The Black Panthers and the Police:
A Pattern of Genocide? (page 4)


February 13, 1971

by Edward Jay Epstein


In summarizing the deaths of various Black Panthers, the Times quoted "sources in Chicago" as saying that Larry Roberson "died in jail after being wounded in [a] shoot-out during a police raid — a statement suggesting that he was shot during a planned police action against a Panther office.

The picture of what happened that can be pieced together from police records, independent witnesses, and even the Black Panther newspaper is very different. At 2:01 A.M. On July 16, 1969, the Chicago police received a "citizen's complaint" that a fruit stand had been burglarized at 610 California Street, in the West Side ghetto. A radio dispatcher routinely recorded this information on a computer card used for statistical analysis of complaints and crime patterns, and dispatched the patrol car that his electronic map indicated was nearest to the scene Car No. 1124, manned by Officers Kenneth Gorles and Daniel Sampila. According to Sampila's subsequent report, the officers arrived at the fruit stand at about 2:05 A.M. and were met by Mr. and Mrs. Burman Jenkins, friends of its owner, who pointed out a hole in the door of the stand. The two policemen, led by Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, then followed a trail of apples and oranges to a passage way, where they found two empty fruit baskets. While the police were flashing a searchlight around, the group encountered Larry Roberson, twenty one, and Grady Moore, twenty-eight, who identified themselves as "community leaders, ”and were told by Sampila to "mind their own business." The group, followed by Roberson and Moore, then returned to the fruit stand, where they were met by the Reverend Edmond Jones, who owned the fruit stand, and another of his friends, the Reverend Clarence Edward Stowers, who was the pastor at the nearby Mars Hill Missionary Baptist Church. A few minutes later, the two policemen and Jenkins were shot. In a statement Stowers made later, he described what happened this way:

“Reverend Jones, Jenkins, myself, and the two officers were standing there talking about boarding up the door. Two men walked up and started looking in the hole in the door and asking what had happened. The officers told them that every thing was taken care of and they should leave. One of the men had his hand in his pocket, and the officer shined his light on the man. The man asked him why was he shining the light on him and don't be doing that. Then the shooting started. The officers had their guns in their holsters so it must have been the men that were shooting. One of the officers fell down and the other one got hit in the shoulder. I remember it was only one of the two men that was shooting. He turned and ran up the alley. I don't know where the other one went to. Well, anyway the policeman that had fallen to the ground got up and started chasing the man that was shooting at us. They ran down the alley and I heard more shots.”

Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins agreed with this account, Mr. Jenkins adding:

“One man shouted something and started shooting ... after the first shot one officer fell to his knees, the second shot hit officer Gorles, and the third shot hit me.”

Roberson, pursued through the alley, was shot in the ankle, in the thigh, and in the abdomen by Sampila before he surrendered. According to the Chicago crime laboratory, the bullets that struck Gorles (in the left shoulder and collarbone, Sampila (in the head), and Jenkins (in the right side) all came from a .38-caliber snub-nosed Smith & Wesson taken from Roberson. This turned out to be a stolen weapon. Roberson was arrested on charges of attempted murder and was admitted to the Cermak Memorial Hospital, where he underwent surgery. Seven weeks later, be contracted jaundice and died in the Cook County Hospital.

A somewhat different version of the incident was provided by the Black Panther newspaper, which reported, in August:

“On July 17, 1969, two brothers in the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party were returning to their community after finishing a day of revolutionary work for the people's Party. On this particular night they noticed the pigs had nine brothers on the wall next to a storefront, harassing them. Five of the brothers were in ages ranging from 50-60 years old. The pigs claimed they were answering a burglary in process call. Can you imagine men 50-62 years old burglarizing a store in their own community? Well, after investigating the matter and coming to the conclusion that this was just another racist act of harassment committed by the pigs on the people, Larry Roberson and Grady Moore walked over to the scene where the majority of the people had gone and asked an officer what was going on. The pig then demagogically replied "This is none of your damn business."

