Walter White.  [back]

7. Encyclopedia of Chicago, Chicago Historical Society, 2005, “Race, Ethnicity and White Identity.”  [back]

8. “The Red Summer of 1919, Explained,” by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, Teen Vogue, April 8, 2019.  [back]

9.Black Bolshevik, Harry Heywood.  [back]

10. Teen Vogue, “The Red Summer of 1919, Explained”  [back]

11. “Chicago and Its Eight Reasons,” Walter White.  [back]

12. “Chicago and Its Eight Reasons,” Walter White.  [back]

13. American Pharaoh, Cohen and Taylor.  [back]

14. American Pharaoh, Cohen and Taylor.  [back]

15. “Indict 17 Negro Rioters,” New York Times, August 4, 1919.  [back]

16. Teen Vogue, “The Red Summer of 1919, Explained”  [back]

17. “‘Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots’ looks to bring city to terms with a chilling summer 100 years ago,” Chicago Tribune, January 18, 2019.  [back]

18. “‘Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots’ looks to bring city to terms with a chilling summer 100 years ago,” Chicago Tribune.  [back]

19. American Pharaoh, Cohen and Taylor.  [back]\


Amerikan Crime: #89 120,000 People of Japanese Descent Put in U.S. Concentration Camps During World War 2

Editors note: February 19, 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 signed by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, which led to the rounding up and imprisonment in concentration camps of 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War 2. This is one of the major crimes of the U.S. rulers—and this history is very relevant today, when the fascist Trump-Pence regime is ramping up extreme repression against Muslims, Mexican immigrants, and other sections of the people. In this light, we are reposting this piece from the American Crime series.

People of Japnese descent lined up at a train that will take them to the concentration camp at Gila River, Ariz., 1942.
People of Japanese descent lined up to be taken to the concentration camp at Gila River, Ariz., 1942. (Photo: Clem Albers/National Archives)


THE CRIME: During World War 2, 120,000 people of Japanese descent, nearly the entire Japanese population living in the continental U.S., were rounded up and imprisoned in concentration camps throughout the western states within months of Japan’s December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval base in Hawai‘i. Sixty-two percent of those imprisoned were U.S. citizens; and more than half were children. They were never charged with a crime; never given a hearing; but summarily rounded up and held for more than two years in remote locations, solely on the basis of their nationality.

When people were rounded up, they could only take what they could carry and people were forced to quickly sell almost all of their possessions. Before the war, Japanese Americans farmed 40 percent of the total acreage in California. Their land—as well as $40 million of crops in the ground and over $100 million in investments—was virtually stolen from them when they were forced to sell very cheaply. And because of the evacuation, people lost more than $4 million in businesses—mostly small businesses.

Any resistance was quickly dealt with. When three men, Minoru Yasui in Oregon, Fred Korematsu in California, and Gordon Hirabayashi in Washington state—refused to report for evacuation and insisted the orders were unconstitutional, they were arrested, convicted, and sent to prison. This was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on the basis that the evacuation was based on military necessity.

Part of a contingent of 664 people of Japanese descent, the first to be removed from San Francisco, April 16, 1942.
Some of a group of 664 people of Japanese descent, the first to be removed from San Francisco, April 16, 1942. (Photo: Dorothea Lange/National Archives)


Families found themselves surrounded by soldiers with rifles with bayonets; packed into filthy “assembly centers” where animals had been kept, with no beds. They were put on trains, not knowing where they were going—taken to 10 internment camps in desolate, desert areas. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire with guard towers, and patrolled by soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets. Guards had orders to shoot anyone trying to leave without a pass or refusing orders to halt. After rebellions in some of the camps, “troublemakers” were rounded up and put in one maximum security camp at Tule Lake, where tear gas was used against continuing resistance.

At the same time, over 2,000 people of Japanese descent living in 13 Latin American countries, 80 percent of them from Peru, were taken to Panama, and eventually to the U.S. camps. Five hundred or more of these Latin American prisoners were traded by the U.S. in exchange for prisoners of war (POWs) being held by Japan.

There were an additional 150,000 people of Japanese ancestry living in Hawai‘i —nearly a third of the entire population of the islands. Fearful of the economic and political impact of imprisoning so many professionals, small businesspeople, religious leaders, and agricultural workers, the government imprisoned only 2,000 of them. But all of Hawai’i was placed under martial law for the duration of World War 2.

THE CRIMINALS: President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, allowing regional military commanders to designate “military areas” from which any or all persons were excluded. One month before Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt received a report saying Japanese in the U.S. did not pose any security danger. But this did not stop the U.S. from using Executive Order 9066 to “exclude all people of Japanese ancestry” from living anywhere on the West Coast—all of California, and large parts of Washington, Oregon, and Arizona.

The FBI was able to act quickly because the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) had already compiled lists identifying key community leaders. By 1939, lists of “dangerous” citizens and non-citizens were being compiled by the FBI, special intelligence agencies of the Justice Department, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the army’s Military Intelligence Division. The U.S. Census Bureau was forced to admit decades later that it had provided information on people living in the U.S. of Japanese ancestry

This enabled the FBI to arrest more than 1,200 Japanese immigrant men within hours of the Pearl Harbor attack—targeted as “potential threats to national security.” These were in fact community leaders, Buddhist priests, Japanese language teachers, and others who might be able to mobilize an outcry and political resistance to these roundups.

Major U.S. newspapers played a crucial role in creating the conditions and setting the stage for targeting U.S. citizens and children as well as immigrants by whipping up ugly, racist attacks on anyone of Japanese descent. The Los Angeles Times ran the following:

A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched. So, a Japanese American born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere… grows up to be a Japanese, and not an American… Thus, while it might cause injustice to a few to treat them all as potential enemies, I cannot escape the conclusions… that such treatment… should be accorded to each and all of them while we are at war with their race.

THE ALIBI: The excuse for these crimes against humanity was the alleged “danger” to the country posed by these “enemy aliens.” The military’s reach included everyone who was at least one-sixteenth “Japanese”—the equivalent of having one Japanese great grandparent. And this was done despite the conclusion based on numerous military, FBI, and CIA investigations of the Japanese population in the U.S. conducted before and after Pearl Harbor—that the “Japanese problem” was non-existent.

