By Abayomi Azikiwe Editor, Pan-African News Wire Black August Series No. 2
After 40 years of incarceration the “voice of the voiceless” remains a focus of international attention
Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks at a memorial for Fred Hampton in Philadelphia. Source : commonnotions
During the late 1960s, Mumia Abu-Jamal became a youth activist in the city of Philadelphia where a succession of racist police chiefs engaged in widespread abuse against the African American community.
Philadelphia has a centuries-long history of African self-organization dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the Free African Society, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and other institutions were formed by Richard Allen, Sarah Allen and Absalom Jones.
During mid-19th century, the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society provided avenues for men and women to build support for the Underground Railroad and the movement to completely eradicate involuntary servitude in the antebellum border and deep southern states. By the 1960s, the city became known as one of the first municipalities where African Americans would rise up in rebellion on the north side during the late August 1964.
Max Stanford (later known as Muhammad Ahmed), a co-founder of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) in 1962, was from Philadelphia. RAM proceeded the Black Panther Party (BPP) and sought to form an alliance with Malcolm X (also known as El Hajj Malik Shabazz), a leading spokesman for the Nation of Islam and later the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). RAM advocated for the development of a revolutionary movement in the U.S. and consequently became a target of the Justice Department.
In 1969, Mumia joined the Black Panther Party at the age of 15 when the organization was deemed by the then Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) J. Edgar Hoover as the “greatest threat to national security” in the United States. The Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) had a special division which was designed to monitor, disrupt, imprison and kill various leaders and members of African American organizations from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the BPP as well as a host of other tendencies. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since the mid-to-late 1970s indicate that the BPP was a principal target of the U.S. government and local police agencies.
Why was the BPP considered so dangerous by the leading law-enforcement agency inside the country? In order to provide answers to this question it must be remembered that between 1955 and 1970, the African American people led a struggle for civil rights and self-determination which impacted broad segments of the population in the U.S. helping to spawn movements within other oppressed communities.
The Black Panther Party was first formed in Lowndes County Alabama in 1965. Its origins grew out of the organizing work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), whose field organizer, Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) was deployed to the area in the aftermath of the Selma to Montgomery march in late March of the same year. Working in conjunction with local activists, an independent political party was formed known as the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The group utilized the black panther as its symbol while rejecting both the Republican and Democratic Party.
In subsequent months, there were other Black Panther organizations formed in several cities including Detroit, Cleveland, New York City and other urban areas. In Oakland, California during October of 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
This movement represented an emerging phase of the Black liberation struggle where there were calls for armed self-defense, mass rebellion and the political takeovers of major municipalities by those who had been excluded from the reins of official power. Thousands of African American youth flocked to the Black Panther Party viewing the organization as a symbol of uncompromising resistance to racism, national oppression and economic exploitation.
Mumia and the BPP
Although the BPP was projected in the national corporate media as gun toting militants willing to use weapons against the police when they were threatening the Party and the community, most of the work of the organization revolved around distribution of its weekly newspaper, the establishment of free breakfast programs for children, community health clinics for the people in the most oppressed areas of the African American community while building alliances with revolutionary forces among other sectors of the population including, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans and whites committed to fundamental change within U.S. society.
Mumia noted the diversity of programmatic work during his tenure in the BPP of the late 1960s and early 1970s in his book entitled “We Want Freedom”: “As the Breakfast program succeeded so did the Party, and its popularity fueled our growth across the country. Along with the growth of the Party came an increase in the number of community programs undertaken by the Party. By 1971, the Party had embarked on ten distinctive community programs, described by Newton as survival programs. What did he mean by this term? We called them survival programs pending revolution. They were designed to help the people survive until their consciousness is raised, which is only the first step in the revolution to produce a new America.… During a flood the raft is a life-saving device, but it is only a means of getting to higher ground. So, too, with survival programs, which are emergency services. In themselves they do not change social conditions, but they are life-saving vehicles until conditions change.” (https://www.commonnotions.org/blog/tag/Mumia+Abu-Jamal)
On December 4, 1969, the Chicago police under the aegis of the Illinois State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan and the Chicago field office of the FBI, raided the residence of BPP members on the city’s west side. Two Panther leaders, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed while several other occupants of the house were wounded.
These police actions along with hundreds of other attacks on BPP chapters across the country resulted in the deaths of many Panther members and the arrests and framing of hundreds of cadres. Numerous BPP members were driven into exile as others were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
The Voice of the Voiceless from the Streets to Death Row
On December 9, 1981, Mumia was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with the murder of white police officer Daniel Faulkner. He was railroaded through the courts and convicted on July 3, 1982. The following year, Mumia was sentenced to die by capital punishment. He remained on death row until 2011 after an international campaign to save his life proved successful.
However, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole. Mumia and his supporters have maintained that he is not guilty of the crime of killing a police officer.
After his sojourn in the BPP, Mumia utilized his writing and journalist skills learned in the Party to become a formidable media personality in Philadelphia. He was a fierce critic of police brutality and a defender of the revolutionary MOVE organization which emerged during the 1970s in the city.
Mumia was a co-founder of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in the 1970s. He worked as a radio broadcaster and writer exposing the misconduct of the police surrounding the attack on the MOVE residence in August 1978. In 1979, he interviewed reggae superstar Bob Marley when he visited Philadelphia for a concert performance.
While behind bars Mumia has become an even more prolific writer and broadcast journalist. He issues weekly commentaries through Prison Radio where he discusses a myriad of topics including African American history, international affairs, political economy, the deplorable conditions existing among the more than two million people incarcerated in the U.S. along with police misconduct. (https://www.prisonradio.org/correspondent/mumia-abu-jamal/)
A renewed campaign entitled “Love Not Phear” held demonstrations around the U.S. and the world during the weekend of July 3 marking the 40th anniversary of his unjust conviction in 1982. Love Not Phear says that it is committed to the liberation of all political prisoners including Mumia Abu-Jamal.
An entry on their website emphasizes that: “The landscape has changed over the last 40 years, a time frame that also marks the years Mumia has been incarcerated. The fight for the release of political prisoners requires a recalibration in order to challenge police corruption and racism as they have evolved in this new landscape. We cannot deny the racism, corruption, and misconduct that permeated the so-called ‘Halls of Justice’ during Mumia’s arrest and unjust kangaroo court trial. The people today know the truth; commonplace bribed witnesses, suppressed evidence, biased judges, and backroom deals put Mumia behind bars.” (https://lovenotphear.com/)
Mumia through his attorneys have filed another appeal based upon evidence related to prosecutorial misconduct which has been further revealed over the last four years. The hearing will take place on October 19 in Philadelphia. Supporters of Mumia and other political prisoners will attend the hearing in this latest attempt to win the long-awaited freedom for this activist who is now 68 years old
J. Edgar Hoover in 1940. He directed the FBI and its predecessor down some dark paths for 48 years.
As a target of the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (CoIntelPro), I think the bureau would have been wiser to keep its Twitter trap shut on this day set aside to remember the wisdom, courage, and relentless intersectional activism of Martin Luther King Jr.
Today, the FBI honors the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A quote from Dr. King is etched in stone at the FBI Academy’s reflection garden in Quantico as a reminder to all students and FBI employees: “The time is always right to do what is right.” #MLKDay
Perhaps if that quotation at Quantico included a line or three about the FBI’s despicable police-state behavior regarding King and other civil rights activists in the 1950s and ‘60s, this tweeted honoring might not leave such a sour taste. One quick-read at what the bureau was up to with King and other black people who dared to stand up for themselves and others can be found here.
Here’s one of the key examples. In 1964, the following letter was fabricated by FBI agents and sent to King. He told aides at the time he knew it was from the bureau. It was later discovered he was quite right. The bureau sent a letter urging King to kill himself. For years, only heavily redacted versions of this letter made it into the media. Then, five years ago, Beverly Gage, a professor of history and American studies at Yale, found a complete copy of the original:
Gage concludes her 2014 essay:
The current F.B.I. director, James Comey, keeps a copy of the King wiretap request on his desk as a reminder of the bureau’s capacity to do wrong. But elsewhere in Washington, the debate over how much the government should know about our private lives has never been more heated: Should intelligence agencies be able to sweep our email, read our texts, track our phone calls, locate us by GPS? Much of the conversation swirls around the possibility that agencies like the N.S.A. or the F.B.I. will use such information not to serve national security but to carry out personal and political vendettas. King’s experience reminds us that these are far from idle fears, conjured in the fevered minds of civil libertarians. They are based in the hard facts of history.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 8, 1969, Bernard Arafat awoke to explosions rocking the library of the Black Panthers’ 41st and Central Avenue headquarters in Los Angeles. Above him, footsteps stomped across the roof. Then gunfire erupted.
Arafat wasn’t a seasoned Panther. He was a 17-year-old runaway from juvenile hall whose parents had both died when he was 13. After years of committing small-time crimes, Arafat was taken in by the Panthers and gained a sense of purpose. He helped with the organization’s breakfast program, feeding hungry kids on their way to school.
Arafat had never fired a gun. But as he listened to the sound of bullets and heard the screams of his fellow Panthers, he made a decision.
“I found an automatic shotgun and defended myself.”
Arafat didn’t know it then, but he was part of an experiment in policing. On that morning 50 years ago, the Panthers became the targets of the world’s first major raid by a Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, team. More than 350 officers took on 13 Panthers, ostensibly to execute arrest warrants. The group they battled included three women and five teenagers.
Before the day was over, police would detonate explosives on the Panthers’ roof and call in a tank for reinforcements. Six Panthers were wounded, as were four SWAT officers, before the men and women in the house surrendered. Combined, the two sides exchanged more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition.
Miraculously, no one was killed.
For one of the most dramatic moments in American policing, the raid on the Panthers headquarters is a relatively small historical footnote. But in the years since, SWAT has become a mainstay of modern policing. Between 2000 and 2008, more than 9,000 of the nation’s roughly 15,000 law enforcement agencies employed a SWAT unit. Thanks to the Pentagon’s controversial “1033 program,” even small-town police departments across the country have stocked up on military-grade hardware, including armored vehicles built to withstand roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. SWAT deployments increased by more than 1,500% nationwide between 1980 and 2000.
The LAPD’s official history says the department created the nation’s first SWAT team out of concern that officers couldn’t handle sniper and hostage incidents, such as those they encountered during the Watts riots of 1965. Darryl F. Gates, then a young inspector in the department, green-lighted the concept, which he called “Special Weapons Assault Team” until leveler heads at LAPD thought better of the optics.
Former SWAT Sgt. Patrick McKinley cut his teeth in the LAPD during the Watts riots. His most vivid memory from the unrest was seeing an old woman in pajamas calling to her cat in the front yard of her bullet-ridden home, shortly after the National Guard had shot up the property in an attempt to stop a shooter holed up in her neighbor’s place.
McKinley was on the SWAT team from the start, but early on, it didn’t figure heavily among his duties. Extreme tactical situations such as hostage taking or sniper fire, it turned out, were fairly rare. Using the SWAT team to serve the Panther arrest warrants was not only its first major deployment, it was a deviation in the unit’s original mission.
Yes, the Panthers were armed and certainly might be dangerous if provoked. But that hadn’t stopped the LAPD from detaining or arresting any number of them over the preceding several months. There were no hostages at 41st and Central Avenue, and the Panthers weren’t barricaded in. The wanted members had to leave the building at some point, where waiting officers could arrest them.
The Panther raid also has to be looked at in the context of the department’s racial history. Until just a few years before the raid, the LAPD had been headed by William Parker, who once complained during a television news interview that an influx of African Americans moving to L.A. to escape the Jim Crow South had “flooded a community that wasn’t prepared to meet them. We didn’t ask these people to come here.” For most of his tenure he refused to hire black officers to police their own communities and instead sought white recruits from across the country.
In its Panther deployment, SWAT was transformed from a tool of surgical precision into a blunt-force battering ram, and that’s ultimately how it would find its calling in police departments across the country — especially in African American communities.
Last year, Princeton assistant professor of politics and public affairs Jonathan Mummolo published a data-driven analysis of militarized policing in the United States. He found that less than 5% of SWAT raids involved the kind of high-risk scenarios they were intended for, such as terrorist attacks, hostage situations or active shooters.
“These are really rare events in the day-to-day scenarios of police departments,” says Mummolo. “So these teams have been adapted to handle more mundane situations.”
In Maryland, where Mummolo conducted most of his research, more than 90% of SWAT deployments were in service of a search warrant, and black communities were overwhelmingly on the receiving end of these non-emergency militarized raids.
Mummolo further found that these types of raids neither reduced crime nor made police officers safer. But they did erode public trust in police.
Peter Kraska, professor of police studies at Eastern Kentucky University, has studied the militarization of American policing for more than two decades. He says LAPD’s SWAT team “unequivocally served as the model for the rest of the country,” which hasn’t been positive.
