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Prelude to a Murder | The Nation

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Prelude to a Murder

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Bobby Rush expressed this same sentiment in somewhat different language: "Cloaked in the black robe that surely smells of the mire that he lives in, pig Jones, black puppet manipulated by the pig power puppeteers of Chicago, has carried out this system's pol-icy of legal and sanctioned persecution. The State's attorneys' every effort was not to show that Fred was a thief, which is what they called him, but it was to show that Fred's political ideas are in direct opposition to his and all others who embrace injustice."

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Kermit Coleman, head of the ACLU's ghetto project in Chicago, who has handled many cases of accused Panthers, provides insights into the attitudes of officials who find themselves in confrontation with revolutionary blacks. One assistant State's attorney, says Coleman, opens his prosecutions of Black Panthers by saying: "This is a Black Panther case, your Honor."

Among the cases for which Coleman has handled the defense have been that of two Panthers charged with violating a city ordinance on the use of public ways by selling the Black Panther newspaper. The charges were dropped. In another, two Panthers were arrested for handing out leaflets. The charges were dropped. Other cases involved charges of aggravated battery, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and a variety of weapons charges. These, too, were dismissed.

"It would seem to me," Coleman says, "that it would be irrational to assume that the Black Panther Party and each of its members is deliberately setting out to get arrested. And yet it seems that every member has been arrested, with the leaders being arrested many times. This raises in my mind a belief that there is a concerted effort among law-enforcement agencies and political forces in this city and throughout the nation to wipe out the Panthers."

Coleman explains why: "They see the political nature of the Black Panther Party as be-ing a danger to entrenched political and economic interests. These are young black people who cannot be bought off with a loaf of bread and the promise of pie in the sky. A great many of their members have come out of the traditional movement after seeing that this kind of protest is not effective."

Coleman expressed what many people, no doubt, have been thinking. "You'll notice that other black groups that are just as active in the community are not getting busted be-cause they are talking about opting for black capitalism. As long as you talk about black capitalism, you don't go to jail. But when one comes out of a revolutionary bag that does not encompass the present political and economic structure, that's when the powers of repression are brought to bear."

That they are being brought to bear was made abundantly clear in this remark by a vet-eran Chicago police reporter who is about as well informed on such matters as any per-son in the city: "I can't remember in my entire career witnessing the quantity nor the quality of repressive force unleashed against the Black Panthers. I don't think it is all a matter of a national conspiracy, though I believe this is certainly a part of it. I think this massive repression also results from the naked fear many policemen have of the Pan-thers. They want to do them in as a kind of self-defense measure."

Repression takes many forms and it certainly is no coincidence that there is a striking similarity between the Washington hearings into Black Panther activities and the probe of Chicago's Blackstone Rangers by the same agency, the Senate Permanent Sub-committee on Investigation. While the Rangers are not considered to be revolutionaries, this former street gang, now known as the Black P. Stone Nation, is -- like the Panthers -- decidedly at odds with the political ruling elite.

The direction of the McClellan committee's hearings on the Rangers discounted any ef-forts these black youths were making toward constructive community programming. It also pulled the financial rug out from under an Office of Economic Opportunity project designed to experiment with means of rehabilitating black street gangs. A major per-formance before the McClellan committee came from a former Ranger who "told all" and who, informed sources insist, was taken off the hook of a criminal charge in exchange for his "expose."

As the same committee "digs" into the workings of the Black Panthers, it is no surprise that they have come up with a former Panther whose stories of sexual, criminal and exploitative activities are remarkably parallel to those credited to the Blackstone Rangers. Panther leaders, including Seale and Chief of Staff David Hilliand, insist that ex-Panther Larry Clayton Powell was telling the story the committee wanted to hear and that he did so to gain clemency on robbery charges.

The committee has made much of a Panther coloring book which allegedly was distrib-uted to boys and girls at their free breakfasts. The book depicts youths attacking police and the legend under one reads: "The only good pig is a dead pig." Seale told newsmen that the book was "rejected" by the Panther leadership because it is "racist." He said it was never distributed. The McClellan committee, which encouraged the impression that the book received wide dissemination, took absolutely no notice of the fact that for many years a popular slogan declared, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." After the Indi-ans were all but dead, the slogan was revised to "The only good nigger is a dead nig-ger."

Out of the Oakland conference may come solid and ominous documentation of America's frightening drift away from a democracy which it has always mouthed but never practiced, toward a version of fascism which it has never mouthed but is practicing with a creeping zeal. I attended the National Black Economic Development Conference in Detroit at which James Forman introduced and gained approval for the Black Manifesto, demanding $500 million in reparations from white churches and synagogues. Shortly thereafter, a federal grand jury was impaneled in Detroit and began to subpoena wit-nesses for an investigation into the circumstances of the Manifesto.

I received a short time ago a communication from the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, which sponsored the conference. The letter, addressed to all who had attended the three-day meeting, said in part:

Within the last four weeks, the FBI has been systematically contacting persons attending the National Black Economic Development Conference. The agents have represented the investigation as being or-dered by the United States Attorney General, supposedly in regard to possible extortion charges against James Forman. We are advised by attorneys that this is a preposterous notion. Although presumably the investigation is on the extortion issue, there is apparent interest in other individuals' roles in the conference, including that of Lucius Walker, Jr. [IFCO's Executive Director].

It the indications we have received are true, there is no legal basis for such a charge, if the purpose of this is intimidation to drive the movement back into the wall, it leads one to believe this is just another effort to hold back the thrust for black liberation. If enough people can be frightened by the massive use of agents across the country, that might be more effective than an actual case. We shouldn't be duped by this kind of strategy.

Nor should white Americans be duped into thinking that the kind of official repression which has been described in this article is limited to Black Panthers, Blackstone Rangers, or other minority organizations and individuals who are aggressive in their challenge of the status quo. As violence breeds violence, so does repression breed repression. Whites can feel the sting, too.

An extraordinary incident which happened in Chicago recently bears this out, and at the same time provides bizarre commentary on the American racial circus. The Better Government Association, a prestigious civic organization, had planned a meeting with representatives of the ghetto, including several gang leaders. The purpose was to open a dialogue which might reduce dangerous tensions. The meeting was set for the Inland Steel Building in the Loop and was to be a luncheon.

But members of the police department's gang intelligence unit (which was prominent in the Blackstone Rangers hearing before the McClellan committee and which, some believe, promoted the investigation) demanded invitations to the meeting and upbraided the hosts for not telling the unit's head, Capt. Edward Buckney, what they were doing.

Gang intelligence police swarmed over the building, staked out in the lobby, and started shooting pictures of everybody who entered. When the gang leaders arrived and found the fuzz all over the place, they "split the scene," rendering the meeting impotent. Chicago Daily News columnist Mike Royko, who broke the story, described one of the in-timidated hosts of the meeting: "Robert Gaylord Donnelley--Credentials: A member of the wealthy family that controls R. R. Donnelley and Sons Company, the giant printing firm (Red Book), Yale '60 and Harvard Business School '63; executive of the First National Bank of Chicago; Social Register, society pages and civic leader. In other words, a top-drawer, white member of the Establishment."

Said the startled Donnelley, after he had recovered from the shock of his introduction to intimidation and repression, American style: "I had never believed most of the things I read about the tactics the police use. Most of the people I know still don't believe it. If this is an example of the type of thing that is happening to black people, then I can appreciate their feelings and their reactions."

The irony is that Captain Buckney is a Negro.

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