THE ACTUAL MOTIVE: This massive crime against a whole people inside the U.S., with ominous implications, played an important role in cohering the country around the “necessity” to support a war of worldwide slaughter—including the massive U.S. war crimes committed against hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For those who rule this country, World War 2 was waged in the interests of U.S. capitalism-imperialism—to defend and expand its control and domination of whole areas of the world, including Asia, Southeast Asia, North Africa, and more against their imperialist rivals—Germany, Italy, and Japan.

REPEAT OFFENDERS: Long before the Japanese internment, the U.S. forced all the surviving Native American tribes into concentration camps—called “reservations.” This was the final stage in the genocidal destruction of the great majority of Native Americans, who had once numbered in the millions on the continent, and the theft of their lands across the country in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” The survivors were forced to find a way to survive and make a living in some of the most desolate parts of the country.

When it came time to find places to imprison over 100,000 Japanese descendants, the great majority were relocated to Native American reservations in the most remote, desolate areas of seven Western states.

Today the same racist justifications used against people of Japanese descent in the U.S. are being put out against immigrants from Mexico, Central and Latin America, and against any Muslims. And Donald Trump—one of two candidates to be president of the United States—is whipping up people with the same kind of arguments used to justify the American Crime of U.S. concentration camps during World War 2.

How a lie and a gang of rampaging White men destroyed an entire Black community in 1923

Credit: History

What started as an accusation from a white woman from the nearby town of Sumner, would become an escalated situation of retaliation and the eventual massacre of an entire community, as well as the complete destruction of Rosewood, an unincorporated black community in Levy County, Florida.

Rosewood was a community built in 1845, nine miles (14 km) east of Cedar Key, near the Gulf of Mexico. Powered by the timber industry, the community was purely black-populated, with the closest communities around it housing white people.

With two pencil mills nearby in Cedar Key, the existence of turpentine and sawmills in Sumner helped support local residents, as did the farming of citrus and cotton.

And with a growth that required further development, a post office as well as a train depot on the Florida Railroad in 1870, were built.

But, even with all these things in place, Rosewood never actually got to be incorporated as a town. That aside, the people continued to live their peaceful and diligent lives until the New Year of 1923 when things would spur out of control. And all it took was a lie.

Photo Credit: History

In January 1923, just around a period of the repeated lynching of black people around Florida, a white woman, Frances “Fannie” Taylor, a 22-year-old married to James, a 30-year-old millwright employed by Cummer & Sons in Sumner accused a black man from the town of Rosewood of beating her and eventually raping her.

From the accounts of what happened, Frances and her husband lived with their two young children and James was mostly at work from early in the mornings. Described as “meticulously clean and scrubbing her cedar floors with bleach so that they shone white,” other women attested that Taylor was aloof; no one knew her very well.

On January 1, 1923, the Taylors’ neighbor reported that she heard a scream while it was still dark, grabbed her revolver and ran next door to find Fannie bruised and beaten, with scuff marks across the white floor. Taylor was screaming that someone needed to get her baby.

According to her, a black man was in her house, who she said came through the back door and assaulted her. The neighbor found the baby, but no one else.

Taylor’s initial report stated that her assailant beat her about the face but did not rape her. Rumors circulated—widely believed to be by the whites in Sumner—that she was both raped and robbed. It would emerge later though that she lied concerning what happened as what did happen was that she was beaten by her lover while her husband was at work.

She decided to pick the more vulnerable black people of Rosewood to lay the blame on them to save herself the embarrassment.

She might not have hoped that it would escalate but upon hearing her lie and noting that in Florida at the time, the charge of rape of a white woman by a black was inflammatory, men from her Sumner community invaded the Black community, lynching a number of them.

The black citizens had to defend themselves and so they did. In their attempt against further attacks, several hundred whites re-organized themselves with many coming in from all over upon hearing the news combing the countryside in a hunt for black people to kill and to set fire into almost every structure in Rosewood.

The blaze lasted for days, dying down on January 8, as the white men continued to pour kerosene on the buildings and churches while shooting anybody in sight or those who attempted to dare stop them. Everything that ever existed in Rosewood was on the ground: in ashes.

A cabin burns in Rosewood on January 4, 1923/news.wfsu

It was a complete massacre!

Those who survived, fearing for their lives, hid in the nearby swamps while others sought refuge in the home of John Wright, a local white businessman. They were defenseless and powerless against these rampaging white men but one man would defy the odds.

Sylvester Carrier/Daddy’s Gun

Sylvester Carrier took up arms and did a brave thing by fighting against the men, killing two whites before he was taken out in that shootout. His bravery was short-lived but it encouraged them.

By the time the mob had dispersed, the town had been almost totally destroyed, with businesses, churches, and homes in ruins or burned to the ground.

Surviving residents fled, with many settling down in nearby Gainesville or moving to cities in the North. Although state and local authorities were aware of the violence, they made no arrests for the massacre in Rosewood.

A grand jury was convened in February 1923, but it found insufficient evidence to prosecute, and no one was charged with the crimes committed against the black residents of Rosewood.

Sarah Carrier (left), Sylvester Carrier (standing) and his sister Willie Carrier (right), taken around 1910/Wikipedia

Although the surviving members of Rosewood went away and forgot about the town and all that happened there, in 1982, Gary Moore, a journalist for the St. Petersburg Timesresurrected the history of Rosewood through a series of articles that gained national attention.

At that point, the living survivors of the massacre, most of them in their 80s and 90s, came forward led by Rosewood descendant Arnett Doctor and demanded restitution from Florida.

The action led to the passing of a bill awarding them $2 million and created an educational fund for descendants. The bill also called for an investigation into the matter to clarify the events, which Moore took part in.

Further awareness was created through John Singleton’s 1997 film, Rosewood, which dramatized the events.


amerikan crime: Case #18: The LAPD—150 Years of Murder, Brutality, Racism and Repression


The LAPD, with its slogan of “To Protect and Serve,” is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.  But what is its actual history—from beginning to today?  And what does it say about the actual history of this country and the role of the police?