“SWAT uses Navy SEAL techniques to go on fishing expeditions,” says Kraska. “They bust down the door, throw flash grenades, handcuff everyone inside, ransack the place and leave. And these techniques are predominately used on communities made up of racial minorities.”
The SWAT Panther raid in Los Angeles was just such an expedition. It resulted in 13 arrests and a total of 72 criminal counts being filed. But at trial, the Panthers’ attorneys, including a young Johnnie Cochran, argued that the group had acted in self-defense. SWAT had entered the building unannounced with guns blazing.
A mixed-race jury agreed, finding the Panther defendants not guilty on almost all charges, including the most serious ones of assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to murder policemen. Arafat, who had skipped bail and fled underground to Puerto Rico, returned to Los Angeles.
For SWAT, the whole incident was, in many ways, a spectacular fiasco. The raid failed to produce the kind of convictions prosecutors had envisioned; it was also a failure of mission. A unit created for the explicit purpose of preventing uncontrollable armed conflict instead initiated a full-on battle in a crowded urban setting, played out before the entire nation.
But that lesson didn’t take hold across the country. Instead, in the years since, law enforcement has increased its reliance on militarized policing, especially in communities of color, sabotaging community relations and making no one safer.
Fifty years after waking up a target in SWAT’s crosshairs, Arafat believes this was all part of the design.
“SWAT evolved as a way to control people, places and things. It started with us. Now it’s everywhere.”
A Black man who doubled as a detective for the police force managed to infiltrate the security detail of Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) founder Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party, two entities for the African cause and worked against its gains.Eugene Roberts also called Gene Roberts was close by when Malcolm X was killed at the Audubon Ballroom on 21 February 1965.
In fact Roberts was photographed trying in vain to resuscitate Malcolm X at the assassination. He was a man known affectionately within the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), an organisation Malcolm X founded to bridge the gap between Africans on the continent and those in the diaspora as “Brother Gene” only to later be confirmed as an undercover agent with the Bureau of Special Services and Investigation (BOSSI) in the New York City Police Department (NYPD).
BOSS was a super-secret political intelligence unit nickamed the Red Squad and when Roberts infiltrated the OAAU, he managed to become one of Malcolm’s chiefs of security while being an NYPD undercover cop. Two of the three men convicted of killing Malcolm X, Norman Butler and Robert 15X Johnson, were almost certainly not at the scene of the crime. The evidence points to a confluence of three groups involved in Malcolm X assassination: institutional forces (NYPD, FBI, CIA, etc.), The Nation of Islam, and elements within Malcolm’s own circle after his split with NOI. What is clear is that all these groups had a vested interest in eliminating Malcolm X who had at the time of his death become a potent threat to the established system thanks to his mobilization of disgruntled Blacks as well as the working class. His growing partnership with Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah helped birth the OAAU molded on the continental Organization of African Unity of independent African states.
After the formation of (OAAU) and Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI), Malcolm prepared to release a new political program which would have likely included voter registration drives, local organizing against police brutality, and a call for the United Nations to denounce American racial practices as human rights violations. He was gunned down on the very day he was set to unveil it.
To know for sure what roles infiltrators such as Ray Wood and Roberts played in Malcolm’s assassination, the NYPD has to release surveillance files and reports of undercover officers in the years surrounding the assassination, but the department has repeatedly refused to release them.
In the 1970s, the public learned about COINTELPRO and other secret FBI programs directed towards infiltrating and disrupting civil rights organizations during the 1950s and 1960s. J Edgar Hoover, who led the government’s COINTELPRO said… “there must be a goal of preventing a coalition of militant black nationalist groups, prevent the rise of a black messiah that can unify and electrify the black nationalist movement, along with preventing militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability, by discrediting them to the community”.
Roberts is said to have grown close to Malcolm and though he was reporting on him, had come to be fond of him and his death haunted his wife for decades who was also in the Audubon Ballroom. He is said to have been distracted by the assailants who killed Malcolm and when he shot one was also shot at except the bullet missed him by inches.
But after Malcolm fell, Roberts was promoted to detective, by the NYPD and with that he infiltrated the Black Panther Party.
“Nothing significant; usual black power rhetoric,” he is said to have noted on one occasion.
So when another undercover cop claimed to have managed to steal some dynamite that Lumumba Shakur, partner of Afeni Shakur had stashed, switching the real sticks for duds before bombs were planted at police stations, adding that a Panther sniper team was assigned to pick off cops as they fled from one precinct after the planned explosion, and that a gun fight ensued between a highway police team and the panther snipers where they escaped, it must have surprised Roberts.
In the ensuing hearing, the prosecutors’ case was compromised with inconsistencies.
Roberts had never testified in open court before, he was kept on the stand for six weeks and when he testified about the New York Panthers as being rebels without a clue and couldn’t have pulled off the crime they were being accused of, he was viewed as unhelpful to the prosecution as a witness. For the defense, he was mortifying. While being cross-examined by six white radical lawyers, they denounced him as “the trusted slave who would whip the other slaves when required,” and “secret agents . . . forced to sell their souls and forfeit their manhood.”
In the end, 21 of the panthers were charged with conspiring to blow up several police precincts, part of a railroad, the Bronx Botanical Garden, and five Manhattan department stores.
However, Roberts who had taken the lead in the department-store operation and was aware no one he knew had done anything more than window-shop must have been surprised as the Panthers. The “Panther 21” trial was the longest and most expensive criminal prosecution in the history of New York lasting some two years with the jury voting not guilty on all counts after two hours of deliberation.
Roberts during the Panther trials also shared how his undercover role was nearly discovered when a Panther came close to touching electronic equipment under his shirt while taping a heart‐shaped target to the garment. After the frightening experience of near discovery in the gun class, he said he no longer wore electronic transmission equipment to Panther meetings.
Several former cops said that Roberts struggled during his remaining years on the job. After the trial, Roberts was assigned to ordinary detective duties in the Bronx. He developed a drinking problem, which eventually cost him his marriage. He was given medals but never promoted.
Roberts gave an interview for a 1994 documentary called Brother Minister: The Assassination of Malcolm X. He noted: “There are a lot of people in the black community that consider me a traitor to my race and the community. . . . I felt then and I feel now . . . I would get some negative feedback. And I would get some positive feedback. I felt that it was a job. A job I felt was the right thing to do.”
“Culture is a weapon in the face of our enemies” – Amílcar Cabral (He was one of Afrika’s foremost anti-colonial leaders)
In the book, THE MAROON WITHIN US: SELECTED ESSAYS ON AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY SOCIALIZATION, the late and great Afrikan-centric educator Asa G. Hilliard argues that if Afrikan/Black people are to survive in America and in this world, then we must truly work everyday to liberate ourselves from the vestiges of White supremacy and racism by studying Afrikan history, embracing Afrikan languages, and revolutionary Afrikan culture. On pages 58-59, Hilliard breaks down the importance of Afrikan history, Afrikan culture and language to Black people. He writes, “We on the contrary, have failed to understand the political function of culture. Franz Fanon (Black Caribbean anti-colonial revolutionary) showed us its meaning where language is concerned. He tells us that the very act of speaking a language means not only to grasp the rules of that language, but, in addition, to assume a culture, supporting the weight of the civilization itself.”
This is why since birth, my wife and I worked everyday to raised our children on revolutionary Afrikan culture. We started with the Nguzu Saba (The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa), knowing Afrikan history, knowing Afrikan spirituality, the importance of wearing our Afrikan names, the importance of speaking Kiswahili, knowing Arabic, respecting all Afrikan languages, and the importance of honoring our Afrikan Ancestors. However, my wife and I are the exceptions to the rule. Many Black people in America, particularly Black youth, are totally disconnected to Afrikan history, language and culture. However, all is not lost. In the age of the new millennium, we have more access to information on the history of Black liberation struggles, and its movements against White supremacy and the system of racism, at the palm of our hands.
Our White American slave-masters, and European colonial oppressors, knew exactly what they were doing by separating Afrikan / Black people from our own history, languages and culture. This is why many Afrikan Americans do not know our own Black history, we can not speak a lick of our own Afrikan mother tongue, we bear the names of our former White slave-masters, and struggle with embracing our own revolutionary Afrikan cultural practices.white supremacy
In the Afrikan world community, many great Afrikan leaders came before Afrika, and continental Afrikan people, to help liberate that part of the world from the domination of European and American colonialism. There are too many Afrikan revolutionaries to list at this movement. However, here is a short list of Afrikan leaders who worked tirelessly to move Afrika into self – reliance and self -determination. These leaders included such names as Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Gamal Nasser, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmed Sékou Touré, Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyetta, the Mau Maus, Thomas Sankara, and Steve Biko. Unfortunately, these Afrikan leaders became such a threat to the system of racism and White supremacy in Afrika that they were either discredited, assassinated, or imprisoned. As a consequence of the destruction of Pan Afrikan revolutionary leaders, masses of continental Afrikans gave up the Afrikan liberation struggle all together. This is why Afrika has not been totally liberated from the days of White domination under colonialism. The lack of Afrikan freedom fighters In the 21st century, have left continental Afrikans struggling to embrace their own history, traditional Afrikan languages and define revolutionary Afrikan cultures for Afrikan empowerment. Like many Black people in America, some continental Afrikans have lost the sight for Afrikan liberation. However, all is not lost. Fortunately, continental Afrikan leaders from the past, have left their examples in history books, films, magazines, documentaries, and news articles. We thank the Creator, and our Afrikan ancestors, that we have the internet to access their histories to create a road map for revolutionary Afrikan culture, the development of a Pan Afrikan language, the development of a national language for each Afrikan country, and struggle for Afrikan liberation.
Even In the Caribbean, which holds a special place in the Afrikan world community. This is where some of the most committed and respected Pan Afrikan freedom fighters (i.e. H Sylvester Williams, the Honorable Marcus Garvey, Kwame Ture’, Bob Marley, Maurice Bishop, Walter Rodney, etc) evolve from to organize Black people to rebuild mother Afrika and Black people. Unfortunately, in the Caribbean, Black people are still struggling to find Black liberation through Black history and revolutionary Black culture in the new millennium. Unfortunately, many Black Caribbean nations are still under the domination and the control of White supremacy and racism. However, all is not lost. Fortunately, Black Caribbean leaders from the past, have left their examples in history books, films, magazines, documentaries, and news articles. We thank the Creator, and our Afrikan ancestors, that we have the internet to access their histories to create a road map for Black liberation.
However, in America, the powerful forces of White supremacy, and the system of racism, separate oppressed people from one another in this country. Without a national, and international Black liberation movement to help bring political clarity and develop unity of oppressed people, we forget, or ignore, the real enemies of people of color and poor people.
In the present era of America, we now live in a country where many of our immigrant brothers and sisters (i.e. Indians, Hindus, Arabs, Asians, Latinos, Jamaicans, Haitians, etc) are coming to America in masses like never before in United States history due to the abolishing of racist immigration laws. Our immigrant brothers and sisters are coming to America seeking freedom and opportunities. Although they are coming to a country that has created inequalities and oppression in the world, they believe that America is the land of opportunity. Unfortunately, they come to America either ignoring or not knowing or disrespectful of the ongoing freedom struggles of Black people in America from White supremacy and the system of racism.
However, they come speaking their own mother tongue and embrace their own cultural practices. In fact, immigrant brothers and sister use their languages, and their own cultural practices, as a springboard for community empowerment and survival in America. Although many of our immigrant brothers and sisters come from continents and countries just recently liberated from European colonialism and European domination; they come to America without experiencing the violent, overt interference, and oppressive conditions of White supremacy and racism upon their people. The reason for this is that immigrant brothers and sisters did not go through the horrors of White supremacy and racism forcibly and legally removing and dis-centering them from their languages and their cultural practices like Afrikan Americans.
In fact, because of the unique experiences of Black oppression under hundreds of years of the system of racism and White supremacy in America, the Black Civil Rights and Black liberation movements of the 1950s, 60s, early 70s found it absolutely necessary to force racist America to respect the legal freedoms, languages, and cultures of all people of color and oppressed people. In other words, Black people’s struggle for justice had to include the struggle for linguistic and cultural freedoms of all oppressed people. During that era, we clearly understood linguistic and cultural oppression better than any other group in America, because, we were the most victimize by White linguistic and cultural racist domination. We were, and are, the living proof of what can happen to a people if languages and cultures are denied to a people. Black people of 1960s, 60s, and early 70s understood that without knowing your history, denying your language and your culture, a people will become lost in America. We had understood that not knowing your history, not knowing your language, and not knowing your culture; oppressed people will fall victim to feelings of inferiority, broken communities, self-destruction, helplessness, and self-hate.
