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Black Against Black: The Agony of Panthermania

"Get to a pay phone, sister. Upstairs by the cafeteria. You put in a call to Jimeni Jomo every fifteen minutes. Tell him Stoddy told you to call. Every fifteen minutes if things are cool, you say into the phone, 'Everything okay,' see? If and when something comes down, you yell 'Vita'!"

The girl did as she was told because she knew the name Jimeni Jomo belonged to a minor warlord in US.

A getaway car was already backing into a restricted parking lot, two hundred yards from the student center. Harry Carey, a UCLA black, spotted them first: Chockezi (Claude Herbert) and Watani (Larry Stiner) and Tuwala (Harold Jones). Three sets of mountainous shoulders draped in zonko-print dashikis, bulking out of the car doors. The first two walked nice and loose from the Humanities Building toward the student center, caressing the guns in their belts. Tuwala went straight for the infamously loud Panther sister, Elaine Brown. She happened to be passing alone through the basement of the student center. Unaware, in a black leather coat.

Tuwala hoisted her up by the coat buttons. One ripped off. She gave no scream. This Elaine Brown—who today commands the whole Southern California Panther district—was no hysterical car-hop cutie. Her specialty at political meetings was the Pussy Power speech. With it Elaine Brown originated the concept that a woman's function is to use her body to entice men into the Panther Party. (A lesson Ericka Huggins absorbed.) With the threats of Tuwala, therefore, Elaine Brown dealt one to one.

"Get your m-f-ing hands off me, nigger!"

Bunchy Carter passed the door just as Tuwala was dropping his hands. Outraged that he had not been summoned, using the white Southern vernacular reserved for insults among rival black militants, Bunchy hollered at Elaine:

"If a nigger ever grabs you like that again, I want you to hit that nigger!"

John Huggins, ignorant of the developing showdown, was upstairs waiting outside the cafeteria to begin a meeting with black faculty. Bunchy Carter rushed up to report to John. But even as the two Panthers stepped into the cafeteria, Tuwala was already planted on a chair. Sitting up front and center, a perfect bullseye, Tuwala was ready and facing the door.

". . . John's bravura death sent shock waves across three thousand miles, to other young blacks with a lust for the apocalypse . . ."

Just before noon the tipoff girl put in her last call to say "Everything okay." Then gunfire began to howl and screech in the air, ricocheting off walls and thundering out the cafeteria door in volleys of incessant satanic fury. The tipoff girl split. "Vita," she remembered, in Swahili means "war."

John Huggins caught the first dumdum bullet in a vital blood vessel, one-eighth of an inch from his heart. It severed his aorta. John went down for dead. Terrified students pasted themselves on the floor. Now shots began flying from all sides and US goons were coming off the wall, but Bunchy Carter spotted the triumphant way Chockezi held his .38. Limp for an instant. And then tip-tick—Chockezi slipped into his weapon a new lump of dumdum lead.

Bunchy leaped over Tuwala's chair with his arms out for the assassin of John Huggins. Chockezi, with a purer aim this time, drove his second bullet into Bunchy Carter's heart. Tuwala split. Stiner was bailing out the second-floor window. But it was not over. With one deafening blast after another, something like cannon fire was bombarding the exit.

John Huggins! His finger was pulling in spasms on the trigger of a 357 Magnum. A weapon powerful enough to make paper clips of a car engine, so deadly that law enforcement officers are forbidden to use it—the Magnum seemed to have control of a dead man's hand. John Huggins, sprawled in a lake of backed-up aortic blood with zero elevation, kept hugging the trigger of his Magnum until the goons reached their getaway car and roared out of UCLA like a scalded dog. Then the spasms stopped. John Huggins joined Bunchy Carter on the floor and was quiet.

Reverberations from that brutal shootout have not yet stopped. In the first wave, all Panther students left UCLA. Bright young black men like John Huggins' best friend, Albert Armor, the son of a Los Angeles doctor, turned bitter (a year later Armor had two felony charges pending). Elaine Brown devoted her life to the Panthers. But the first order of business was revenge on US. Four Panthers including Elaine Brown turned up to testify at the trial of Karenga's black nationalists.

"I couldn't have prosecuted that case without the Panthers' help," admits the Assistant District Attorney of Los Angeles, Steve Trott. "The real tragedy of the whole thing was John and Bunchy. They and the Panthers were just becoming part of the educational scene at UCLA. They didn't get much of a chance."


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