1950-1966: Chief Parker and the Watts Rebellion—A More “Professional” and More Brutal LAPD

William Parker, who became police chief in 1950, was hailed as a modernizer.  But there was nothing “modern” about his stone-cold racism.  When he was sworn in, he declared, during a period when tens of thousands of Black people were migrating to LA, that “Los Angeles is the white spot of the great cities of America today.  It is to the advantage of the community that we keep it that way.”

A decade later, Parker told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that Blacks and Latinos were more likely to commit crimes than white people, and that the barrios had a high crime rate because people there were a step removed from “the wild tribes of Mexico.”

In between, Parker, who called the police the “Thin Blue Line” protecting civilization (i.e., white supremacy), unleashed a reign of terror against Black and Brown people.  “The policing of the ghetto was becoming simultaneously less corrupt but more militarized and brutal,” writes Mike Davis. Previously, LAPD officers often “shook down” the interracial, Black-owned nightclub scene on Central Avenue for bribes. Now Parker’s police shut it down—even blockading Black-owned stores and warning white customers away.

This police terror escalated in the 1960s.  In April 1962, some 75 LAPD cops shot up a Nation of Islam Mosque, killing one and wounding six others.  Why?  Some cops had gotten in a beef with two members of the Mosque after they accused them of having a “suspicious amount of clothes in their car.” It turned out the two owned a dry cleaning business. After the assault Malcolm X came to LA and condemned Parker for “filling his men with hatred for the Black Community.”

1965: The Watts Rebellion

Between 1963 and 1965, thousands of young Black men were harassed or brutalized, and 60 Black people were shot by the LAPD—27 in the back.  Then an incident of this kind of everyday harassment turned into something else.

1965 Watts Rebellion: Black people stood up in anger and defiance at the LAPD—an estimated 75,000 people took part—rocking LA and sending shockwaves around the world. (Photo: AP)

More than 5,000 youth were injured or arrested. Photo: AP

More than 30 Black and Latino people. Photo: Creative Commons

According to various accounts, on the evening of August 11, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) cop stopped Marquette and Ronald Frye on suspicion of drunk driving.  Ronald, who was a passenger, went to get their mother, as a crowd began to gather.  When Ronald and his mother came and the crowd had grown to several hundred, Marquette exploded in rage, “cursing and shouting at the officers [saying] they would have to kill him to take him to jail.” An altercation ensued and all three Frye’s were arrested and taken to jail.

But the growing crowd wasn’t having it.  They cursed the CHP.  The pigs decided to assert their authority and waded into the crowd to arrest one agitator and a woman who supposedly spit on them.  A rock hit the CHP cruiser as it was leaving, and when word circulated that a bad bust had gone down and a pregnant woman had been abused, the community rose up.

Black people stood up in anger and defiance—an estimated 75,000 people took part—rocking LA and sending shockwaves around the world.  A feeling of freedom and liberation surged through the Black community as the hated pigs had been driven out—and it took them nearly a week to regain control.  The LAPD was forced to put 46.5 square miles of the city under military-enforced curfew, mobilize 21,000 cops and National Guard troops, and lock down and retake one neighborhood after another. More than 30 Black and Latino people were unjustly shot to death by pigs who were totally rampaging, and 5,000 were injured or arrested—but it still took the authorities six days to bring the Watts Rebellion to an end.

The 1960-1980: Spying, Suppressing, and Murdering Radicals and Revolutionaries

LAPD attack a 1967 protest against the Vietnam War at Century City Mall. Hundreds of police attacked them. Photo: courtesy LA Times Photographic Archive, Young Research Library UCLA

The Watts uprising was a turning point in the 1960s, helping to usher in a period of massive upheaval and rebellion in cities across the country.  The LAPD under Parker protégés Edward M. Davis (1969-1978) and Daryl Gates (1978-1992) responded with paramilitary assault units, including SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, and stepped up spying aimed especially at radical and revolutionary forces.

The LAPD’s Murderous Assaults on the Black Panther Party

On December 8, 1969, four days after the Chicago Police Department and the FBI assassinated Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, the LAPD launched a predawn assault on the LA Panther headquarters at 41st and Central.  Inside their sandbag-fortified office, 11 Panther members, including Vietnam vet Geronimo Pratt, engaged in a five-hour shootout with 350 cops, SWAT teams, and LAPD helicopters, that rained bullets and tear gas into the Panther house in Watts.  Five thousand rounds of ammunition were exchanged.  Masses of people from the area turned out in support, along with student radicals, and this helped to prevent the police from unleashing an even worse barrage.

December 8, 1969, SWAT teams and LAPD helicopters rained bullets and tear gas into the Black Panther Party house in Watts.

Roland Freeman got buckshot in his legs from a police shotgun, and a single shot shattered the bone in his arm. A police sniper’s bullet tore through the legs of Tommy Lewis, one of the two women there. Not being able to stop the bleeding of some of their comrades, the Panthers called an end to the exchange.   When it ended, four Panthers and four SWAT cops were wounded but no fatalities.

In the 2006 documentary by Gregory Everett, 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers, Wayne Pharr recalls what he felt during that intense standoff facing overwhelming murderous police firepower: “That was the only time as a Black man in America that I ever felt free, was the five hours that I was in the shootout…. For those five hours, I was in control of my destiny…” Millions of people also saw the LA-BPP self-defense action as heroic and took inspiration from it.1

The 1970 Chicano Moratorium and the Murder of Ruben Salazar

On August 29, 1970 over 25,000 Chicanos marched in East LA in the Chicano Moratorium, demanding an end to the Vietnam war and to the oppression they faced as a people. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library)

An LA County Sheriff’s deputy shot a tear gas canister through the door of Silver Dollar Bar hitting prominent Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar in the head killing him. (Photo: Raul Ruiz)

The LA County Sheriffs and the LAPD came out in force against the Chicano Moratorium. They reacted to a shoplifting situation by declaring it an illegal assembly and Sheriffs and LAPD stormed into the crowd, shooting tear gas and swinging their batons. (Photo: CreativeCommons)

The LAPD and other law enforcement agencies had the burgeoning Chicano liberation movement in their crosshairs since March 1968, when some ten thousand Chicano students in East LA walked out of their predominantly Mex­ican-American high schools in protest of the inferior education available to them.