Unfortunately, in the present era of America, many Black people have lost their understanding of the importance of knowing Afrikan history, acquiring the ability to speak an Afrikan language, and embracing a revolutionary form of Afrikan culture in the Afrikan American community. We don’t understand why activists- scholars like a Dr. Maulana Karenga struggled hard to establish Kwanzaa as a Black cultural holiday for Black liberation in the Afrikan American community. Before Dr. Karenga established Kwanzaa, he founded a Black cultural nationalist organization called US in Los Angeles, California in 1965. Dr. Karenga taught that the first steps towards Black revolutionary change in the Afrikan American community is through a Black revolutionary culture. This is many of us do not understand that Kwanzaa was also to be used as a building block for Black nation-building. Using Kiswahili, a Pan-Afrikan language spoken in many parts of Afrika, Dr. Karenga began to linguistically reconnect Black people in America to Afrika. But he did not stop there at an Afrikan language. Dr. Karenga collected the best principles of Afrikan cultural practices to create just Seven Black revolutionary cultural foundations called the Nguzu Saba to help rebuild Black people in America and in the Afrikan world community. Unfortunately, his commitment to Black nation building became a threat to White supremacy and the system of racism. Dr. Karenga, and his US movement, were attacked by the US government. However, all is not lost. Fortunately, Black revolutionary cultural nationalist leaders from the past have left their examples in history books, films, magazines, documentaries, and news articles. We thank the Creator, and our Afrikan ancestors, that we have the internet to access their histories to create a road map for revolutionary Black culture for Black liberation.
On the other hand, we don’t understand why Black leaders such as Bobby Seal and Huey P. Newton came on the scene to establish the Original Black Panther Party on October 15, 1966 in Oakland, California. They, Seal and Newton, believed that Black revolutionary nationalism was just as important as Black cultural nationalism. The Original Black Panther Party taught that Black people must unite with themselves to fight against America’s system of exploitation and oppression. Seal and Newton believed that the system of racism and White supremacy are by-products of European and United States monopoly capitalism. Thus creating permanent a Black under class. In other words, Seal and Newton believe that if oppressed Black people did not challenge monopoly capitalism, then White supremacy and the system of racism would create lasting oppressive conditions in the Black community to reduce Black people down to the lowest realms of American society. The Original Black Panthers went to work organizing Black people to fight against U. S. oppression in the Black community. The Black Panther Party created community survival programs (i.e the Breakfast Program, the Lunch Program, the Peoples Ambulance Program, the Free Clothing Program. The Free Health Care Program, Free Liberation Schools, etc) to provide needed resources and political education for Black people suffering in American ghettos. Original Black Panthers built coalitions with other oppressed people (i.e. Latinos, Asians, poor Whites, etc) to fight for social justice in all communities. However, one of the very first maneuvers the Black Panthers rallied Black people against was rampant cases of racist police brutality in the Black community. The Black Panthers began armed patrols of the police in a effort to protect the Black community from racist police violence. As a result of these armed patrols of the police, the FBI labeled the Original Black Panther Party the number #1 threat to America’s national security in 1967. The US created a secret program called COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) to neutralized the Original Black Panther Party movement in the Black community. The Original Black Panthers became the targets of attacks from all local and federal policing agencies in America. Many Original Black Panthers were gunned down in the streets of America. Original Black Panthers that the US government could not kill, COINTELPRO used its unlimited resources to legally frame Black Panthers on trumped up charges. Many Black Panther were sent to prison on long sentences for duration of their lives in a effort to reduce their revolutionary influences in the Afrikan American community. Then, the propaganda machine of COINTELPRO labeled Original Black Panthers thugs and terrorists in the eyes of the public to further destabilize its revolutionary movement in the Black community. All of these dirty tricks by the US government weaken the the Black Panther Party. Many Black Panthers began to leave the organization in masses. Some Black Panthers had to flee the US to survive the onslaught of state sanctioned police harassment and police violence directed towards them in America. By the early 1980s, the Original Black Panthers ceased to exist. However, all is not lost. Fortunately, Black revolutionary nationalist leaders from the past have left their examples in history books, films, magazines, documentaries, and news articles. We thank the Creator, and our Afrikan ancestors, that we have the internet to access their histories to create a road map for Black revolutionary politics for Black liberation.
In today’s racist America, we don’t understand why Newark, NJ’s world renowned community activist Imamu Amiri Baraka struggled so hard in the 1960s and early 70s to establish the Black Arts Movement. Awakened by the Black nationalist consciousness of Malcolm X, Baraka, a respected playwright and poet, began to believe it was absolutely necessary for Black people to embrace our own Black perspectives in Black literature, Black poetry, Black music, and Black theatre. He, along with other Black artists, such as Maya Angelou, Haki Mahabuti, Amina Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Felipe Luciano, and The Last Poets; created the Black Arts movement. The Black Arts Movement became the central foundation for a new Black cultural identity in America, and in the world, for Black people’s struggle for Black liberation during that time period. However, all is not lost.
Fortunately, Black artists from the past have left their examples in history books, films, magazines, documentaries, and news articles.
We thank the Creator, and our Afrikan ancestors, that we have the internet to access their histories to create a road map for revolutionary Black artistry for Black liberation.
We don’t understand why Black historians from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and early 90s struggled to establish the Importance of Afrikan / Afrikan American history in Black liberation. They inspired masses of people of Afrikan descent to embrace their Afrikan history, Afrikan languages, Afrikan religions, and Afrikan culture. For decades, Afrikan / Black people were Guided by many Afrocentric scholars of the day, such as Dr. John Henrick Clarke, Dr. Yusef ben-Jochannan, Dr Chancellor Williams, Dr. Lenonard Jeffries, Cheikh Anta Diop and Dr. Molefe Kete Asante. These scholars helped reshape and represented the non-racist facts about the history of Black people to Black people and the world. However, all is not lost. Fortunately, Black scholars from the past have left their examples in history books, films, magazines, documentaries, scholarly articles, and news articles. We thank the Creator, and our Afrikan ancestors, that we have the internet to access their histories to create a road map to reclaim our Black / Afrikan historical memory from grips of White supremacy and the system of racism for Black liberation.
We don’t understand why it was important for Afrikan-centric spiritual leaders, such as the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad (co-founder of the Nation of Islam) and Dr James Cones ( a Black Christian theologian), to reestablished Black people and their experiences at the center of religious expression. What they created was something called Black liberation theology. It explained God, religion, and spirituality from a Black empowerment perspective. However, all is not lost. Fortunately, Afrikan-centric spiritual leaders from the past have left their examples in history books, films, magazines, documentaries, and news articles. We thank the Creator, and our Afrikan ancestors, that we have the internet to access their histories to create a road map for Black liberation theology for Black liberation
Moving forward, the next generation of Afrikan/Black leaders will have to grapple with these Black historical, linguistic and cultural ideas of liberation for Black people in America, and in the Afrikan world community, if we are ever going to be free from under the yoke of White / European racial domination in America and in the world, then our future generations must root themselves in all forms of Black liberation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bashir Muhammad Akinyele
-Chair of Weequachic High School’s Black History Month Committee
FYI: Spelling Afrika with a k is not a typo. Using the k in Afrika is the Kiswahili way of writing Africa. Kiswahili is an Pan -Afrikan language. It is spoken in many countries in Afrika.
The year after the program ceased, MOVE was founded in 1972 by Vincent Leaphart, a Korean War veteran who took the name John Africa to demonstrate his reverence for the continent. The group’s politics were anti-capitalist, anti-government, and anti-modern technology, rooted in a 300-page document called The Guidelines. John Africa preached an anarcho-primitivist gospel of natural living, love for every living being, and advocated for a return to a hunter-gatherer society.
Initially called the Christian Movement for Life, MOVE members considered themselves a family and were involved in animal rights activism and embraced a raw food diet, natural home birth, homeschooling, and composting. They lived communally in a West Philadelphia row home and held public demonstrations against war, racism, and police brutality.
Though their ideologies were initially peaceful, from all accounts, MOVE’s members weren’t exactly ideal neighbors. They often drew the ire of the police with their nonviolent but sometimes raucous protests, and neighbors complained about the family’s compost piles and their habit of blasting profanity-laced political diatribes through loudspeakers at all hours. Following years of targeted police brutality, MOVE became increasingly militant, and according to a 1985 report in The New York Times, may have begun to stockpile weapons.
In 1977, members began to brandish guns in their yard, declaring that they would no longer be beaten or intimidated by law enforcement. The press regularly lambasted their belief system as “an exotic cult” and derided them as “dirty hippies.” But to the city government, MOVE now represented a form of terrorism.
Mayor Frank Rizzo issued an order for their eviction from their home at 311 N. 33rd Street. “These people represent nobody but themselves; they’re complete idiots,” Rizzo told the press. He had previously referredto MOVE as “absolute imbeciles,” “psychotics,” and “not even human beings.”
After a 15-month standoff, police attempted to storm the house and a firefight erupted. An officer was fatally shot in the head. Seven other police officers, five firefighters, three MOVE members, and three bystanders were also injured. The beating of a MOVE member, Delbert Africa, was caught on video, becoming an infamous example of police brutality.
Despite a dispute over who fired the shot that killed the officer — during the trial, MOVE’s lawyer suggested it could have been friendly fire by a fellow officer — nine MOVE members were given a sentence of 30 to 100 years in prison for third-degree murder.
As of this writing, five of the surviving MOVE 9 remain incarcerated, having been repeatedly denied parole. Two members died in prison. Debbie Africa, the first to be freed, was released on parole in June 2018 after serving 38 years. Four months later, Mike Africa Sr. was released.
The group remained active while the original members were behind bars, however — and their troubles with law enforcement weren’t over. By 1981, those who remained outside prison walls had relocated, and continued to broadcast their views on law enforcement and the state through loudspeakers. Clashes with their new neighbors and with law enforcement ensued. In May 1985, following over a year of surveillance, police obtained arrest warrants for four of the house’s occupants, including Ramona Africa, who as a result went on to serve seven years in prison.
A gun battle broke out between authorities and those inside. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the fire department blasted the house with 1,000 gallons of water a minute for nearly six hours. Police responded to MOVE’s gunfire by throwing smoke grenades and firing at least 10,000 rounds of ammunition at the house.
Hours later, according to one account, Sambor gave the order that two explosives be dropped above the residential neighborhood from a helicopter onto a fortified structure on the roof of the house.
The explosion ignited several barrels of gasoline that had been stored on the roof, and kickstarted a fire that ultimately consumed the entire block. Sambor reportedly told firefighters on the scene to stand down — to “let the fire burn.” All the while, police continued to pepper the MOVE house with gunfire.
“When we realized that our house was actually on fire, we immediately tried to get our children, our animals, and ourselves out of that blazing inferno,” Ramona Africa recalled in 2017. “But at the point when we were trying to come out, and could be seen…the cops opened fire on us, forcing us back in. We tried several times to get out, but each time we were shot back into the house. This was a clear indication that they didn’t intend for any of us to survive that attack.”
Ramona pulled her young brother, Birdie, out along with her. It wasn’t until she was taken into custody and transferred to a local hospital that she learned that they were the only survivors. The rest of the house’s occupants — six adults and five children — had burned to death.
“MOVE was a pain in the neck for 25 hours a day,” a neighbor whose house had been burned in the fire told *The New York Times* in 1996. “But we didn’t believe the police should have come in here like it was World War III. Those children in that house weren’t criminals.”
In response to calls for answers, Mayor W. Wilson Goode, the city’s first Black mayor, appointed the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (also known as the MOVE Commission), which investigated the events and held weeks of televised public hearings. City officials and local residents all took the stand, though the members of the police bomb unit refused to testify, as did Ramona Africa. The result was a highly critical report that found “dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable.” Goode later issued an apology, but no criminal charges were filed.
MOVE did eventually see some justice in 1996, when a federal court ordered the city to pay a $1.5 million judgment to Ramona Africa and the relatives of John and Frank Africa, finding that the city had used “excessive force and violated the members’ constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure,” according to The New York Times. Ramona was awarded $500,000 total for pain and suffering, as well as the disfigurement and burns she suffered in the fire.
Today, MOVE is still active, and Ramona Africa is still fighting for the freedom of her incarcerated family members. More than thirty years later, the shadow of the bombing itself still hangs heavy over the city of Philadelphia, which is still sometimes referred to as “The City That Bombed Itself.”
On December 3, 1969, 21-year-old Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers, led a political education class, had some dinner, and talked to his mom on the phone. He passed out around midnight, still on the phone with her.
At about 4:45 a.m., the Cook County police department burst into the Panther headquarters. They shot 18-year-old Mark Clark, who was on security detail, in the chest, killing him instantly. They sprayed close to 100 rounds as they swept through the apartment, heading for Hampton’s room, where he was sleeping with his pregnant fiancée. His fiancée and another man heard the gunshots and tried to wake Hampton up, but they couldn’t. The police charged into Hampton’s room, dragging his fiancée and the other man out.
“He’s still alive,” they overheard an officer say. They said they heard two shots, and a second officer said, “He’s good and dead now.” They’d shot Hampton point blank in the head.