Larry then stated "I am a member of this community and even by your laws I have the right to know what's going on." The crazy pig then said "smart bastard, you're under arrest for disorderly conduct." The people of the community immediately got between Larry and the pigs, and the pig drew his gun and ordered them aside while his pig partner radioed for help. Larry then (with the instructions from the people) was told to go home because the people hadn't seen him do anything, so he and Grady started away and the pig deliberately shot Larry in the leg. Grady grabbed Larry to help him to try to escape with his life. This whole area was sealed off with crazy, drunk, inhuman pigs. Larry was then cornered in an alley, unarmed and wounded. As the pig approached him, he oinked "I'll teach you and your partner how to interfere with pig matters." He then aimed at Larry's head. It was true that Larry was unarmed, but being a Panther and a stone revolutionary, he had educated the true power— the people. As the pig was ready to squeeze the trigger, the power of the people was demonstrated. A voice quoted Huey: "You racist pigs must withdraw immediately from the black community and cease this wanton murder and brutality of black people or face the wrath of the armed people." Then, the shots from the people rang out from everywhere for about 30 seconds: then it ceased. One pig shot in the head and one pig shot in the shoulder. Larry and Grady then started to make it when more pigs arrived. Larry and Grady turned and raised their hands. "The pig that was shot in the shoulder raised his gun and shot Brother Larry in the stomach, thigh and leg trying to kill him. Grady, evidently escaped death when the people in the community came out to witness the action.”

The statements that Roberson was unarmed and that the "people" did the shooting were contradicted by a subsequent report in the Black Panther newspaper, which said that "determined to defend himself even after he being shot, Larry managed to get his gun out and wound two of the attacking maniacs." But the Panther version and the police version agree in a number of significant respects: the encounter was accidental, not planned; the Panthers approached the police rather than the other way around; and two police officers were shot before Roberson was seriously wounded in the abdomen.

Even accepting the Panther version, Roberson was wounded in an incident no one had planned.


According to Life, Bobby Hutton. the seventeen-year-old minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, was killed and Eldridge Cleaver was wounded in an "Oakland police ambush" in 1968. The Times quoted Garry as attributing Hutton's death to a "Police ambush."

Shortly after 9 p.m. on April. 6, 1968, Officers Nolan R. Darnell and Richard R. Jensen, while on patrol in the area of Oakland, California, that is predominately inhabited by blacks, stopped their patrol car on Union Street next to a parked 1954 Ford when they caught a glimpse of a man crouching at the curb side of the car. In their report, they said that they suspected he might be trying to steal it. Moments later, while investigating the situation, both officers were hit by bullets fired from behind them. Afterward, forty-nine bullet holes were found in the police car, the rear window had "two large areas shot inward," and the side windows and the open door, next to which Darnell was standing at the time, had also been hit numerous times. According to medical reports prepared by Dr. William Mills, Jr., of Samuel Merritt Hospital, Darnell was wounded in the "upper right back." Jensen, apparently hit by a shotgun blast from a 12-gauge shotgun, suffered multiple wounds in the "lower right back," in the "right arm," and in the "right ankle and foot." According to Darnell, a number of men armed with shotguns and rifles ran from cars parked behind and ahead of the 1954 Ford, some of them through an alley into the block across the street, while Darnell urgently called for help on the police radio.

An account of the incident in the Black Panther newspaper said, "Several Panthers in cars in West Oakland on Saturday night, April 6th, were approached by two pigs and menaced with guns. When the Panthers tried to defend themselves, shooting began, and the Panthers ran into a nearby house.... Two pigs were wounded slightly." Four Black Panthers gave statements to the police in which they said that they had been patrolling the neighborhood with guns, in three cars, to protect Negroes against police brutality"' and had just parked their cars on Union Street in order to stow their weapons in a nearby house when the patrol car pulled up, but the four disclaimed any knowledge of how the shooting began. Cleaver later said in an interview that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, "I don't know how those cops got shot. There were so many bullets whizzing around they may have shot themselves.

In any event, after the two police men were shot, police from other parts of West Oakland and even from nearby Emeryville, responding to the radio alarm, surrounded a building on Twenty-eighth Street that the Panthers had entered, and there ensued a ninety-minute gun battle, in which a third policeman was wounded. Finally, after an exploding tear-gas canister had set fire to the building, two Panthers emerged: Cleaver, naked, and wounded by a tear-gas shell, and Hutton, fully clothed. According to police witnesses, Hutton suddenly bolted down Twenty-eighth Street, whereupon at least half a dozen policemen opened fire, fatally wounding him. Cleaver, in the Chronicle interview, gave a different version of the shooting of Hutton. He admitted that Hutton had fired some shots at the police, but said that he himself "took Bobby's gun and threw it out" of the window, that is, and that they both came out unarmed. "The cops told us to get up and start running for the squad car," Cleaver continued. "Bobby started running -- he ran about ten yards -- and they started shooting him." The grand jury, after hearing thirty-five witnesses, concluded that the police had "acted lawfully," shooting Hutton in the belief he was trying to escape.

