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The Consequences of Panthermania

"Man, I had no idea how widespread and powerful the party is," he says. He runs over the testimony from his point of view: George Sams hopping taxis to Jersey, jiving all over the country in planes and Mustangs, laying his hands on petty cash to go wherever he wants to go. What gets him, as it probably gets thousands of young men immobilized in dull jobs in dud towns—what really appeals about the Panther Party beyond its complicated political visions—is summed up in the final comment of Lonnie's cousin:

"Those cats do more travelin' than rich folks!"

Bread and Roses Coffeehouse.

Eyes shut behind plywood windows. The coffeehouse is closing tomorrow at midnight. Inside, the Movement is eating its last supper in New Haven. Desultory trial-watchers and stragglers from the collectives, which never pulled more than 200 people into New Haven at any one time, sit behind bowls of Chlodnik and Familia not saying much of anything.

"As usual," confides a disillusioned summer radical, "the white revolutionaries are trying to do something good but they're messing it up. Worst part is how cruel they are. They have no humanitarian feelings for anyone outside the movement."

A tired, scholarly-looking young man drizzles into the booth beside us. He mentions he is from the Liberation School.

"Looks like you're about to close up, too," someone says.

"Tomorrow. Frustrated."

"Why is that?"

"For the obvious reasons," says the Liberation School worker. "We couldn't organize the community. The workers wouldn't listen to us. The trial's a bore."

Slabammmm! He blows in with chin whiskers and a loosely hung brown polo shirt. Packing a Nikon. A stranger, slapping back the old saloon door to set hearts afire and teeth once again on edge in the Bread and Roses Coffeehouse.

"I'm a photographer for Quicksilver Times," he announces. "Just blew in from Washington." He adjusts his mirror shades to glint us all straight in the eye.

The young man from New Haven's Liberation School slides him a handbill, recounting the week's trial proceedings. Quicksilver reads two, maybe three paragraphs.

"I'm speechless! How long has this mother trial been goin' on? What's the movement doing about this?" Quicksilver begins running it down for everybody. "Man, this is a really heavy city. You see a pig every ten seconds. And they got these green lights on their cars. This is an effing fascist state. I never seen a place that needs work so bad."

The Liberation School man comes briefly to life.

"Are you familiar with New Haven's Model City background? Did you know the conspiracy against the BPP started with the raid here?"

"I dig," snaps Quicksilver. He lifts his polo shirt and flaps it around a little to cool himself off. While the Liberation School man goes into his political education speech, Quicksilver is rolling a spitball out of the trial news.

"Yeaaaah," exhales Quicksilver. "I'm serious about staying in this city!" He leaps to his feet and hoists out the door, promising to return after he takes care of a little business.

Exactly ten minutes later, beaming, the Quicksilver Times photographer returns. "What a shot I got of Sams with a telephoto! Got him coming out of the courthouse, full face."

"You gonna stay around?" tests the Liberation School man.

"Well, I just met a cat on the street who says DC is really getting together."

"Yeah, and—"

"So maybe New Haven isn't the place to work. DC needs me, man."

The Liberation School veteran is already fading behind his bowl of Chlodnik.

"Hey," Quicksilver brightens, "want me to send you a contact of the Sams shot?"

That was about the level of commitment and duration of conviction brought to bear by the People's army on the liberation of New Haven last summer.

Lonnie McLucas smiled. The trial turned on that fact, which pretty much left revolutionary purists nothing to do but go home mad. Lonnie was every lawyer's ideal defendant: bright-eyed, boyishly handsome, a little shy, an intelligent look about him and an irresistibly gentle manner. Furthermore, he was neat. Brass-buttoned - blazer neat. Stylish in his butterscotch shirt and print silk Christmas tie, impeccable down to his British ankle boots—but not, how shall one say, too showy.

They loved it. The white-pocketbook jury out of the Naugatuck Valley, fully assembled on August 11, was already in Lonnie's pocket.

A folksy group out of 242 New Haven country electors examined on political and racial attitudes, these jurors—two black men, ten whites and one black woman alternate—were chosen primarily for their parochial attitudes. The Panthers were to be judged by people who seldom if ever read about racial matters, much less about Panthers. Lonnie smiled at each one who smiled back. He took notes.


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