Years later, it was revealed that Hampton’s bodyguard, William O’Neal secretly worked for the FBI. He’d been coerced into becoming an informant in exchange for getting criminal charges dropped. O’Neal had given the cops a map of the apartment that helped them locate Hampton in the predawn raid. It’s long been suspected, but not confirmed, that O’Neal had also drugged Hampton ahead of the raid. Years later, O’Neal killed himself.
Hampton’s killing was part of the FBI’s secret COINTELPRO program. COINTELPRO targeted members of the Black Panther party and other leftist groups in the 1960s and early 1970s, surveilling and infiltrating them to sow discord. “COINTELPRO was designed to destroy black liberation organizations starting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X,” Flint Taylor, the civil rights lawyer who fought in court to expose the facts about Hampton’s killing and the existence of COINTELPRO, told Teen Vogue. FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, who started the program, worried that a black “messiah” would electrify the movement for black rights.
In Chicago, at the age of just 21, the charismatic Hampton had realized Hoover’s fear, starting a number of popular programs, including a free breakfast program. He also founded the Rainbow Coalition, an alliance uniting poor blacks, poor whites, and Latinos. The Panthers organized with the Young Lords Organization, a Puerto Rican group, and the Young Patriots Organization (YPO), comprised of poor white migrants from Appalachia.
Hampton and other Panthers, like section leaderBobby Lee, made the case that, as poor people trying to survive in Mayor Richard J. Daley’s racially segregated city, they had more in common with each other than not. They banded together to protect members from the cops, fight against police brutality, run health care clinics, feed the homeless and poor kids, and connect people with legal help if they were dealing with abusive landlords or police.
“We did security for the Panthers along with other Panthers,” 70-year-old Hy Thurman, a member of the YPO, told Teen Vogue from his home in Alabama. “Here’s a bunch of hillbillies doing, you know, security for black people and Black Panthers,” Thurman said. “That was shocking for a lot of people.” Out of respect for the Panthers, the Young Patriots — which grew out of a street gang called the Peace Makers — decided to stop wearing the Confederate flag.
Meanwhile, the Young Lords foregrounded issues impacting immigrants from Latin America and citizens who moved from Puerto Rico, birthplace of cofounder Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez. The introduced the slogan, “Tengo Puerto Rico en mi corazón,” in the fight for Puerto Rican self-determination.
“By organizing them under that banner, it makes it easy for them to come and recognize the class struggle,” Jimenez told Teen Vogue.
Jimenez, whose dad had worked as an itinerant tomato picker, said his group had plenty of common ground with the Young Patriots Organization: “We were peasants! Our parents were peasants, and now we were in the urban city. So it was easy for us to get together.”
Hampton’s death sent shockwaves through the Rainbow Coalition. Billy “Che” Brooks, deputy minister of education for the Chicago office of the Black Panther Party, learned about Hampton’s murder while he was in jail. “I had the pleasure of getting told by this cat … he was the warden in the Cook County jail,” he told Teen Vogue. “He came up gloating. They had me in the hole. He came up and said, ‘They killed your punk leader.’”
Jimenez sat near the front at the funeral service. When the Rev. Jesse Jackson addressed the crowd, he finally realized the full force of what had happened.
“That’s when it hit me that he was dead,” Jimenez said. “I knew he was dead. But it takes people different words to really hit it home. That’s when it hit home. I was at the front, trying to hold back tears. And I just couldn’t in the end.”
He recalled thinking: “What are we doing that’s bad, that they’re coming to kill us?”
The Chicago Panthers’ interracial outreach is immortalized in a grainy black-and-white film clip. Bobby Lee, a skinny, young black man sporting a black beret and turtleneck, made his case for an interracial alliance at a meeting organized by the Young Patriots Organization.
A member of the YPO introduces him in a twangy Southern accent. “I wanna introduce a man that come over here tonight from another part of town, but he’s fighting for some of the same causes we’re fighting for…. So I’m gonna introduce you to Bobby Lee here,” he says.
Lee takes over. “I’m a Black Panther; I’m a section leader of the Black Panthers.… The Panthers are here,” he tells the assembled group. “You have to tell us what we can do together. We come here with our hearts open; you cats supervise us. Where we can be of help to you.”
He runs through all the problems they share.
“There’s police brutality up here; there’s rats and roaches. There’s poverty up here…. That’s the first thing we can unite on; that’s the common thing we have, man.”
Lee appears to have won the crowd over. At one point, the video cuts to an older Southern white guy who pledges his support to the Panthers: “I want you people to stick together, and I’ll stick by the Black Panthers if they’ll stick with me, and I know they will.”
Thurman, the YPO member, was at that 1968 meeting. He often worked with Lee. “Working with Bobby Lee was great,” Thurman said. “He always had a great way of educating you.”
“It was rough,” he said. “It was poverty. It was real bad.” He estimates he started working in the fields at around age three, and his family, headed by a single mom, was so poor they had to give away a sister with special needs. “Poverty destroys families,” Thurman said.
He said local cops deemed them poor white trash and hassled him and his siblings.
When Thurman was 17, he followed his older brother up to Chicago, hoping for better job opportunities, part of the historic wave of migration from the South to the urban centers of the North. Instead, he was greeted by more hardship and more police abuse.
The city had relatively high rates of poverty and unemployment. And many Southern migrants who’d only ever worked in farms or mines didn’t have the skills to get jobs in the city. Some of the older people had health problems, like black lung from years in the mines, that kept them jobless and suffering without proper health care.
Thurman joined a street gang called the Peace Makers. Eventually, they’d become the Young Patriots Organization and join forces with the Panthers and the Young Lords.
Thurman remembers asking Hampton why he was willing to work with white people from the South. “I asked him, ‘Why in the world would you let someone like me work with you? We enslaved you…. We oppressed your people.”
“He said ‘I put that behind me because the revolution is in front of me, and you can’t have that without everybody,” Thurman said. “So he saw us as brothers.’”
“We were just a bunch of kids trying to survive,” Thurman said.
Jimenez, cofounder of the Young Lords, was born in Puerto Rico, the son of a farm worker who shuttled back and forth between Boston and Puerto Rico to recruit more workers. “They’d pay for the plane ticket, the bed. You were basically a slave until you made back the plane ticket,” he said. His family moved to Chicago in the 1950s, where his dad worked for Armour Meatpacking in the Union stockyards and joined a social club mainly organized around drinking. His mom worked with the local Catholic Church.
His mom hosted catechism at the house, which helped him get in Catholic school. He’s proud of the Puerto Rican community his parents helped build from scratch around Lincoln Park. But he recalls how constricted his family’s movements were in the city. They couldn’t go to certain beaches or walk through parts of town for fear of the cops and gangs.
The original point of the Young Lords gang, he said, was for protection. He says they never dealt drugs; it was just a form of group survival, a way to navigate a city riven by class and race division.
His political evolution stemmed from witnessing Puerto Rican families getting booted from their homes as part of urban renewal projects. “Before I finished the eighth grade, I was moved nine times by these developers and forced to attend four different elementary schools,” he said in 1974, when he ran for alderman of the 46th Ward, the Chicago Tribunereported.
The daily abuses against his people — as well as the historic events of the era — radicalized him. The community his parents helped build was decimated by gentrification and urban renewal projects. After serving a stint in jail, he decided the Young Lords would become a political group.
“That’s when we started trying to form the Puerto Rican progressive movement,” he said. “The Democratic convention was at Lincoln Park and Grant Park. All those things: Vietnam, MLK getting killed … that impacted all of us. Just like today, Donald Trump impacts everybody. That got people to want to join a group like that.”
They accepted women, encouraging them to organize. “We trusted the women that were organizing. We had grown up with them. We all became Young Lords.”
“We had a Rainbow Coalition, and the beauty about that is … Chairman Hampton recognized the fact that we could not talk about class struggle without talking about racism,” he continued.
Billy “Che” Brooks’s family moved from Mississippi to Chicago when he was about three. His dad was a Baptist Minister.
Unlike Jimenez and Thurman, he never joined a gang as a teen. Several gangs tried to recruit him, but he was more scared of his parents. “I’d rather fight the gangs than my parents,” he joked to Teen Vogue. He was an athlete, running cross country and track in high school. He’d planned to be a doctor or a lawyer. It wasn’t until the later part of high school that he got involved in politics.
After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, Brooks said, he started reading every political text he could get his hands on.
“I developed a more conscious understanding of imperialism, capitalism, and colonialism,” he said.
Brooks linked up with Hampton, who he admired for his “willingness to lay it all on the line,” and became education minister of the Black Panther Party in Chicago.
“We read the Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon. It was all to ideologically develop consciousness of thought so we could parlay that into social practice,” he explained. “We had to implement our survival programs. Like the free breakfast program. The medical center. These programs were designed to raise the consciousness of the people. So they could see the contradictions and how unfair the government was — and still is — particularly with the tangerine man in office,” Brooks joked about President Trump.
Harassment by police and the city were near constants in their lives. Brooks, who also served as Black Panther cofounder Bobby Seale’s bodyguard, was under constant scrutiny by the Chicago Red Squad and Gang Intelligence Unit.
“They kind of saw Hampton as a focal point … a galvanizer,” Brooks remembered. “Cause he was a hell of an organizer. His commitment was off the charts. People listened to him; they respected him.”
And that was perceived as a major threat.
Once Hampton was killed, everything fell apart.
“That’s when all hell broke loose,” Thurman said. “When Hampton was murdered. We were harassed. All three organizations took some major hits.”
“I’d wake up, and there’d be all these cops in my apartment,” he recalled.
He said police and landlords worked to dismantle the Rainbow Coalition’s social programs. “With the breakfast program … the health clinic … the cops would come in and harass the landlords, and they would evict us. They would take medicine from people, harass people.”
Eventually, Thurman and other YPO members gravitated back South.
For years, Jimenez was hounded by the police and was indicted on charges ranging from mob action to resisting arrest, according to the Chicago Tribune. He went underground until 1972 and ended up spending a year in jail. After that he ran for alderman, getting almost 40 percent of the vote.
All three men abhor President Donald Trump and continue to fight for a revolutionary agenda. Jimenez says he still considers himself a Young Lord, because the group’s mission lives on. For one thing, he can’t believe that Puerto Rico remains a U.S. territory — he would call it a colony. “We should not be talking about a colony in 2019. We have never forgotten our mission to free Puerto Rico and the people from bondage.”
Thurman pledges to keep organizing and fighting for a progressive agenda, which, for him, includes LGBTQ+ rights. “I’m 70, but I’m not gonna quit,” Thurman said. “I’m not gonna stop until the Lord stops me. Then I’m gonna ask Him, how is He gonna organize?”
Same for Brooks, who believes women’s access to abortion and trans rights are an essential part of the revolution.
“The beat goes on,” Brooks said. “What Fred said: We knew going into it that it was a protracted struggle and that we were making the ultimate sacrifice. Tomorrow seemed impossible. But we’re still here. We’re still struggling.”
“The consciousness of young people in this country today, I think it’s soaring,” Brooks said. “People are more aware of what needs to be done. A mass movement against oppression — all levels of oppression.”
“All the social justice issues we have to process every motherfucking day,” Brooks said. “The implementation of concentration camps on the border to the murder of innocent people across the country. The whole fiasco with Eric Garner … It’s fucked up. But I’m an optimist. I believe the spirit of the people is stronger.”
“We can’t give up. What Fred and the Black Panther Party exemplified was a struggle against injustice. It’s a struggle that always needs to go on,” Brooks continued. “You can murder a revolutionary, but you can’t murder a revolution.”
A prisoner can be someone’s father, grandfather, mother, brother, sister or child. It could be you – though you’re more likely to be a prisoner if you’re Black, another person of color, or poor. Under the 13th Amendment, if you’re a prisoner in the U.S., you’re a slave – which is against international law because slavery has long been outlawed worldwide.
Why are so many Blacks and others of color in U.S. prisons?
There were very few Blacks in prison when we were slaves. That’s because the majority of Black men, women and children were already imprisoned on plantations at the time as slaves for life.
Now that we’re supposedly free, Blacks have become the majority of the U.S. prison population. And that is because the free labor of Black slaves built this country into a profitable, prosperous enterprise for whites who are trying to keep it that way.
The Civil War ended slavery and replaced it with segregation, but slavery’s racist, imperialist core still drives U.S. ambitions today. Thus, at slavery’s end we see white slave patrols morph into a white police force, and segregation’s laws, Black Codes, white judges, juries and police force morph into a rudimentary criminal in-justice system.
Blacks began to be arrested for everything, from refusing to sign slave-like work contracts to looking the wrong way at some white man. Black prison rates shot up from 0 to 33 percent. Most arrests were due to sundry attempts to force Blacks to work for free (slavery) or for nearly free (servitude) and always at cheaper wages than whites, who were the main beneficiaries of cheaper Black labor.
This meant higher white profits. So, the reason so many Blacks are in prison is ultimately due to their resistance, in one way or another, to being re-enslaved – at which point the real criminal is brought into the dispute and the innocent Black is shipped off to prison.