Eight other Panthers, including Cleaver, who were allegedly involved in the shooting of the policemen were arrested that night and then were released on bail. Two of the eight were subsequently convicted of assault with deadly weapons; one was released to a juvenile court; one was tried and convicted for an unrelated armed robbery and sent to state prison; one, Cleaver, jumped bail and fled the country.


At about 4:45 p.m. on August 5, 1968, in a predominantly Negro section of Los Angeles, three Black Panthers were fatally shot and two policemen were wounded, one critically, in a shootout at Ham's Mobil Service Station.

Fifteen minutes earlier, Police Officers Rudy Limas and Norman J. Roberge were on a routine patrol when, according to their reports, they saw a black 1955 Ford with four men in it start up a private driveway, stop suddenly, then back down the driveway.

Finding the movements suspicious, the policemen began following the Ford, whose occupants, Limas noted, kept "'looking back." Limas then called the police communications center on the patrol car's radio and gave the Ford's license number, to ascertain whether it had been reported stolen. Before a reply could be received, the Ford pulled into Ham's service station and stopped by a gas pump. The police car stopped a few feet behind it, and Roberge, according to his statement, asked the driver of the Ford for his license. The driver, Roberge reported, "replied that they didn't have a driver's license," whereupon Roberge "instructed the driver to go back to the police car and place his hands on top of the police car." Roberge then ordered the three other suspects out of the Ford and over to the police car. "At this time," Roberge stated, "the suspects were standing in a row facing the police vehicle" between the two police officers.

Limas gave the following description of what happened next: "Suddenly, the guy in front of me, who I think was wearing a yellow shirt and dark pants, spun around and pointed a gun at me, and the others moved at the same time. The guy in the yellow shirt said, 'O.K., m-f-' and then he shot me." According to medical reports and testimony, Limas was shot in the abdomen and the thigh, with a bullet lodging in the hip. Roberge stated, "As I walked toward the police vehicle, I saw my partner, Officer Limas, standing to the left rear of the police vehicle on the other side of the group, facing me. Suddenly I heard some shots and I was knocked to the ground." According to the medical evidence, Roberge was shot in both legs. In the gun battle that followed, Limas fatally shot "the guy in the yellow shirt" and a second suspect, who was "trying to load a 9mm pistol," and Roberge "emptied" his gun at a third suspect. The fourth man who had been in the car fled on foot.

There were two independent witnesses to the shooting -- the service station attendants, Shoji Katayama and Eugene Oba. Katayama, who explained that he was standing US the pumps,stated in a deposition:

A black 4-door Ford pulled into the station, pursued by a police car. There were 4 Negroes in the Ford. The driver and front passenger both got out and opened the hood of the car. The two officers immediately got out and ordered all four to the police car with their hands leaning on it. The driver of the Ford looked like to me he hesitated a while and was smoking a cigarette. As the driver with the cigarette came to the car, the Mexican officer [Limas] ordered him not to put out the cigarette [near the pumps], and at that point I heard a couple of shots and I looked up and saw the Mexican officer on the ground and the male Negro with the khaki shirt (Army type) with the gun in his hand....

The other attendant, Oba, had been returning to the office when the shooting began. He gave a similar account of the incident, adding only that after the first round of shots, he"saw the Caucasian officer shooting at the Negro men."

When the shooting stopped, a few minutes later, three men were dead or dying -- Thomas Melvin Lewis, eighteen, "the guy in the yellow shirt;" Robert A. Lawrence, twenty-two; and Steven Kenneth Bartholomew, twenty-one. The Black Panther Party stated that they were all Black Panthers. The fourth suspect, who was subsequently identified by his palm prints on the police car as Anthony Reno Bartholomew, the nineteen-year-old brother of Steven, later surrendered voluntarily to a judge, and was arraigned on two counts of assault with intent to commit murder. Anthony Bartholomew's lawyer, Gary Bellow, a well-known civil rights attorney who has handled a number of Black Panther cases in Los Angeles, noted in a memorandum filed with the court, "There is no dispute that the police officers, Norman Roberge and Rudy Limas, were criminally assaulted on August 5, 1968," but went on to argue that his client had not in fact taken part in the gun battle. Anthony Bartholomew was found not guilty.


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