The Black Panthers and the Police:
A Pattern of Genocide? (page 2)


February 13, 1971

by Edward Jay Epstein

When A. M. Rosenthal, the managing editor of the Times, was asked about the discrepancies in his paper, he explained that the December 7th report, which stated, "Twenty-eight Black Panthers have been killed in run-ins with the police since January 1, 1968," was taken from a December 5th story by the same reporter, which said, "According to Charles Garry ... [Hampton and Clark] were the 27th and 28th Black Panthers killed in clashes with the police since January of 1968," and which was itself based on a telephone conversation with Garry. In the December 7th story, the qualifying phrase "according to Charles Garry" had been deleted, Rosenthal said, because "the reporter probably felt the source was unimportant in the second story" although Rosenthal, in discussing the matter, said that he personally felt that the reporter should not have turned an assertion by an interested party into a fact. The figure of twenty-eight had subsequently been reported as fact because the reporter "inadvertently referred to the first figure," and this had happened because "no flag was placed on the error." (Whitney Young's assertion that "nearly thirty Panthers have been murdered by law-enforcement officials" was based on the Times, according to his research assistant, and the Times was then able to report in a Sunday summary that the charge of a "national conspiracy" against the Panthers "has been echoed by more moderate civil rights leaders.")

Ben Bagdikian, the national editor of the Washington Post, also named Garry as the source for his newspaper's assertion that twenty-eight Panthers had been killed by police-- though the only “specific documentation" on the subject was the UPI bulletin of December 12th. The bulletin, which went out to more than four thousand subscribing domestic newspapers and broadcasting stations, came from the news agency's San Francisco bureau, which, according to its manager, H. Jefferson Grigsby, obtained the list of "victims of cold-blooded murder by the police" from Panther sources. "There was no further dispatch modifying the December 12th story," Grigsby has noted. Garry's list apparently provided publications such as the New Republic, Ramparts and the New Statesman with the "fact" that twenty Panthers had been killed by police, and Ramparts,in turn, furnished an organization called the Committee to Defend the Panthers with what the committee called the "grim statistic" of twenty Panthers dead.

And so it went. Although Garry was certainly an interested party in the controversy over what came to be called the war between the Panthers and the police, it is clear that his assertions were widely accepted at their face value, so even when modifications were made in the lists of casualties it was Garry’s story that was being modified, and practically no independent checking was done.

How, then, did Garry arrive at his figures? In September, 1970, Garry explained to me that he chose the number twenty-eight when newsmen called him for a statement after the shooting of Hampton and Clark because that "seemed to be a safe number." He added that he believed the “actual number of Panthers murdered by the police is many times” that figure." When pressed for the names, however, Garry found he could "document" only “twenty police murders" of Panthers.

The list of "twenty murders," which was sent to me from Garry's office, along with a warning that "facts are not necessarily empirical," actually comprised only nineteen Panther deaths, and one of the deaths — that of Sidney Mille in Seattle, is attributed by Garry not to police but to "a merchant who claimed he thought Miller was going to rob the store." In the coroner's records, the statement of the Seattle police is that “the deceased and an unknown person were robbing the Seven-Eleven store at 8856 35th Ave. S.W., and in the progress of the robbery the deceased was shot with a .38-caliber snub-nosed Smith & Wesson by the store owner, Donald F. Lannoye." Lannoye does not dispute the statement that he fired the fatal shot.

That leaves eighteen "documented" cases involving Black Panthers who Garry claims were murdered by police in pursuance of a policy to "commit genocide upon" the Black Panthers. Garry's list of eighteen Panthers allegedly murdered by the police is as follows:


On May 21, 1969, John Mroczka, a twenty-three-year-old factory worker, stopped his motorcycle near a bridge on Route 147 outside of Middlefield, Connecticut, and while walking along the edge of a stream looking for trout saw a "set of legs" and "body" partly submerged. State police were called to the scene by Mroczka, and they recovered from the Stream the body of a black male whose wrists were tied with gauze and whose neck was encircled by a noose fashioned from a wire coat hanger. An autopsy, conducted immediately afterward, indicated that the man had been severely burned on wide areas of the chest, wrists, buttocks, thighs, and right shoulder and had also been beaten around the face, the groin, and the lumbar region with a hard object before he was shot in the head and chest. The victim, who was subsequently identified by his fingerprints as Alex Rackley, had died, a pathologist concluded, within the preceding twelve to twenty four hours.