Segregation and civil rights
The Civil Rights Movement (CRM), along with the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall, defeated legal (de jure) segregation when the 1954 Supreme Court outlawed school segregation. Though the actual practice of (de facto) segregation continued, the ruling did open the door to attacks on segregation in general.
Enter Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., SCLC and the Montgomery Bus Boycott into the CRM, which ran strong, broke much ground, won many victories, suffered its share of setbacks and was eventually eclipsed by the Black Liberation Movement (BLM) in the latter half of the 1960s.
Now that we’re supposedly free, Blacks have become the majority of the U.S. prison population. And that is because the free labor of Black slaves built this country into a profitable, prosperous enterprise for whites who are trying to keep it that way.
The BLM and ‘serving the people’
The Black Liberation Movement: Black Panthers Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Lumumba Shakur, Sekou Odinga; Assata, Afeni, Mutulu (RNA) and Zayd Shakur; Sundiata Acoli. Plus the various contributing movements: Puerto Rican (FLN), American Indian Movement (AIM), Weather Underground Organization (WUO, a white anti-imperialist group), Chicano Liberation Front, and I WOR KUEN, an Asian group.
The Panthers were about “Serving the People: Free Breakfast for School Children,” helping people solve their day to day problems and fighting for control of the institutions in their communities, like schools, hospitals and medical clinics. The Panthers had very good community support, particularly among the youth, other people of color, other liberation movements, progressives, the poor and other oppressed who wanted liberation.
COINTELPRO defeats the BLM
In response to the BLM’s growing support in the community and solidarity with other liberation movements, the U.S. government launched a Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) against the Panthers and defeated them. The Nation of Islam was attacked by COINTELPRO and survived. Other domestic liberation groups were attacked; some survived, some didn’t. Others just melted away. Some of today’s aged prisoners are among those who fell during COINTELPRO’s attack on the BLM in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Crack and the mass prison-building spree
The defeat of the BLM was followed immediately by the flooding of communities of color with more drugs: heroin, cocaine and the new drug of the Reagan era – crack. While inundating urban Black and Brown centers with crack, the government was quietly conducting mass prison-building sprees in white rural mountainous and other remote areas to provide jobs for local citizens and cells for the coming prisoners of the “crack scourge.”
War on Blacks and mass incarceration
Then came the “War on Blacks,” others of color and the poor disguised as the “War on Drugs,” or “War on Crime.” Strategies included the 100-to-1 “crack” cocaine (associated mostly with Blacks) vs. “powder” cocaine (associated mostly with whites) sentencing disparity; no more parole (one had to complete 85 percent of a sentence); Bill Clinton’s 50 new “Tough on Crime” death penalty offenses; “three strikes” life sentence for stealing a candy bar; life without parole (LWOP) sentence for “acquitted conduct,” where the jury acquits the defendant but the judge overrules and sentences “acquitted” defendant to LWOP anyway.
The Black community was targeted for constant patrols, higher arrest quotas, zero-tolerance crime enforcement, disproportionate stop and frisk and shoot and kill, harsher charges filed, higher bonds set, longer sentences given out, more paroles denied or revoked – more prison for Blacks than whites.
Equalizing crack and powder cocaine sentences
Colleagues of Congressional Black Congresswoman (CBC) Maxine Waters admitted to her that the current drug laws were often excessively unfair when applied to Blacks, others of color, poor and oppressed. Other CBC colleagues pled with the organization to bear with them until they could pass adequate sentence reduction laws. Congress passed laws that reduced sentences and freed large-scale marijuana growers and methamphetamine manufacturers (crimes usually associated with whites) as people of color patiently waited year after year for the 100-to-1 crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity to be equalized.
Finally came the day! C-Span televised the congressional debate for equalizing crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences. It never happened! Crack was only reduced to an 18-to-1 ratio to powder, though cocaine is the only active drug in either crack or powder cocaine. Even the 18-to-1 sentencing disparity was not made retroactive to those with prior convictions.
People of color felt betrayed by Congress. Prisons erupted in riots. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) instantly shut down C-Span and locked down the prisons that flared up. Today the 18-to-1 disparity remains, as does the racist overkill tactics of the Criminal Injustice System against Black and Brown communities in particular and the poor in general.
Where do we go from here?
Our Black families, communities of color and poor people have been torn asunder by one racist scheme after another to keep Blacks and other oppressed in subservient roles for the benefit of an imperialistic white supremacist system.
Quite simply: We want our imprisoned parents, grandparents, teachers, leaders, brothers, sisters, political prisoners, exiles, students and children freed and exonerated to help rebuild our families, communities, lives and Black Nation now, not at some vague future date that will allow most of our loved ones to slowly die off in prison – as is the case with 82-year-old Black Panther political prisoner Sundiata Acoli, held at FCI Cumberland, Maryland. (His full address is Sundiata Acoli (Squire), 39794-066, FCI Cumberland, P.O. Box 1000, Cumberland MD 20501; please write. – ed.)
Or: the case of Kevin Jones-Bey, who’s doing LWOP for an “acquitted conduct” sentence. Along with Sundiata Acoli, Kevin Jones-Bey is a brilliant co-teacher of the Critical Thinking course that is tasked, inter alia, with teaching younger prisoners to control their emotions in critical situations so that they think and act rationally to avoid the revolving door recidivism (like parole violations) that return so many young parolees to prison. (Kevin’s address is the same as Sundiata’s, except his number is 32567-037.)
Tony Lewis Sr.
Or: the case of Tony Lewis Sr., former kingpin, doing LWOP, who deliberately steered his son, Tony Lewis Jr., nicknamed “Slugg,” away from drugs and crime and toward the best schools and love of self, family, community and people – but taught him never to forget where he came from. Tony Lewis Jr. did not disappoint, going on to write an inspiring double biography of father and son, “Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”
He heeded his father’s caution not to glamorize drugs or street life but to save Black lives and inspire Black men to be better than they are – and he did indeed! Tony Lewis Jr. is now a member of the Washington, D.C., City Council, serving and representing his people well and moving on up the ladder.
We want freedom
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” – Assata Shakur
Valerie Haynes, who can be reached at Valerie_Haynes@Hotmail.com, describes herself as a “Black woman, mother, community organizer, activist from Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been organizing with and advocating for u.s. held Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War since 2010.
“I joined the Sekou Odinga Defense Committee (SODC) in 2013 and when Sekou came home, he co-founded, with other former PPs/POWs, activists, organizations, the North East Political Prisoner Coalition (NEPPC). I’ve been with NEPPC since 2015. We educate the masses on the existence of u.s. held PPs and POWs, particularly focusing on the forgotten ones from the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army movement of the 1960s. We share their stories so we can change and correct the narrative on our history of Black Resistance while the powers that be continue to criminalize Black Resistance. FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS! FREE ’EM ALL!
Fifty years ago today, Black Panthers took a man they had tortured in this basement room, drove him to a swamp, and shot him dead — thrusting New Haven into a national confrontation over race and justice that resonates today.
The basement is in unit B13 of the Ethan Gardens co-op apartment complex on Orchard Street in New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood. At the time, the townhouse apartment served as unofficial headquarters of then-new city chapter of the black revolutionary organization.
Then, the night of May 20, 1969, they borrowed a Buick Riviera from a police informant who had infiltrated their chapter. Undercover city cops — who worked in conjunction with the FBI “COINTELPRO” program’s campaign to destroy the Panthersin part by fueling violent intra-party rivalries — watched as the Riviera pulled out of Orchard Street toward I-91. The car ended up parked by the banks of Middlefield’s Coginchaug River, where Panthers Warren Kimbro (the official tenant of Ethan Gardens Unit B13) and Lonnie McLucas fired the fatal bullets into Rackley’s skull and chest. They left him dead and returned to Orchard Street. It was soon understood by all concerned that, while the Panthers were crawling with spies, there was no evidence or reason to believe Alex Rackley had been one of them.
Kimbro and the man who ordered and supervised the killing, George Sams, were captured and pleaded guilty. A jury convicted McLucas for his part in the crime. But the federal government, out to destroy the party’s leadership, put national Chairman Bobby Seale and local organizer Ericka Huggins on trial for conspiracy. The prosecutor sought the death penalty.
Years of protests ensued, including a nationwide 1970 May Day gathering on the Green that saw Yale cancel classes …
… business owners board up storefronts …
… families flee town, and the National Guard patrol the streets. (Read all about that wild event here.) Critics, including Yale’s president, questioned whether a black revolutionary could receive a fair trial in America.
It was the political trial of the century in New Haven. In the end, a white judge who had been outed for making racist statements about African-Americans declared a mistrial and set Seale and Huggins free. Siding with the Panthers, he concluded that his pal, the white prosecutor, had overstepped in his zeal for a conviction.
Though the Panthers didn’t last much longer in New Haven, their legend lives on here. So do the causes they championed, the problems they identified. Though they don’t call for violent revolution, today’s Panther successors are still marching (and closing down) streetsto protest police violence …
Some of the New Haveners at the time of the Rackley case remain at the front lines. Panther George Edwards — whom Panther leaders also tortured in the Ethan Gardens basement, and who escaped getting killed himself, only to be arrested by the cops in connection with Rackley’s murder — continues burnishing the Panther flame. He attends rallies and speaks out at other public events. He and the community two weeks ago buried his beloved son, a city firefighter.
Kimbro sort of apologized. He also revealed that he had tricked his fellow Panthers into believing he couldn’t track Edwards down that fateful night — to avoid placing Edwards in the Buick along with Rackley on the road to execution.
David Rosen, one of Bobby Seale’s lawyers in the New Haven trial, continues a half-century later to wage crusading lawsuits, including a current class action on behalf of the families forced to flee the dangerous Church Street South housing complex.
Meanwhile, families continue to live in the 28 apartments at Ethan Gardens. Kids — now including immigrant children — play in the courtyard. Ethan Gardens is no longer a co-op, as it was in the idealistic days when Warren Kimbro lived there. A private real estate company, Pike International, now runs it.
Today, Kathy Gardner lives in Unit B13. She moved in back in December 1997. She raised her two children there.
Over the years she heard that her apartment had some connection to the Panthers and a murder. That’s all she knew, until learning the full story this past week.
She had never heard of Warren Kimbro. She didn’t know that Warren Kimbro was the first president of the Ethan Gardens co-op. It turns out Kathy Gardner was the last president of the co-op, from 2001 to its sale in 2004. She was sad to see the co-op die, as did other nearby co-ops started around the same time under the same federal 221(d)(3) program such as the old Dwight Co-ops (now Dwight Gardens) and Trade Union Plaza blocks away from Ethan Gardens.
Gardner, who works as a special-ed paraprofessional, is now one of only three former co-op residents left at Ethan Gardens. The tale of the murder doesn’t bother her, she said: “As long as they aren’t dead in my basement, I don’t care. It was before my time. I can’t change 50 years ago. Life goes on.” The Ethan Gardens tenants are planning a communal Fourth of July picnic, she said. And she’s in the process of cleaning out the basement. She has a new grandchild named Mehki; that’s going to be his new bedroom.
ON THE NIGHT of Tuesday, May 20, 1969, four men sped north from New Haven in a borrowed Buick Riviera. All belonged to the revolutionary Black Panther Party.
Warren Kimbro sat nervously in the front passenger seat directing the driver. Warren was normally quick with his tongue, loose, funny. Yet he was scared silent by the power sitting behind him in the Buick that night.
That power was named George Sams. Maybe it was the pistol Sams always waved around. Maybe it was the threats Sams barked, the herky-jerky intensity of his stocky body. Maybe it was because Sams was part of a team flown in from the Panthers’ California headquarters to whip East Coast chapters into shape.
Earlier, at Panther headquarters in downtown New Haven, Sams had said, “I’m going for a ride. Come with me.”
Sparked by caffeine, by a speed pill, an electric current jangled Warren’s nerves as the car traveled north. Warren didn’t know exactly where he would lead the driver, beyond searching, at Sams’s orders, for a secluded spot. But he knew they were headed to some kind of hell.
Something’s going to happen, Warren thought to himself. He tried not to think about specifics. It didn’t require much imagination.
FOR THE THREE days leading up to May 20, imported Panthers Landon Williams and George Sams had commandeered Warren Kimbro’s three-story townhouse apartment in the mixed-income Ethan Gardens complex on Orchard Street in New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood. The apartment doubled as New Haven Panther headquarters. Sams oversaw a kangaroo trial, interrogation, torture, and confinement there of a suspected FBI informant named Alex Rackley. Now Rackley was to be transported from the house.
It was around midnight when the orders were issued: Alex Rackley needed to be taken away, driven to the bus station.
Someone suggested taking Warren’s Mustang.
No, someone else said. The police will recognize it.
Would that be a problem for a trip to the bus station? The question went unanswered.
Instead, a call went to Kelly Moye, a hanger-on around thirty years old, who made deliveries for a package store. Moye showed up at Panther meetings and always seemed eager to lend the party money or offer a meal. Would Brother Kelly lend the Panthers his car now for an important mission?