So on August 29, when over 25,000 Chicanos marched in East LA in the Chicano Moratorium, demanding an end to the Vietnam war and to the oppression they faced as a people, the LA County Sheriffs and the LAPD came out in force.  Toward the end of this largely peaceful march, some youth allegedly shoplifted drinks from a nearby store and ran into the crowd.  The LA County Sheriffs seized on this to declare an illegal assembly and Sheriffs and LAPD stormed into the crowd, shooting tear gas and swinging their batons. People did not disperse, but courageously stood their ground and fought back.  At one point, a Sheriff’s deputy shot a tear gas canister through a shop door that hit prominent Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar in the head killing him.  Two others were also killed before the day was over.  Salazar had given voice to Chicano demands, and many demanded an investigation feeling the Sheriff’s Department may have targeted Salazar for assassination, an investigation that an inquest jury found was warranted. Yet DA Evelle J. Younger refused to proceed.

Militant Chicanos held three other major protests over the next five months which were attacked by the LA Sheriffs and LAPD, including on January 31, 1971 when one demonstrator was killed and thirty-five were wounded.

May 17, 1974: The SLA Massacre

The LAPD fired some 1,200 rounds of ammunition into the tiny home as six SLA members shot back. Teargas containers thrown into the house ignited a fire, but the SLA refused to surrender and all six were killed by burns and smoke inhalation. (Photo: AP)

On May 17, some 500 LAPD cops surrounded and laid siege to a small house in Compton where they suspected members of the small radical group the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) were hiding out.  Then they opened fire.  The SLA had carried out a series of actions—including the highly publicized kidnapping of ruling class heiress Patty Hearst, demanding her family distribute food to poor people in California, which the family did.2  (Other SLA members, not present, were later arrested and sent to prison for murder, bank robbery, and kidnapping.)

The LAPD fired some 1,200 rounds of ammunition into the tiny home as six SLA members shot back. Teargas containers thrown into the house ignited a fire, but the SLA refused to surrender and all six were killed by burns and smoke inhalation.

April 22, 1980: The Murder of Revolutionary Communist Damian Garcia

Damian Garcia raising the red flag on top of the Alamo.

On April 22, 1980, Damian Garcia, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, was building for May First in the Pico-Aliso Housing Project in East Los Angeles.  A month earlier Damian and two other members of the “May Day Brigade” had scaled the infamous Alamo, lowered the flag of Texas and raised the red flag of revolution. This powerful internationalist statement made the front page of newspapers in many countries of Central and South America—and made Damian a “dangerous individual” in the eyes of this system and its political police, and the LAPD.

As Damian and his comrades moved through the housing project, he was confronted by a man who said, “You hate the government. I am the government. Your flag is red. Mine is red, white and blue.” He and others jumped the Brigade in what at first appeared to be a fistfight. But suddenly Damian fell to the ground and died—slashed in the neck, abdomen and back.

The LAPD quickly claimed it had been a gang killing, and that the gang member responsible for Damian’s murder had himself been killed six weeks later—case closed. But two years later, an ongoing investigation revealed that a police agent—“Ernie Sanchez”—had been assigned by the LAPD’s Public Disorder Investigation Division (PDID) to target Damian.

The PDID had been formed in 1970 and it had infiltrated, spied on, and disrupted over 200 groupings and kept files on 50,000 people—including the LA Times, the National Organization of Women, Students for Democratic Society at UCLA, the Peace and Freedom Party, and the Black Panther Party (BPP). They also spied on members of the City Council, the Police Commission, and at least one judge.

One week after Damian and his comrades scaled the Alamo, “Sanchez” had infiltrated the May Day Brigade.  He was with Damian daily and fed the PDID information about Damian’s schedule, including the day he was murdered.  And Sanchez was standing five feet away when Damian was assassinated.

In 1983, an ACLU lawsuit accused the PDID of illegally spying on 131 social movement activists and organizations.  This revelation of the extent of LAPD spying and its targeting of political activists—including Damian—caused a major social uproar and forced the Police Commission to disband the PDID.  (It was replaced by the  anti-terrorism division ).  Adding to the outrage, it also came out that one PDID cop, Jay Paul, had defied a 1976 order by the Police Commission to destroy the unit’s confidential intelligence files on revolutionaries, radicals, members of the City Council, the Police Commission, and at least one judge and instead stored them in his garage and shared the files with a private, fascist intelligence dissemination operation called Western Goals.

The Gates Years, 1978-1992:
The LAPD sets the standard for state-sponsored racist terror and suppression

The Murder of Eula Love.  Daryl Gates took over the LAPD in 1978 and quickly became infamous for his sneering, open racism, and his war-like approach to policing Black and Brown people.  Gates ushered in his tenure with, among other horrors, the murder of 39-year-old mother of three Eula Love on January 3, 1979.  Love was recently widowed and struggling to raise three kids on a limited income in her small home in South Central.  That day she was upset because a utility man had come and tried to turn off her power.  They got into an altercation and he called the police.  When the police arrived Eula came out of her home while her children stayed inside.  The cops talked to her for two to three minutes before opening fire, hitting her with twelve 38-caliber slugs from eight to twelve feet away.  They claimed she’d advanced on them with a knife in her hand, but it turned out she was moving away.

After they murdered Eula, the cops rolled her lifeless body over and handcuffed her on the grass in her own front yard.  There was a major outpouring of protest after her murder, but Gates responded by mocking and assaulting her—and all Black people again—declaring the white pig who shot her was “just as much a victim of this tragedy as (she was).”

With LA’s Black Mayor Tom Bradley and other Black “leaders” remaining silent as the so-called “war on drugs,” launched by Ronald Reagan in 1982 escalated, Gates was emboldened to openly insult and taunt Black and Brown people as part of the terror the LAPD was raining down on them.  In 1982, after a string of young Black men were killed by LAPD ”chokeholds,“ Gates claimed their deaths were caused by being Black: “We may be finding that in some Blacks when [the carotid chokehold] is applied the veins or arteries do not open up as fast as they do on normal [sic] people.”

