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The Consequences of Panthermania

Suddenly—weird—along came these infuriated marshals from the local black community. Shouting "When you leave, we've got to live here!" they found themselves fighting across an iron fence against black students. Fighting black Harvard students—dream kids, for Godsake! Painful.

Walt Johnson and other black Yale students shrank in disgust from the spectacle of white radicals running loose across the Green.

"Credit-card revolutionaries," Walt Johnson pronounced them. "In July they'll be hitching to California on Carte Blanche. In August they'll be sitting in Allied Chemical discussing the great rally they pulled off in May."

The Panthers found themselves in the middle. Literally. The cops were behind them and the white militants were on the other side of the fence.

Over a milkyface boy in a Columbia T-shirt, who was viciously brandishing a broom handle, rose the imposing hulk of an aide to Doug Miranda.

"I want to kill a pig," whined the boy with the broom handle.

"What you got in your pocket, a yo-yo?" hollered the Panther. "You think those cops are packing plastic bullets? Who do you think they see first? The black faces, got it kid? All black faces look alike. Panther faces. What you think I got in my pocket, kid?"

Milkyface shrank into his Columbia T-shirt. The Panther slapped a hand on his pocket in a fake draw.

"I got a gun!"

Milkyface dropped his broom handle and ran. The Panther turned with a smile. For the spectators he pulled out his empty pocket lining.

"This is not the time!" the Panther hosts hollered through bullhorns and sound trucks all over town.

Unforgettable. A bizarre coalition of Panthers, black residents and Kingman Brewster, leading Yale's liberal elite, had saved the day. The Yale rally went down as a good political festival, just as Woodstock was the only good rock festival.

". . . If the Panther Party determines to survive at all costs, they may copy the Mafia. To belong one may have to kill a cop . . ."

July. Summer came but the people's army did not. New Haven's adult black community zeroed in on other, more urgent trials: how to scrape through the recession and send their children back to school. The rumor pump went dry.

Scrawny rallies staged across the street from Superior Courthouse scarcely made TV dinner news. Abbie Hoffman presided over one. He was thrown to the ground with a fearsome karate block by a girl from the resident Women's Collective.

Indeed, the only riot last summer erupted at Cozy Beach in East Haven. Italian against Italian in a three-day fire-setting melee over July Fourth. Embarrassing! Six men were arrested. But the outcome of these arrests was somehow never reported in the New Haven Register.

Confronting the Panther trial, however, New Haven's legal family was haunted by Chicago's experience with an antic conspiracy trial. As a state official sized up the New Haven situation last June: "We couldn't get a death penalty on the Panther case if guilt was written in stone."

First problem: how to select a jury of peers for black revolutionaries.

"Twelve elderly, uptight conservative blacks on a jury could be the worst news the Panthers ever had," one officer of the court said. He was equally concerned with the prospect of sending one black juror back to the wrath of the ghetto. The problem is, many black residents of New Haven County are unregistered and therefore scantily represented on juror lists.

"So," this observer guessed, "we'll get a mixed jury and a political verdict. A compromise. If we can avoid another Fred Hampton situation, I think we can get this trial into focus."

State's Attorney Arnold Markle knew his town. A short, feisty man who speaks to the snap of his expandable watchband, he is anxiously liberal. Quick to admit his home state has one of the most unprogressive criminal codes in the nation, he instituted classes to educate police officers on the rights of the accused. He has worked hard to abolish the death penalty and liberalize narcotics laws. But he was determined to break the hold of Panthermania on his town.

"Sure, lots of Washington people would love to get their hands into this trial and make a name for themselves," Markle said last spring, clamping down on a meerschaum. He paused to carve dead tobacco out of his pipe. "But I'm not about to let that happen. Or to let the defense get the bad press they want, to build a case of political persecution."

Markle made good on his promise. He won a court order prohibiting "extra-judicial statements" by practically everybody connected with the trial, which considerably lowered the voice of the press.

The Trial. What had begun with the arrest of seven political infants and a resident idealist, having already unleashed incredible racial combustion across the nation, came finally to public view fourteen months later on. Now it was billed with all the really-big-show words in the indictment: Conspiracy to murder, kidnaping resulting in death, conspiracy to kidnap, and binding with intention to commit a crime.


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