Sure thing, Moye said.
Moye hung up the phone and dialed another number — Nick Pastore’s number. Nick Pastore ran the intelligence division of the New Haven police department. He paid Moye to spy on the Panthers. Moye enjoyed the Panther meetings. He especially enjoyed watching Ericka Huggins, the tall, slender, frizzy-haired firebrand who spoke so eloquently, who was followed around in public like the pied piper by adoring Yale students.
Moye reported the request to borrow his car. Nick Pastore advised Moye to go ahead and lend it. Nick had a hunch that something big was happening on Orchard Street; he told Moye that a Panther from New York was being held there and was about to be transported. “Go over and see what is happening,” Nick said.
Within minutes, Moye showed up outside Ethan Gardens in his two-door green Buick Riviera. George Sams stood by the curb waiting for him. When Moye emerged from the Buick, Sams stuck a gun to his head.
“I want to use your car,” Sams said.
“Hey, look,” Moye said, “you can take the car.”
Moye handed over the keys. Another Panther drove him home. No one asked why Kelly Moye was so prompt, so accommodating, because people helped the Black Panthers all the time. They pitched in for the cause the instant they were summoned. That was how a revolution worked.
BACK IN THE Panther apartment, Warren went upstairs to change into black dungarees, a Navy mock turtleneck, plus a black knit cap. Then he entered the bedroom usually occupied by his seven-year-old daughter, who was now sharing a room with her brother. Alex Rackley lay strapped to the child’s bed. Rackley had been there three days since his interrogation. He lay in his own urine and feces. Warren joined other Panthers in untying Rackley. Some Panther women cleaned Rackley up, dressed him, and then returned to the kitchen downstairs.
A wire-hanger noose hung visibly around Rackley’s neck. The men looked around for something to throw over it; they found a Nehru jacket belonging to one of the party members. That would do.
Raised to his feet, Rackley teetered. He wanted to sit down. Instead, the men clambered down the stairs and pushed Rackley through the kitchen, to the back door — out of sight, they hoped, of the police.
From her perch by the kitchen counter, Ericka Huggins, the highest- ranking female Panther in town, watched Sams and Warren walk Rackley out the door. Sams brandished the .45 automatic as he held Rackley’s arms, which were tied together with ropes. Rackley didn’t resist.
On the way out, someone handed Warren a pill and a cup of coffee. “This’ll keep you awake,” he said. Warren needed a jolt. He had barely slept for days amid all the nonstop activity in the house and on the street, not to mention the climate of paranoia.
Kelly Moye’s car was parked on Orchard Street. Sams steered Rackley to the back seat, then sat beside him. Warren sat in front, where he would direct the ride. He assumed that some of the other cars on the block had undercover agents in them; the police and FBI spent enough time on the block to have their mail forwarded.
“Right on,” one of the Panthers called to the departing carload of party brothers. “All power to the people.”
Off they went. Sams started rolling a joint.
Alex Rackley spoke up. Don’t do that, George, he said. The cops might be watching.
The comment caught Sams by surprise. “You’re right, Alex,” he said.
Sams stopped rolling the joint.
Sitting up front, Warren directed the driver, Lonnie McLucas, toward the highway. Warren had traveled far in the short, intense space of a year. In May 1968 he held a job as a youth worker in a social program run by the city. He could talk troubled kids out of fights and into school or jobs while working the back channels of power — in City Hall, schools, the court system — to help them. Intellectually curious and personable, he tried to touch the lives of most everyone he encountered, from all walks of life. He also had a short fuse. When outrage hit, he could turn violent. From the day he entered kindergarten, to his encounters with churchgoers and black-marketeers on the block where he grew up, Warren had one foot on a path to success and one foot in a pile of trouble. He straddled a world of accommodation and one increasingly in conflict.
Now, in May 1969, Warren belonged to an outlaw political movement that preached, and sometimes practiced, violent revolution. The Black Panther Party had come to New Haven just five months earlier; Warren was their prized local conscript.
Founded in Oakland in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, the Panthers carried guns and told white America that they were ready to shoot when necessary. The party combined socialist ideology with street credibility. Oakland’s police force, recruited in part from the Deep South, openly brutalized black citizens, whether law-abiding or not. In response, the Panthers formed armed neighborhood “self-defense” patrols. The party drew middle-class, intellectual idealists inspired by Algerian writer Frantz Fanon. His Wretched of the Earth inspired Third World liberation movements; advocates of Black Power increasingly came to see this work as relevant to the United States. The Panthers held classes on Fanon’s book and talked about sharing its ideas with the “baddest” characters on urban American street corners. Like Malcolm X right before his death, they hoped to tie an American rebellion to the spirit and program of liberation movements in the Third World. In a world where India, Kenya, Congo, Cuba, and other downtrodden societies could throw colonial masters out of power, why not aim for revolutionary change?
The Panthers’ ten-point party platform claimed “the power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.” It sought full employment, “an end to the robbery by the capitalist of our Black and oppressed communities,” better housing, “education for our people . . . that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society,” universal mili- tary exemptions for black Americans, and “an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.” The platform also called for a blanket amnesty for all black prison inmates, as well as juries composed of true “peers” for black defendants.
The Black Panther Party also drew heavily upon working-class blacks without intellectual, or moral, pretensions. Some, like leaders Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, managed to combine intellectual prowess with an unmistakable edge of violence. Seen from the heights of America’s white establishment, the Panthers were small, ragtag, and hardly a match for one major agency of law enforcement, namely, the FBI. But, as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover understood perfectly, one cannot be a great hero without a dangerous enemy. The FBI did everything it could to dramatize the dangerous revolutionary powers of Pantherdom. The Panthers cooperated with braggadocio of their own. In New Haven, the police — who, in conjunction with local FBI agents, were commanded to wipe out the Black Panther Party by any means necessary — watched every move of Warren and his comrades.
INDEED, UNDERCOVER POLICE watched the Panther car pull away from Warren’s apartment complex with Alex Rackley. They followed — at first. Warren led the Buick’s driver onto the highway northbound on Interstate 91, aimed toward nothing more specific than darkness and seclusion.
At some point, the officers disappeared. They would eventually claim they lost the car.
According to a later affidavit by Nick Pastore, he received a call from a “reliable” informant he had “known for at least five years.” The informant (Kelly Moye) reported that Kelly Moye’s car “would be used, or was about to be used, to transport a person who was about to be murdered, to an unknown destination.”
Even the police chief, Jim Ahern, had advance notice of an event worth watching. Ahern was in the nearby Hill neighborhood eating dinner at Leon’s, one of New Haven’s finest Italian restaurants. In his book Police in Trouble, Ahern would offer his version of the police’s reaction, with a bevy of supporting actors and extra vehicles, a version strikingly at odds with the mountain of details that would emerge later from the case. According to Ahern: My portable police radio told the story.
The phone rang. Something was happening at Panther headquarters; there was a great deal of activity. But we decided there was still not probable cause for arrests. We agreed, however, that more unmarked cars should be brought into position. The call went out, and they were on the way.
But before they could arrive, the gathering at Panther headquarters suddenly broke. Knowing that they were being watched, the Panthers split up into four cars and left in different directions. The radio was crowded with noise as our men sorted the cars out. Three were fol- lowed. In the confusion, the fourth slipped away.
That car had to be stopped. We put out an all-points bulletin on it for suspicion of kidnapping.
Yet the car “somehow” managed to elude the police twenty miles up the highway, according to Ahern.
Ahern may not have been fully forthcoming about how much police officials actually knew in advance about the activity at Panther headquarters. There has never been any other evidence to suggest the Panthers had four cars leaving the scene. Ahern downplayed the existence of probable cause for arrests — or, at the very least, a visit — before the crew in Kelly Moye’s car took off.
“As a result of this information,” Ahern wrote, the local police did eventually stop the Buick. But they wouldn’t “find” it until hours later, around 4 a.m. By that time the car would be back in New Haven, back in Kelly Moye’s possession.
IN THE BACK SEAT of Moye’s car, George Sams informed Alex Rackley that he was being kicked out of the party. Sams also assured Rackley that, despite orders to kill him, he would be allowed to flee to freedom.
Warren directed the driver to exit the highway onto State Route 66, then onto a two-lane road winding through the sleepy hamlet of Middlefield. Warren saw a sign for Powder Ridge, a ski resort quiet in the off-season. The car twisted down through woodlands into the floodplain of the Coginchaug River. The headlights revealed a long stretch of darkness; the driver stopped the car by a low bridge off Middlefield’s deserted Route 157.
Sams ordered everyone out. The four men walked into the woods. The moon shone, but they could barely see beneath all the trees. They crunched their way through skunk cabbage and dead branches, weaving past the trunks of swamp maples to the bank of the Coginchaug.
Alex Rackley passively hobbled alongside them. Rackley was thirteen days shy of his twentieth birthday. Clothesline bound his wrists. The makeshift noose around his neck jutted out beneath the Nehru jacket. Second-degree burns stung his chest and thighs. The burns came from pots of boiled water poured over Rackley’s body during the torture session back on Orchard Street; they had festered over the subsequent three days Rackley spent tied up.
Sams ordered the group to the edge of the open water. He told Rackley freedom was at hand: “You’re gonna take a boat. You can take the boat to New York or Florida.”
Sams reassured Rackley again, then warned him: While you wait for the boat to come get you, stay in the woods. Sams suggested that the woods might be crawling with Minutemen, members of a violent white supremacist group active in the area.
Thank you, Rackley said. No one asked: What kind of boat could sail the Coginchaug River? Perhaps a canoe. Certainly not a vessel capable of reaching New York, much less Florida.
Sams turned to Warren. He placed a .45 automatic in Warren’s palm. “Here, Brother Warren,” Sams said. “Ice him. Orders from National.”
Warren gripped the .45. He waded toward Alex Rackley through the ankle-deep muck. He aimed at the back of Rackley’s head and pulled the trigger.
Rackley collapsed into the water. Sams took back the gun and handed it to McLucas. On Sams’s order, McLucas kicked around in the marsh until he found Rackley’s body. He shot an insurance bullet into his chest.
As they turned to leave, Rackley’s executioners abandoned his body for dead. According to later expert testimony, Rackley’s heart may have continued beating—he may not have breathed his final gasp for four more hours.
Deep down, Warren knew Rackley was no FBI agent, no spy. Why didn’t he stand up to Sams? Fear. He had the sense that the Black Panther Party stood behind these orders. They could kill him instead of Rackley, he reasoned. His son and daughter were asleep back in the townhouse apartment. Something could happen to them, too.
THE THREE SURVIVING Panthers trudged back to the car. McLucas turned the wheel toward New Haven. They got lost on the twisting rural roads. Before they hit the highway, Sams threw bullets out the window. He preferred to return without any unused bullets; he wanted to impress the Panthers that this was a big job requiring lots of ammo.
Sams was hyped up when the three returned to headquarters. One coat-hanger-collared member of their party was conspicuously missing. Several other Panthers, night owls, remained awake, drinking coffee in the kitchen. Although there was no mention of what exactly had happened, it seemed clear that the returning warriors had been up to some mission of consequence.
Warren scrubbed his hands right away. He was wiped out. He wanted to sleep.
While most of New Haven slumbered, the Panther apartment buzzed with people not yet ready to go to bed. Joints were rolled and passed around. Warren, ever mindful of his wardrobe, washed off his muddy shoes. He cleaned the .45 and returned it to the coffee table drawer in the living room, where the party had been keeping it.
George Sams ran about the apartment high on the aftermath of battle. “Brother Warren,” he exclaimed, “is a true revolutionary!”
ALONG WITH ALEX RACKLEY’S CORPSE, the facts were left behind to decompose in the Coginchaug River, devalued, abused, ultimately forgotten in America’s domestic war over race, poverty, and the right to dissent.
“A lot of educated people are going to have to be convinced the facts are irrelevant!” protest leader Tom Hayden would yell into a microphone when he joined other radicals on the New Haven Green in protesting the arrests of Black Panthers in Alex Rackley’s murder. Indeed, it may have seemed that the facts were irrelevant to everyone touched by the murder. Everyone, it seemed, was lying when it came to the Rackley case and the protests it provoked: the president, the FBI, the New Haven police, the man who pulled the trigger, the Black Panthers, the white radicals who swooped to their cause. No one had use for the facts
Still, the facts mattered. They would prove central to the story of how Alex Rackley ended up dead in a swamp and to the subsequent trial that put the criminal justice system’s travails on national display. The facts would prove central to the story of how America lost its innocence at the end of the sixties—how, in the course of a decade, a nation on the path to greater civil rights and opportunities for its most disenfranchised citizens jerked violently backward and chose to lock up huge portions of ghettos rather than seek solutions. An idealistic youth-powered movement that helped stop a war and rewrite civil rights laws succumbed to fratricide and exhaustion. The facts were relevant to how liberalism became a dirty word in the country and how questioning people in power became un-American.