The “War on Drugs” and Operation Hammer 1988-1990.  The “war on drugs” was not about bringing down crime; it was a war on oppressed people aimed at ramping up suppression and social control—a counterinsurgency before the insurgency.  And the LAPD under Gates was in the vanguard of waging, expanding, militarizing, and brutally carrying it out.

The “war on drugs” was not about bringing down crime; it was a war on oppressed people. A thousand extra-duty patrolmen, backed by elite tactical squads and a special anti-gang taskforce formed the HAMMER. They arrested more Black youth than at any time since the Watts Rebellion of 1965. (Photo: AP)

By 1987, with crack spreading and violence surging among the youth of different gangs and sets —and hysteria about the situation fanned by the media, Democrats, and Republicans—the LAPD launched the so-called Gang Related Active Trafficker Suppression program (GRATS) which targeted “drug neighborhoods” with 200-300 police ordered to stop anyone “suspected” of being a gang member based on “criteria” like clothing and hand gestures. Gates announced that full manpower reserves of LAPD would be thrown into super-sweeps called Operation HAMMER.

Author Mike Davis describes Operation HAMMER’s first action on April 9, 1988:

A thousand extra-duty patrolmen, backed by elite tactical squads and a special anti-gang taskforce, bring down the first act of “Operation HAMMER” upon ten square miles of Southcentral Los Angeles between Exposition Park and North Long Beach, arresting more Black youth than at any time since the Watts Rebellion of 1965… Kids are humiliatingly forced to “kiss the sidewalk” or spread eagle against police cruisers while officers check their names against computerized files of gang members. There are 1,453 arrests; the kids are processed in mobile booking centers, mostly for trivial offences like delinquent parking tickets or curfew violations. Hundreds more, uncharged, have their names and addresses entered into the electronic gang roster for future surveillance.

Daryl Gates called it “war.”  The Chief of LAPD Hardcore Drug Unit said, “This is Vietnam here.”

The Dalton Street Raid.  One of the infamous operations during Operation HAMMER was the Dalton Street raid on August 1, 1988. Eighty-eight cops from the infamous Southwest Division swooped down on a group of apartments on Dalton Avenue near Exposition Park. They wielded shotguns and sledgehammers and shouted racist slurs and insults. The LA Timesreported:

An infamous operation during HAMMER was the Dalton Street raid on August 1, 1988. Eighty-eight cops from Southwest Division swooped down on a group of apartments on Dalton Avenue. They wielded shotguns and sledgehammers and shouted racist slurs and insults. (Video screen capture)

Residents… said they were punched and kicked by officers during what those arrested called “an orgy of violence….”

They also accused the officers of throwing washing machines into bathtubs, pouring bleach over clothes, smashing walls and furniture with sledgehammers and axes, and ripping an outside stairwell away from one building.

[They] destroyed family photos, ripped down cabinet doors, slashed sofas, shattered mirrors, hammered toilets to porcelain shards, doused clothing with bleach and emptied refrigerators. Some officers left their own graffiti: “LAPD Rules.” “Rollin’ 30s Die.”

Damage to the apartments was so extensive that the Red Cross offered disaster assistance and temporary shelter to displaced residents—a service normally provided in the wake of major fires, floods, earthquakes or other natural disasters.

At Southwest Division, 32 people arrested were forced to whistle the theme from the Andy Griffith TV show as they had to go through a gauntlet of pigs beating them with fists and flashlights. After all the lives and homes devastated, the result was two minor drug arrests.

Gates institutionalized the HAMMER sweeps as semi-permanent occupations of neighborhoods of the oppressed, including the largely immigrant neighborhood of Pico Union, later the site of the infamous Rampart scandal, which Gates claimed was “a veritable flea market for drug dealers.”

By 1990, the LAPD and the LA County sheriffs together had detained or arrested some 50,000 suspects—roughly half the entire population of 100,000 Black youth in Los Angeles at the time!  In many of these highly publicized sweeps, more than 90 percent were released without charges —but their innocence didn’t necessarily keep them out of the LAPD’s growing gang database.

All of this was facilitated by support from the media, which fanned horror stories about the masses. Leading Democrats, including Black politicians like Senator Diane Watson, whose press secretary said, “when you have a state of war, civil rights are suspended for the duration of the conflict,” also joined in.  Reformist Black “leaders” like the Urban League and SCLC started arguing that the problem was “too little policing” —not police brutality. “Progressives” like Ishmael Reed and Harry Edwards joined in denouncing Black youth as beyond hope, and demanded they be locked up to protect the rest of the Black community (i.e., better-off working, middle, and upper class Black people).

Meanwhile, California state laws were being passed—with Democratic backing as well as Republicans—targeting Black and Latino youth in the name of a “war on gangs” and “war on drugs.” One was the 1988 “Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act” (STEP), which made alleged membership in a “criminal gang” a felony. Such laws, along with the much harsher punishment for crack as opposed to powder cocaine, led to ensuring people of color and the poor were locked up much more frequently and for longer than white people—and all this was a big part of the explosion of mass incarceration, disproportionately targeting Black and Latino youth. To this day, with an average population of 17,000 to 20,000, the LA County Jail is the largest jail system in America.

1991-92:  The Rodney King Beating and the LA Rebellion3

The night of March 3, 1991, Rodney King, a young Black man, was pulled over for speeding. LAPD and Highway Patrol officers flooded to the scene and over the next few minutes, at least seven mercilessly beat and tased King, crushing the bones in his face, breaking his teeth and ankle, and causing numerous lacerations and internal injuries. Over a dozen other cops stood around laughing and encouraging the beating.

Within minutes after the four cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted, people began gathering all over LA, hundreds at LAPD headquarters. Protests erupted in many neighborhoods. Here Parker Center is in flames. (Photo: AP)

Authorities mobilized the largest domestic military operation since the 1960s: nearly 20,000 police, National Guard troops, federal military troops, FBI, Border Patrol, and others. (Photo: AP)

By the time it ended, the 1992 LA Rebellion was the largest urban rebellion in U.S. history. Some 63 people had been killed, 10 by law enforcement—nearly 80 percent Black and Latino. Some 12,000 people were arrested. (Photo: AP)

A resident across the street videotaped the whole assault, and the tape was repeatedly shown on TV.  Despite police claims that the video didn’t tell the real story, public anger was so intense that prosecutors were forced to charge four of the white officers with excessive force to try to contain things.