Just after midnight on May 22nd, New Haven police acted on a tip supplied by an informant who identified a Polaroid photograph of the corpse as a man who had been tortured with scalding water in an apartment that served as the headquarter of the Black Panther Party. Around 12:30 A.M., they raided the apartment and arrested Warren Kimbro, thirty-five, one of the leaders of the New Haven chapter of the Black Panther Party, and five women members. Eventually, eight other Black Panthers, including Bobby Seale, the national chairman of the Party, were arrested, and all of those arrested, except two who were remanded to a juvenile court, were charged with complicity, in varying degrees, in the kidnaping or torture or murder of Alex Rackley, a twenty-four year old teenage member of the New York chapter of the Black Panther party.

Charles Garry immediately charged that "Rackley was killed by the police or by agents of some armed agency of the government." Holding that the murder victim was in "good standing" in the Party, he further declared, as quoted in Newsweek, "We have every reason to believe, and we intend to prove, when the time comes, that Rackley was murdered by police agents."

Even without proof, Garry’s version of the events gained wide currency. The U.P.I.'s listing of Panthers alleged by a Party spokesman to have been killed by the police cites "Alex Rackley" simply as " 'tortured and killed' by the police in New Haven, Conn., in May, 1969." At Yale, where a national May Day rally was held in the spring of 1970 to support the Panthers charged in the case, William Sloane Coffin, the Yale chaplain, described the trial of the accused Panthers as "Panther repression," and said, "All of us conspired to bring on this tragedy by law enforcement agencies by their illegal acts against the Panthers, and the rest of us by our immoral silence in front of these acts." At the same time, the president of Yale, King man Brewster, Jr., told striking students who were demanding, among other things, the release of the Black Panthers awaiting trial for Rackley's murder, that he was "skeptical of the ability of black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the United States," adding, "in large measure, the atmosphere has been created by police actions and prosecutions against the Panthers in many parts of the country."

At this point, the three Black Panther officers who were specifically accused of taking Rackley to the stream near Middlefield, Connecticut, where his body was found had long since admitted their participation in the killing. George Sams, Jr., a twenty-three year old Panther who had once held the rank of field marshal in the National Black Panther Party, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, which In Connecticut carries with it a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, and testified that in the early morning of May 21, 1969, he and Warren Kimbro and Lonnie McLucas, using a car that McLucas had borrowed, took Rackley, bound and gagged, from Black Panther headquarters in New Haven to a deserted spot off Route 147; there Kimbro, under Sams' direction, shot Rackley in the head with a .45-caliber pistol, and a few minutes later McLucas fired another shot into the body. Sams testified that he was acting under orders from the "national" Party personally given to him by Bobby Seale. Kimbro pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in January, 1970, and testified in open court that he fired the first shot into the back of Rackley's head after Sams said, "Now." Kimbro, however, refused to implicate Seale in the crime, testifying that he himself was asleep at the time Seale was said by Sams to have visited the headquarters. McLucas, twenty-three, a captain in the Black Panther Party and a founder of the Bridgeport chapter, gave the same general account of the killing to New Haven police detectives and F.B.I. agents two days after he was captured in Salt Lake City in June, 1969. During his own trial, at which he pleaded not guilty to the charge of conspiracy, McLucas testified that he drove Rackley, bound and gagged, along with Sams and Kimbro, from New Haven to Middlefield; after Kimbro had shot Rackley, McLucas said, Sams ordered him, McLucas, "to make sure he was dead." McLucas said he then fired a second bullet into Rackley. McLucas, like Kimbro, has not implicated Seale, although he acknowledged under cross-examination that at the time of the killing he believed be was acting under orders from "national headquarters." (McLucas was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to twelve to fifteen years in prison.)


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