MAY 21, 1969, was a good day for a ride, the air clear, spring in blossom. John Mroczka started up his Triumph motorcycle and drove around the winding open roads of Connecticut’s Middlesex County. Mroczka, a tool-and-die maker, had eight hours or so before the midnight shift at the local Pratt & Whitney jet-engine plant. Three weeks earlier he had returned home from a two-year tour in Vietnam. Mroczka was a local boy, still single at twenty-two. He had no political views to speak of. His own passions involved his Triumph and his fishing rod.
Mroczka swept on his Triumph along the quiet roads of Middlefield. He passed Route 157 near his favorite fishing spot. It was off a deserted stretch of country road, beneath a tiny bridge overlooking the Coginchaug River. The state stocked that spot with trout each year. Mroczka decided to check if the trout had arrived.
He parked his Triumph and crossed the street. Before he got to the bridge, he spotted what looked like a mannequin half submerged in the river.
He walked over to inspect it. The mouth was open; flies buzzed around the body.
This was no mannequin. This was a corpse.
He noticed rope around the corpse’s wrists. HThe scarecrow-like figure had on a jacket, blue striped trousers, a green shirt, no shoes.
Mroczka ran back to his Triumph. He rode to a deli up the road. It was between 4:30 and 5 P.M. His face white with shock, he told the woman behind the counter about the body. The state police were called. State Trooper William Leonard was the first to show up at the deli. Mroczka got back on the Triumph to lead him to the fishing spot.
Waiting around for the coroner to arrive and declare the body dead — this would take hours — Mroczka had to repeat his story, word for word, six different times, to different troopers.
In between he heard them speculating about the victim. The victim had blue pants on. Some thought he was an escapee from the prison in Haddam.
Then the coroner arrived. “He has a bullet hole in his ear,” one of the troopers reported to the group. “There’s another one in his chest.”
After the coroner made his official declaration of death, the cops found a handwritten note inside a pocket of the jacket draped around the body. The note was addressed to “Chairman Bobby.”
“Someone called from Oregon,” the note read. “There have been bombings at the University of Oregon. Called to your mother’s house. They said it would be best if you did not come to Oregon at all. There have been threats to murder you. The brother in Oregon, who is head of the Party there, says there have been bombings, but they have calmed down. No danger . . .”
The note was signed, “Ericka.”
National Panther chairman Bobby Seale had been in the news earlier in the week when he delivered a fiery speech on Yale University’s campus in New Haven. He had left town early Tuesday morning, just before the Oregon call came in to Warren Kimbro’s apartment. Ericka Huggins dispatched some Panthers to the airport with the note, but they arrived too late to deliver it to Seale.
Around 8 P.M., Steve Ahern, chief of detectives of New Haven’s police department, received a call at his home about a “male Negro body” found in Middlesex Country, shot in the head. He returned right to work at police headquarters, a block east of the city’s seventeenth-century Green. Ahern, the head of the detectives, brother of the chief, as well as the mastermind of the department’s illegal wiretapping operation, knew he’d be working through the night.
A call followed from a state cop at Middlesex Hospital with the news about the “Chairman Bobby” note. Ahern ordered his men to call in street informants. Soon he was in a room in the first-floor detective bureau with Nick Pastore and Sergeant Vincent DeRosa, talking with a woman whose information had helped them make successful busts in the past. The woman was close to the Panthers, including Warren Kimbro. She told the cops about the torture of a “Brother Alex” at the apartment. She described a trial tape-recorded in the presence of Warren and Ericka and some tough guy named “Sam.”
Around 9 o’clock, the FBI arrived with fingerprints of the victim. They matched the prints of an Alex Rackley who had a record of two minor arrests in Florida. Ahern called cops in Florida and confirmed the prints.
Police in Bridgeport, a twenty-five-minute drive west, rounded up a woman named Frances Carter and brought her to New Haven. She identified herself as secretary of the New Haven chapter. She admitted she had seen the torture victim held at Warren Kimbro’s apartment.
Steve Ahern shoved a color Polaroid of Alex Rackley’s devastated corpse under Carter’s nose. “Isn’t that the man?!” he yelled from close range. “Isn’t that the man?”
Yes, it was. She talked until midnight. She would remember being badgered by ten to twenty cops at a time hovering over her. “Everybody’s dead!” they told her. Instantly she flashed on her sister Peggy and Peggy’s kids. “Where’s Peggy? What did you do with Peggy? I’ve got to have a phone. I got to call Peggy!”
The interrogation proceeded with threats of her ending up in an electric chair. Sweating, her head pounding, Carter passed out. Right before losing consciousness, she remembers the one policewoman in the room whispering to her, “Peggy’s fine.”
MEANWHILE, NICK PASTORE was collecting details from his own informants — the location of the guns and the identities of the Panthers the cops might find at Warren’s apartment when, as it now appeared likely, they would bust through the door.
As the police planned a raid on Warren’s Ethan Gardens apartment, the party went on with its business. Warren arranged for the purchase of three snub-nosed .38s from a black-market dealer working inside the Colt factory in Hartford. He gave Lonnie McLucas $105, the keys to his Mustang, and the directions, and then sent him off to collect the guns.
Midnight approached, the raid set. Steve Ahern gathered his detectives to discuss the details. He assigned some to arrest the people downstairs and others to go upstairs. Female officers would handle the women. Nick would head to the basement; he knew that Alex Rackley’s torture had taken place there; he would look for rope and other evidence to tie the apartment to the Rackley torture and therefore the murder.
“There are children in there,” Ahern told the officers. So be careful. No shots if they could help it.
IT WAS AN early night for the Panthers. By 12:30 a.m., most of the household was asleep. The women scattered around the living room; a handful held babies. Warren lay on the floor beside a rifle. His young son, Germano, and daughter, Veronica, shared a bed in Germano’s room.
A crash shattered the dark stillness. Down fell the front door. Sergeant DeRosa would later claim that he did knock first. If he did, no one heard him. Apparently DeRosa hadn’t known the front door was unlocked.
Swarming in, officers moved in every direction, stepping over the women on pallets. They overturned flour bins and ransacked the premises.
“You’re all under arrest!” Steve Ahern announced.
Warren awoke to a snub-nosed .38 in his face wielded by DeRosa. The gun shook in DeRosa’s hand; he had the hammer of the gun cocked. “Don’t move!” he barked.
Beside him, Detective Billy White lunged for Warren’s rifle. Billy White and Warren had known each other for years. They once worked together in a New Haven antipoverty program, and Warren had also coached White’s younger brother in little league football. They’d always gotten along. Like many others in New Haven, White couldn’t understand the radical turn Warren’s life had taken, but he still liked him.
“Warren,” White told him, “you’re under arrest.” White was too young to panic or to worry about retaliation. He wasn’t angry, especially not at Warren. This was business. Warren did what Warren had to do. White did what he had to do.
“Black Power!” Warren called out. He followed revolutionary protocol: Never give the pigs the satisfaction of knowing that you’re scared.
One officer went straight upstairs to Warren’s bedroom. He quickly returned downstairs announcing that he’d found the murder weapon. Warren was surprised because he had been sure George Sams had taken the gun with him. He had no idea it was still in the house. Yet the police seemed to know exactly where to look.
Warren’s wife, Sylvia, had emerged from the shower, about to get ready for work the next morning at her job at a drug treatment center, when a black cop stormed up the stairs and pointed his gun at her. Sylvia recognized him; she was his son’s godmother. The officer instantly recognized the only partially dressed Sylvia. He turned away, embarrassed. … A female officer came up the stairs and placed Panther-hating Sylvia under arrest. Unlike Warren, Sylvia was not scared. She was humiliated. The cop watched her get dressed. Then she escorted Sylvia out the door to the police station.
Germano and Veronica awoke to lights flashing in their eyes. Germano instinctively rolled onto his sister. They stared at gun barrels. There was talk of searching them. Then Germano and Veronica heard someone say, “These are just kids.”
The kids were shepherded downstairs. Germano and Veronica saw their dad handcuffed behind his back, his face toward the floor, a lit cigarette in his mouth. The smoke swirled into his eyes.
“Can you loosen the handcuffs? They’re too tight,” the kids heard Warren ask his tormentors.
“The handcuffs are too tight!” Veronica piped up. “The smoke is in his eyes.”
Germano wondered: Where is the shoot-out? He had heard tales of Panther-cop shoot-outs in other cities. Friends in Ethan Gardens showed him where their family cut holes in the wall of their apartment to climb up to a skylight; there the parents kept a lookout and a cache of guns in case the cops came. Now the real confrontation was happening, and it was one sided.
Germano and Veronica were ushered outside into a squad car. They were taken four blocks north to Sylvia’s mother’s house on Dickerman Street.
Back at Ethan Gardens, everyone was rounded up. Investigators stayed another four hours digging for every shred of evidence. They’d return over the next few days. The inside of the three-floor apartment, part of a ballyhooed government-financed experiment in mixed-income housing, was reduced practically to rubble, with walls torn apart, furniture upended, household items thrown around the floor.
ON COURT STREET Warren was in the fire department headquarters, where the police intelligence division had a third-floor lockup for interrogating prisoners
Warren was shuttled into one of the cages in the lockup. He was ordered to strip. His new uniform consisted of a baggy shirt, damp oversized khaki pants, too-small sneakers. They took fingerprints and fingernail scrapings.
A friendly voice broke through the corridor.
“Hey, give Warren a cigarette! I know Warren from St. John’s. He’s a nice guy.”
It was Nick Pastore. Nick approached the door of Warren’s cage.
“Warren,” Nick told him, “we know you did the shooting.”
“I know nothing,” Warren retorted. He thought to himself: Could they really know that already?
Burial Of A Footnote
ALEX RACKLEY WAS BORN in Jacksonville on June 2, 1949. He was the first of eight children fathered by a variety of men. His mother, Parlee, was a strong woman — large and outspoken. She set boundaries and disciplined her children — when she was around. A cook, she sometimes worked at an exclusive Jacksonville club. The job just as often took her north, where she cooked for rich people for months at a time or longer. Those northern jobs paid more, plus Parlee enjoyed the travel. She left her parents, Isaac and Rosalie, in charge of the children and sent money home as often as she could.
Alex grew up on a crowded block surrounded by poultry plants, slaughterhouses, and a dog pound. The neighborhood, known as Mixontown, may have smelled like dead chickens, but the people had jobs. Grandfather Isaac raised chickens; the Rackleys ate a lot of chicken. Twenty or more Rackleys at a time shared the three-bedroom house on Watts Street — brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents bumping into each other all day, sleeping in bunk beds.
With such a crowded house, the Rackley kids tended to spend time outdoors. Alex and other kids on the block would play stickball, football, marbles. Alex liked sports, liked dancing and music, though he wasn’t a standout in any of these pursuits. While not particularly interested in school, he did love clothes. Hoping to become a tailor, he enrolled in Stanton Vocational after junior high, but he dropped out before very long. He sometimes had luck at dice, which once helped pay for a double-breasted suit. What would later become known as the “Superfly” look was coming in, and Alex took to it. He parted his Afro on the side. He had his two front teeth capped; he’d chipped them in elementary school when Freddie, the brother closest to him in age, accidentally tripped him on the way home.
Alex took up karate at seventeen and became a black belt. Karate came in handy. One day, with no key, Alex found he could knock down a locked door at his house. And though he wasn’t known for starting fights, he got into his share of neighborhood scraps; he wanted to look out for himself and his younger siblings. He looked out for Parlee, too. Despite her long absences, he and his mother were close. One time Parlee’s boyfriend appeared ready to strike her. Alex jumped him first and prevented him from attacking. Alex was muscular, around six-one, 175 pounds.
Still, he didn’t leave much of a mark beyond his own block. When the FBI tried to track down information on him, they found little. The FBI noted that he had brown hair and eyes, a scar over his left eyebrow, and two misdemeanor arrests on his record, both in the first part of 1968, one for “vagrancy and loitering” on Jacksonville Beach and another for “disorderly conduct — gambling.” Alex bounced around jobs. He pumped gas for a while, working the night shift. One night his younger brother Wayne heard him come home and ask Parlee for a gun; people kept rob- bing him at the station, and he was fed up with it.
In 1968, Alex turned nineteen. Parlee was up in New York cooking. He headed north to join his mom, since nothing much was developing for him in Jacksonville. And that was about all the family ever heard from him again. He sent one snapshot home of himself in his new Superfly duds. No hint of politics, no talk of revolution.