A year later the four officers went on trial. The trial had been moved to the virtually all-white Simi Valley. There was a widespread feeling that this time the brutality and the treatment Black people continually faced was caught on tape for all to see, and that the officers had to be found guilty. But on April 29, 1992, the Simi Valley jury verdict acquitting them of all charges was broadcast on live TV.

Within minutes, people began gathering all over LA, hundreds at LAPD headquarters.  Protests erupted in many neighborhoods, but the gathering at Florence and Normandie became a flashpoint that propelled the whole uprising.  By that evening, fires were burning throughout LA and protests were jumping off across the country. Over the next three days, the authorities mobilized the largest domestic military operation since the 1960s, with nearly 20,000 police, National Guard troops, federal military troops, FBI, Border Patrol, and others on the streets. By the time it ended, the 1992 LA Rebellion had become the largest urban rebellion in U.S. history. Some 63 people had been killed, 10 by law enforcement—nearly 80 percent Black and Latino. Some 12,000 people were arrested.

From 1992 to Today: Cosmetic Changes, Same Racist, Murdering LAPD

Over the 27 years since the LA rebellion, various commissions, different police chiefs, and many calls for and declarations of change, the LAPD has continued to be the same savage machine of murder, brutality and repression.  A few examples:

  • Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement, published in 1999, was able to document 197 police killings in the LA area in the 1990s (some by LA Sheriffs and other smaller police departments, but most by the LAPD.)
  • 1999 Rampart scandal.  In 1999, it came to light that the Rampart Division of the LAPD and its elite “anti-gang” CRASH unit (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) had been terrorizing the residents of Pico Union, a largely Spanish-speaking area.  This included murder, attempted murder, brutality, robbery, extortion, drug dealing, and routinely framing and convicting thousands of people based on lies, planted “evidence,” and trumped-up charges—including Javier Francisco Ovando, a 19-year-old Honduran immigrant who was wantonly shot four times, paralyzed for life, then convicted of attempted murder!  Over 70 CRASH cops were involved, but only four were put on trial. The trial exposed some of their gruesome crimes and the jury found them guilty.  Instead of carrying out the verdict, LA Superior Court Judge Josephine Connor threw out the verdict and exonerated the pigs!
  • 2002: When former NYPD head William Bratton became chief he brought “Stop and Frisk” from NYC to LA with a vengeance.  The number of stops went from 587,000 in 2002 to 875,000 in 2008.
  • 2009-2018: Charlie Beck and more police murder.   Beck was featured as a “reformist” chief by Obama at a White House meeting. In reality, on his watch from 2015 to 2017, the LAPD had the highest number of people killed by police in any city in the whole country.The LAPD killed 19 in 2015, 20 in 2016, and 17 in 2017.
  • Political persecution of revolutionary and anti-fascist activists: 11 members of Refuse Fascism and the Revolution Club were criminally charged for engaging in or supporting nonviolent civil disobedience and political protests from September 2017 through March 2018. This included holding banners across the 101 Freeway saying “Trump/Pence Must Go!” and disrupting Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at UCLA. Some of the dangerous elements of the prosecution include two Refuse Fascism activists being singled out for “criminal conspiracy; involvement of LAPD’s “Major Crimes/Anti-Terrorism Division,” which has history of targeting progressive and radical movements; use of  a “confidential informant” to spy on and illegally record members of Refuse Fascism and Revolution Club.

THE CRIMINALS: The entire LAPD, from 1869 until today, all the cops listed above, and all the politicians—Democrats and Republicans—and media who backed them.

THE ALIBI: See “In Their Own Words” sidebar


All in all, the LAPD is a textbook illustration of Bob Avakian’s point in BAsics:

The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness.


Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (Verso 1990), in particular chapter five, “The Hammer and the Rock”

“A History of the LAPD, 1900-1965: Historic Racial and Class Repression throughout the 20th Century Leading to the Creation of SWAT by the LAPD following the Watts Unrest of 1965,” Clinton Clad-Johnson, Senior Thesis for Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones

The Raid That Still Haunts L.A.,” Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2001

Edward J. Escobar, “The Unintended Consequences of the Carceral State: Chicana/o Political Mobilization in Post–World War II America,” Journal of American History, June 2015

American Crime Case #66: The “War on Drugs,” 1970 to, March 6, 2017

John Johnson, Jr., “How Los Angeles Covered up the Massacre of 17 Chinese,” LA Weekly, March 10, 2011

American Crime Case #67: 1848-1900: Brutal Exploitation and Ruthless Oppression of Chinese Immigrants,, February 13, 2017


1. During the subsequent trial of the Panthers arrested, it was revealed that two undercover LAPD informants (Melvin “Cotton” Smith and Louis Tackwood) had been in the BPP headquarters and had given the LAPD the layout of the office and fabricated “intelligence” than military weapons were being stored there, which was used to justify the assault.

The LA chapter of the Black Panther Party was subjected to more police assaults than any other chapter nationwide.  They included:

  • The January 1, 1969, murder of Captain Franco (Frank Diggs) in Long Beach.
  • On January 9, 1969, John Huggins and Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, BPP leaders in Los Angeles, were gunned down by members of the US Organization (United Slaves), a reactionary nationalist group led by Ron Karenga, during a meeting at UCLA to discuss forming a Black Studies Department. Their assassinations were a result of COINTELPRO actions against the BPP. It is not known if the LAPD played a role. See, American Crime Case #42: COINTELPRO—The FBI Targets the Black Freedom Struggle, 1956-1971,, April 30, 2018
  • In May 1969, the LAPD carried out 56 arrests of 42 Panthers.
  • On September 8, 1969, an armed LAPD unit raided the Panthers’ free-breakfast-for-children program in Watts.
  • Panther Bruce Richards was wounded and Panther Walter Toure Poke was killed in a shoot-out with the LAPD on October 10, 1969.
  • Geronimo Pratt was arrested in 1970 and then convicted for the murder of a Santa Monica schoolteacher on trumped up charges, based on a testimony of an LAPD informant, and held in prison for over two decades.
  • In November 1970, the LAPD raided the LA BPP’s childcare center, holding guns on the children and beating up the Panther in charge. [back]

2. Then-California governor Ronald Reagan said he hoped there would be an outbreak of botulism among the poor who received the food. [back]

3. The LA4.  In the aftermath of the rebellion, one of the main ways the authorities tried to go after it was the prosecution of the LA4—four young Black men charged with the attack on white truck driver Reginald Denny at Florence and Normandie. While the judge, prosecutor and mainstream media tried to railroad them to prison, the jury would not go along and delivered not guilty verdicts on nearly all of the charges. In a heroic development, when Denny himself took the stand he called for no jail time and expressed some real understanding of what led to the rebellion. The Los Angeles Times quoted Denny: “Everyone needs respect…. And as soon as you take a group of people, and put them on a shelf and say they don’t count. Let me tell you, they count in a big way…. It’s hard saying what those guys have gone through.” The RCP joined with a wide range of people to mount a campaign to defend the LA4. “Free the LA4+! Defend the Los Angeles Rebellion!” and “No More Racist Pig Brutality!” were two of the slogans.  “20th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Rebellion—It’s Right to Rebel Against Injustice!“, April 22, 2012 [back]




amerikan crime: Case #19: The LAPD Rampart’s Scandal 1996-2000 Police Murder, Terror and Frame-ups—and the Conspiracy to Get the Cops Off


In 1999, it was revealed that the Rampart Division of the LAPD and its elite “anti-gang” CRASH unit (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) had been carrying out widespread, vicious brutality in the oppressed, largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood of Pico Union that they patrolled.

Dozens of these CRASH cops roamed this small area in street clothes and unmarked cars, sporting tattoos of a skull with a cowboy hat and a pair of aces and eights (“dead-man’s hand”).1 They gave each other plaques for their “heroic” service, which was exposed as a mountain of crimes against the people including murder, attempted murder, brutality, robbery, extortion, drug dealing, and routinely framing and convicting thousands of people based on lies, planted “evidence,” and trumped-up charges—including against those they had just shot or murdered.

Ramparts Scandal 4 in court

The trial of the four CRASH cops was a damning example of this system at work. The whole charade, including the lack of a vigorous prosecution, was orchestrated to let the cops off. But then the jury went off script and returned a guilty verdict against three of the four cops. LA Superior Court Judge Josephine Connor responded by throwing out the jury verdict! Then in 2008, the reputedly liberal 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals even awarded $15 million to those very three cops who had been convicted.  (Credit: Wikicommons)

In 1998, one of these CRASH cops—Rafael Pérez—was caught repeatedly stealing and dealing pounds of cocaine evidence from the LAPD property division. As part of his plea deal, Pérez admitted some of his other crimes and testified against other Rampart CRASH cops, implicating more than “70 officers, including police supervisors who committed corrupt acts or allowed them to occur.”2

Because of the huge outrage from the exposé, the powers-that-be were forced to put four of the Rampart cops—out of many more involved—on trial. Some of the cases that surfaced during the Rampart scandal included:

  • The murder of Juan Saldana. José Perez was standing in front of his apartment house in the 600 block of Shatto Place. When he saw several carloads of cops roll up, he walked inside his building. The CRASH police charged in, shooting at residents. José Perez was shot in the back with no warning. Juan Manuel Saldana was killed with multiple gunshots in another part of the building. A third man, Salvador Ochoa, was seriously wounded as he walked down the stairs with his children.

“Instead of calling an ambulance, the officers planted a gun alongside Saldana and calmly concocted a story…. By the time an ambulance arrived, it was too late for Saldana, who died soon after being taken to the hospital. Afterwards, the officers celebrated at Short Stop, a sports bar near Dodger Stadium.”3

Later, as he was recovering from his wounds José Perez found out that his friend Juan Saldana was dead. He also learned that the police claimed he was armed and that they were charging him with his friend’s murder. He recalled, “I got shot in the back and my homeboy got killed. They have to make a story out of it. I didn’t have a gun. I was on the floor, bleeding and they handcuffed me. I wasn’t even running. I was walking. They said I was pointing a gun at them. But I didn’t even have a gun. Neither me or my homeboy ever shot a gun.”

The chief of police declared the killing of Juan Manuel Saldana and the wounding of José Perez and Salvador Ochoa “justified.”4

  • The crippling of Javier Francisco Ovando. On October 12, 1996 Javier Francisco Ovando, a 19-year-old Honduran immigrant, was walking down the hallway of an apartment building in the Pico-Union when two cops, Rafael Perez and Nino Durden, stopped him, forced him to his knees, handcuffed him and shot him. They then planted a Tec-22 semiautomatic beside him that they had “filed off the serial number so it could be used as a ‘throwaway’ gun in emergencies.” The cops shot Ovando a total of four times in the neck and chest, then in the head, paralyzing him for life.

The cops claimed that they were in a vacant apartment when Ovando burst in and pointed two guns at them. The police said they fired in self-defense. Based on the cops’ shameless lies, Javier Ovando, who was wheeled into court on a gurney, was convicted of attempted murder of a police officer. A judge declared that Ovando showed no remorse for his “premeditated crime”—and sentenced the young man to be locked away for 23 years. His public defender said the judge prevented her from putting on a defense.5

  • Setting up the murder of Eric Vega. On November 5, 1996 Rampart CRASH cops Mario Rios and Michael Montoya, picked up 16-year-old Eric Vega, nicknamed on the streets as “Baby Happy.” For a second time, these cops dropped him off at the border of a rival gang’s turf. Moments later, Vega was shot to death. No arrest was ever made even though the shooter had been identified by witnesses and the two cops were never indicted, much less prosecuted.6
  • The beating of Ishmael Jimenez. On February 25, 1998 inside the Rampart police station, CRASH cops Brian Hewitt and Daniel Lujan beat a handcuffed Ishmael Jimenez in the chest and stomach until Jimenez vomited blood.7
  • Forced rape. At least one woman came forward to name two CRASH Division cops who had “forc[ed] her to rent a motel room, where one of the cops had sex with her while the other waited” (i.e. raped her).8

The System Standing Behind the Cops

When some of the atrocities committed by the LAPD’s Rampart Division burst into public view, the system kicked into high gear to cover up the full extent of police criminality and protect the cops.