Drinking and using drugs, jobless, homeless, Alex walked around New York City barefoot after staying briefly with Parlee. He stumbled onto the Panthers through friends he knew from Jacksonville. He started crashing at communal Panther pads. He hung around Panther headquarters in New York, always eager to help. He sold Panther newspapers. He attended political education classes; inevitably, he’d fail the exams. “Listen, brother,” ranking Panthers told him. “You need more political education.” Rackley’s claim to a black belt was perhaps his only distinction. As the chapter’s “karate instructor,” he taught martial arts to other Panthers at the Panther office in Harlem. He struck New York Panthers like Shirley Wolterding as “unsophisticated, like a baby, a child . . . very, very naïve . . . almost like an eager puppy.” Gene Roberts, an undercover cop posing as a chapter member, learned little about Rackley during Rackley’s time in New York; Rackley said nothing about his past except to claim, falsely, that he’d been a member of the notorious Blackstone Rangers street gang in Chicago. Roberts figured Rackley for a hanger-on, a non-entity in the Panther universe. Rackley’s marginality left him as something of a mystery. EVERYBODY DISTRUSTED EVERYONE else in Panther chapters. Anyone might be a spy, and few seemed totally trustworthy. The FBI and the New York police red squad relied on two kinds of helpers. The first kind were their own spies, posing as real Panthers. The second kind were loyal Panthers whom the FBI had “bad-jacketed” by inserting false rumors of disloyalty.
Like everyone else, Rackley could with equal credibility have been either or neither of these in the eyes of his comrades. And like practically everyone else, he was wondered about when he wasn’t around, though not, apparently, more than anyone else.
On March 11, in a conversation secretly recorded by a police infiltrator, one member expressed doubts about Rackley’s party loyalty. As was so often true of the heavily infiltrated party, it is impossible to know which speakers were genuine Panthers and which were agents provocateurs charged with creating suspicion.
That paranoia was ratcheted even higher after an April 1 police bust. Twenty-one New York Panthers were arrested on charges of having planned to blow up department stores and landmarks like the Botanical Garden and the Statue of Liberty. It would never become clear, even at trial, if such a plan ever really existed, or if it had, whether it came from the imaginations of undercover law enforcement seeking to incite law-breaking by the Panthers.
The top priority in the Black Panther Party increasingly became weeding out informers. The party’s national office sent leaders of its military wing to the East Coast to investigate and instill discipline. The heavies, including enforcers Landon Williams and George Sams, took control. Sams called himself “Crazy George” and “Nigger George.” He had been in fights and trouble with the law since his childhood bouncing around foster homes and mental hospitals in the South, then New York City and Michigan. The Panthers once kicked him out of the party for stabbing another Panther; party leaders reinstated him only when nationalist leader Stokely Carmichael, whom Sams served as a bodyguard, intervened on his behalf. Sams was known in Panther circles around the country as the wild man who swung into town and made threats, beat people, harassed women, and left internecine fights in his wake. He kept two or three pistols inside his brown trench coat; he clattered when he walked. He bounced with nervous energy, always moving, twitching, glaring at people as though daring them to challenge him.
Sams particularly seemed to enjoy meting out discipline in the Harlem office that April. One time Alex Rackley walked into the office with his hair braided. Sams exploded: Rackley was guilty of “disrespecting the people.” Hair braiding, apparently, constituted “cultural nationalism.”
Besides, Sams declared, Rackley looked like a pickaninny. Sams beat Rackley on the spot. Then he ordered him to run around the block.
Rackley hung on; he had nowhere else to go. On Saturday, May 17, he begged Sams — on his knees, his hands clasped in prayer — and the other leaders to allow him to accompany them on a trip to New Haven.
“Please, sister,” he begged one of the local chapter officers, Rose Mary Byrd. “Please let me go.”
Rackley won a seat in one of the two cars to New Haven. Once there, he hung out with the crowd, while leaders met privately to plan discipline as well as the appearance in town, two days later, of Bobby Seale. FROM THE MOMENT they arrived at local Panther headquarters at Ethan Gardens in New Haven, the visiting leaders, Landon Williams and George Sams, whispered to Warren Kimbro and Ericka Huggins about Alex Rackley. They told Warren and Ericka to watch Alex Rackley: he might be a spy.
Rackley’s identity may have been confused with that of Alex McKiever, one of the Panthers indicted in the New York bombing-conspiracy case. That Alex, former president of the Afro-American History Club at New York’s Benjamin Franklin High School, fled the country before the police could arrest him. The Panthers suspected him of being a police agent. And, for some reason, one leader decided that Alex McKiever and Alex Rackley must be the same person.
In reality, the Alexes occupied different echelons in Pantherdom; McKiever served on New York’s elite security team before the bust and was responsible for the safety of high-ranking Panthers visiting town. He was close to Eldridge Cleaver.
Alex Rackley into the Orchard Street apartment, eager, as usual, to help. He and Warren rolled up posters for the upcoming Bobby Seale event. Mean- while, George Sams and Landon Williams took charge. Sams called Warren and Ericka to the side and issued an order: one of the women should seduce Rackley, then determine if he was an informer. The assignment went to fifteen-year-old Maude Francis. Sams handed Francis a speed pill to stay awake. Rackley willingly succumbed to the girl’s entreaties.
In the aftermath, Francis popped the question. No, Rackley told her, he was no spy. WHETHER OR NOT Maude Francis believed Alex Rackley’s answer about not being a spy, suspicion in the house remained strong. Sams would claim years later that even he didn’t believe Alex Rackley was a spy. But his job was to find out for sure.
One Sunday morning, Ericka came downstairs to find Rackley dozing on the couch in the living room. Ericka was a commanding presence in the Panther apartment, a natural leader. She walked tall and spoke with confidence. Beneath her sometimes hippie-sounding, idealistic patter burned a ferocity that flashed bright and hard whenever she perceived a threat. Dozing Alex looked like a threat—to revolutionary comportment, perhaps. Wake up! Ericka demanded. She threw a book at him. The thud of Selected Military Writings by Mao Tse-tung startled Rackley awake.
Ordered to read, Rackley raised the book — upside down. He scanned the letters.
Rackley told Ericka that he couldn’t read, and then proceeded to say how he wished he could read, how he wished the Panthers in New York had given him more help. Enraged, Ericka lectured Rackley that he should have asked the sisters.
Warren was coming downstairs with George Sams. They’d heard the last exchange.
“If you can’t read,” Sams asked Rackley, “what are you doing with the military works of Mao?”
“Stand up!” Sams barked. He accused Rackley of lying.
Sams directed someone to get the “Panther stick.” The “stick” was a fraternity hazing paddle Warren had picked up. People called it the “Panther stick,” and until now it had been merely a decorative threat.
Rackley tried to resist. He lunged at Sams, kicked Warren, kicked Ericka. Blood spurted from Rackley’s head from the paddling.
Sams informed Rackley that he was hereby expelled from the Black Panther Party for “lying to the sister.” He was not to show his face at any other chapter offices, either. Where did he want to go now?
Call the bus station, Sams ordered Warren. Find out what it costs to get there.
Warren called. Sams put out money for Rackley. Rackley left the apartment — and remained right outside, sitting. He returned, said he needed his coat. He couldn’t find the coat. Everyone started looking for the coat. No one could find the coat.
Hmmm, maybe Rackley had no coat. Anyone remember Brother Alex coming in with a coat?
“Brother,” George Sams said, “I don’t really think you want to leave. And I think you are the pig.” SAMS ORDERED RACKLEY, Warren, and Lonnie McLucas into the basement. Warren had never finished the basement since moving into Ethan Gardens. The walls were mostly concrete; one had partial sheetrock. Incandescent lights on the ceiling illuminated a concrete floor bare except for boxes and a combination desk-chair low to the ground. Warren had originally planned for his kids to use the desk for their homework.
The group fashioned a noose around Rackley’s neck and threw it over a joist; McLucas held the rope and told Rackley to read. Again he insisted that he could not read.
“Brother,” declared Sams, “this calls for more discipline.” Warren and the others took turns whacking at Rackley with the Panther stick.
Then they stood Rackley’s limp body, paddled a good fifteen times on the buttocks alone, back up. The order resumed: Read! Desperate, Rackley muttered words. It sounded as if it might have been reading, or it might have been a mixture of recognized written syllables with remembered recitations of cant.
To Sams, it was proof of perfidy. Clearly, Rackley could read. “We are going to tie him up and get some information from the brother.”
Rackley landed in the desk-chair. Warren and the others bound Rackley to the chair by his arms and legs and around the waist.
“Get some hot water,” Sams directed. Upstairs, women started boiling water. Meanwhile, Sams ordered Warren to gag Rackley with a towel. When the water boiled, Panthers brought it downstairs. Sams poured the boiling water over Rackley’s back, over his shoulders. First one pot, then a second. Then a third. Then a fourth.
OK, Rackley cried through the towel gagging his mouth, his head bobbing, OK! He was ready to talk.
Upstairs, Warren’s children, Germano and Veronica, saw people carrying the pots of water downstairs. The kids could hear the cracks of beatings. They heard Alex Rackley’s pitiful screams. Veronica’s stomach twisted. Germano tried to peek down the stairs, figure out who was doing what to whom. “We need to get these kids out of here,” he heard someone say. Sylvia took them away.
In the basement, Sams once again poured the boiling water over Rackley’s back and shoulders.
A TAPE RECORDER was brought into the room. A party member who worked at the phone company had donated it to the party. The proceedings would be preserved as evidence for party officials. Ericka was called downstairs.
In spite of any misgivings, Ericka and Warren soon glided into the roles as interrogators.
“Ericka Huggins,” she announced, “member of the New Haven Chapter Black Panther Party, political education instructor. On May 17th at approximately 10 o’clock, Brother Alex from New York was sleeping in the office, that is, a house that we use as an office, and I kicked him and said, ‘Motherfucker, wake up, because we don’t sleep in the office and we relate to reading or getting out!’
“And so Brother Alex picked up a book, Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-tung, and began to read. I was talking to Brother George and Warren, and George looked over at Alex and said, ‘Brother, I thought you couldn’t read. You told me you couldn’t read before? What you reading?’ And so the brother said, ‘I can’t read.’. . .”
“So then the brother got some discipline, you know, in the areas of the nose and mouth, and the brother began to show cowardly tendencies, began to whimper and moan.”
Ericka related for the record how the Panthers had started posing questions “with a little coercive force,” how “the answers came after a few buckets of water.” So they had their proof: “He is an informer. Oh, he knows all the informers.”
“Name names, nigger!” Warren barked, after Ericka completed her introduction. Warren continued for a bit, then deferred to George Sams.
Sams demanded that he name “pigs” infiltrating the New York party. Rackley started singing for his life, a disjointed melody of all the names and settings he could summon from his memory.
At the merciful end of Rackley’s travail, Sams, Warren, Lonnie McLucas, Ericka, and the rest of the girls and young women followed Rackley upstairs to the second floor. He had a cold shower. The women cleaned Rackley’s wounds, covered them with bandages. He was bleeding, battered, scarred from his head all down his body. Second-degree burns covered his chest and thighs. For days, members rotated on duty guarding Rackley as he lay wallowing in his waste in Veronica’s bedroom.
“The New Haven Police Department had received information that members of the New Haven Black Panther party had kidnapped a New York Panther and were holding him in the Orchard Street apartment of Warren Kimbro that was functioning as party headquarters,” Ahern would claim in his 1972 book, Police in Trouble. “We did not have enough information to make arrests, but we had the apartment under surveillance.” … ALEX RACKLEY’S MURDER made the New York Times. It didn’t make either daily newspaper in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. A couple of days later the papers did run a one-paragraph death notice. It mentioned merely that he “passed in Middletown, Connecticut” (close enough—one town over from Middlefield) and (falsely) that he “had been living in Middletown for the past two years.”
Parlee Rackley, who had returned to Jacksonville from New York, learned the news from the police. The Black Panthers? Since when was her son involved with the Black Panthers?
Freddie was the closest to Alex in age. It hurt him to watch his mother grieve, to see her cry, so much that he stayed away from the funeral. He and his siblings would remember the family having to wait two weeks to bury Alex; they were told that the authorities sent the wrong body the first time.
Wayne, born three years after Alex, and Velva, ten years Alex’s junior, accompanied Parlee to the funeral. The event drew a sparse crowd. Wayne would remember no one crying except Parlee and her children. He cried because his mother cried.
Tonight: Tuesday May 14, 2019
ABC – Channel 7
9-10 pm CST. 10-11 pm EST
Often imitated never duplicated, The Black Panther Party according to former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was labeled “The Greatest Threat to The Internal Security of This Country.”
Under the U.S. government’s COINTELPRO program, 90% of activities were aimed at the Black Panther Party.
On December 4, 1969, Chairman Fred Hampton, and Defense Captain Mark Clark were assassinated.
Join us as we walk the streets of Chicago with Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., Black Panther Party Cubs. Listen as Akua Njeri, Chairman Fred’s widow, gives an in-depth account of the 4:00 a.m. Massacre on Monroe. Former Black Panther Party members, police, and Black Lives Matter weigh in on this historic event. This 50 – year anniversary is highlighted with#SAVETHEHAMPTONHOUSE campaign.
Deborah Johnson, Chairman Fred Hampton Sr.’s widow.