  • Charges were only brought against 4 out of over 70 Rampart cops who were implicated in crimes against the people. The DA office limited the charges to “conspiracy to obstruct or pervert justice, perjury, and filing false police reports” rather than any serious ones linked to brutality and murder.
  • The trial of the four CRASH cops was a damning example of this system at work. The whole charade, including the lack of a vigorous prosecution, was orchestrated to let the cops off. But then the jury went off script and returned a guilty verdict against three of the four cops. LA Superior Court Judge Josephine Connor responded by throwing out the jury verdict! Then in 2008, the reputedly liberal 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals even awarded $15 million to those very three cops who had been convicted.

Because of this, the full scope of the crimes carried out by the LAPD—just at the Rampart division—has never been revealed. As law professor Erwin Chemerinsky wrote in January 2001 in the LA Times:

The true extent of the Rampart scandal still is not known and it increasingly appears that it never will be known. Essential questions remain: How many officers in the Rampart CRASH unit were involved in the illegal activity? How many officers knew and were complicit by their silence? How high in the chain of command was there involvement or knowledge? To what extent were there similar problems in other CRASH units and other units and divisions? None of the reports on the Rampart scandal have investigated or answered these questions. As a result, it cannot be known how many innocent people remain in prison as a result of police fabrication of evidence and perjury or how many officers remain in the LAPD who should have been disciplined and prosecuted.9

By May 2001, only 58 cops had been brought before the police internal administrative board, with 12 of them suspended, seven resigned and five fired. At least 3,300 people had been convicted on the testimony of 20 cops that were fired or suspended through the scandal, yet only a little over 100 people had their charges dismissed. 10


The many named and unnamed Rampart CRASH cops who directly and routinely terrorized and carried out atrocities against the community.

The entire LAPD, which had rubber-stamped and covered up police crimes against the people, and routinely praised, promoted and gave rewards, honor and respect to those in blue who carried them out for its entire (then) 130-year history.

LAPD Chief Daryl Gates (1979-1992) who created CRASH in 1979. Under Gates, in 1986, the LAPD implemented a “shoot-for-the-head” policy.11

Chief Bernard Parks (1997-2002) who oversaw the Rampart scandal. Parks suppressed evidence, obstructed investigations, and protected the cops by refusing to grant immunity to whistleblowers—thus enforcing the police “code of silence” to cover up their crimes.

LA Mayor Richard Riordon (1993-2001), District Attorney Gil Garcettiand their offices. They presided over the prosecution and imprisonment of Rampart CRASH victims while refusing to prosecute and jail guilty cops.

The courts, judges, police commission, and political officials who went into high gear to minimize and cover up the police criminality exposed during the Rampart’s scandal in order to protect and preserve the role of the police.

Superior Court Judge Josephine Connor who threw out the jury verdict that found three of the four Rampart’s CRASH cops guilty, and the liberal 9thCircuit Federal Court of Appeals which awarded $15 million to the cops whose conviction Judge Connor threw out.

The bourgeois press/media which consistently demonized “gang members” as subhuman and lionized the LAPD (and the police generally) to justify violent repression, even as the Rampart scandal was unfolding. Typical of this, the LA Times wrote in August 1997:

Weary residents and merchants in the gang-plagued Pico-Union neighborhood were cautiously optimistic Monday that something finally will be done about the 18th Street Gang, especially after authorities held a high-profile news conference to say they are going after the gang….


The LAPD’s own Board of Inquiry produced a report titled the “Rampart Area Corruption Incident.” It blamed the crimes revealed during the scandal on poor management by middle and lower level police officials, mediocrity in the LAPD rank and file, and a few rogue cops.


Immigrants from Central America and Mexico were concentrated in the Pico Union area, which had “the highest population density of any urban area west of the Mississippi, officially 36,000 people per square mile.”12

With this influx of desperately poor, alienated and possibly rebellious migrants, those in power faced an added necessity for new means of social control. Immigrants lived (and continue to live) in circumstances where they find themselves desperately struggling to survive in the U.S. And where they are viciously oppressed, exploited and pushed into the shadows. The immigrant youth were thrown into schools where they barely spoke the language. Surrounded by LA’s spreading gang culture and feeling the need to protect themselves, many of these immigrant youths began to form their own gangs.

This contradiction of controlling this population became more acute for the system’s rulers in the 1990s, when the Pico Union swelled with immigrants, which included indigenous people from Mexico but also many fleeing the massacres and destruction of the U.S. proxy wars in Central American countries of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Some of these super-exploited immigrants had previously taken part in resistance against U.S. domination in their home countries and actively rebelled in the 1992 LA Rebellion. For the rulers, the savage crimes and repression of their police that were revealed during the Rampart scandal were necessary to suppress and maintain social control over this community.

The Rampart scandal is an illustration of the fact that the job of the police is to protect and serve the capitalist-imperialist system, and in particular to repress and terrorize those it oppresses and exploits—especially those it considers potential threats to its rule.

1. “One Bad Cop,” Lou Cannon, New York Times Magazine, October 1, 2000.  [back]

2. “Rampart scandal,” July 8, 2016.  [back]

3. “One Bad Cop,” op. cit.  [back]

4. “Planting of ‘Evidence’ by Police: The Notorious Case of LAPD Rampart Division,”, April 11, 2015.  [back]

5. “One Bad Cop,” op. cit.  [back]

6. “Officers Linked to Death of teen,” LA Times, December 8, 2002.  [back]

7. Rampart Scandal TimelineFrontline, PBS.  [back]

8.“Two Rampart Officers Were Disciplined in Sex Case”, LA Times, Nov. 5, 1999.  [back]

9. “For Answers on Rampart We Have to Ask Questions,” Erwin Chemerinsky, LA Times, January 23, 2001.  [back]

10. “LA Ramparts Scandal: Still No Justice for the People,”, September 16, 2001.  [back]

11. “’Shoot for the Head’ Policy Is Wrong : New LAPD Training Is a Particular Danger to Minorities,”LA Times op-ed, December 8, 2008.  [back]

12. Violence and Nonviolence: Pathways to Understanding, Gregg Barak, SAGE Publications, 2003.  [back]