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The Consequences of Panthermania

It was pure theater! Lonnie McLucas was no sulky defendant. He was the director here, the LeRoi Jones of this Broadway-tryout town, swiveling in his director's chair to size up actors, audience, reviewers. Jotting notes toward the final script polish. Attorney Koskoff was the producer. He wanted it played straight.

The jury spent 33 hours cooped up in a jury room measuring 14 by 15 feet. In their hands was the power to convict Lonnie McLucas for:

Kidnapping resulting in death; penalty death.

Conspiracy to kidnap; maximum penalty 30 years.

Binding with intent to commit a crime; maximum penalty 25 years.

Conspiracy to murder; maximum penalty 15 years.

Smiling rings of joy, Lonnie McLucas emerged from the courtroom into a jubilant crowd of supporters. Together they saluted the verdict with clenched fists. The young Panther had been acquitted of the first three charges and convicted of conspiracy to murder, which carried the lightest penalty.

"Lonnie McLucas is a very gentle man," asserted one satisfied juror. "He's no detriment to society. It's his testimony that freed him, not his defense." But what the juror really meant, the apparent key that unlocked a sympathetic response to this particular black revolutionary, was Lonnie's delivery of his testimony.

Beyond the Trial

The Manson trial eclipsed New Haven through July. Our fickle media went for the traditional Hollywood-style sex-dope-murder trial. In early August New Haven paled again before accounts of the Marin County shootout. California again, but this time the California Panthers outdid themselves and surpassed most of the cherished desperadoes in American history for sheer theatrical-political virtuosity.

Jonathan Jackson and two armed companions literally stopped a trial dead. Taping a gun barrel to the judge's head, they posed for their own photographer, liberated two prisoners and spun off in a van with their hostages through rabid police lines into a kamikaze bloodbath. What's more, the guns were allegedly supplied by California's pet liberal heroine, the beautiful, brilliant and persecuted UCLA teacher under the sizzling Afro—Angela Davis. At first she vanished into the Ten Most Wanted list. Now she languishes in a New York prison, fighting extradition. She had left California liberals dangling just as Eldridge Cleaver had done. And several weeks after the shootout, an agent was phoning around to sell Angela's own story for $100,000. Exquisite!

The Panthers' newspaper took New Haven by the hand and explained the uses of public homicide and progammatic suicide:

Every black person in this country must understand that which is happening in New Haven. Lonnie's railroad is almost over. We said at the beginning of the trial that the pigs would hurriedly in an unconstitutional manner try to convict Lonnie. This has happened. That is the main reason why brothers like Jonathan Jackson (etc.) are and were justified in their assaults on the pig judge, the racist jurors and the fascist police of Marin County.

Revolutionary suicide [is] the new educational tool for the people!

Three thousand people poured forth from the Oakland community to salute the suicidal revolutionaries. Since John Huggins' death, the recruiting potential of a Panther funeral had increased tenfold.

"The Black Panther Party will follow the example set by these revolutionaries," prophesied Huey Newton in a riveting eulogy.

"There is a big difference between thirty million unarmed black people and thirty million black people armed to the teeth. The high tide of revolution is about to sweep the shores of America . . ."

Panthermania, of course, re-ignited New Haven. But the fires were quiet and hidden inside the children.

Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins are scheduled to take the stand this week. It is almost two years since the Black Panther Party came to town, but the old burns, far from healed, will be uncovered again on the raw skin of black New Haven.

Warren Kimbro will almost certainly be called back to testify . . . Betty Kimbro Osborne will go back to sleeping fitfully on the living room couch, to keep her bitterness from poisoning her family, Ericka Huggins will bring back the apparition of John Huggins . . . his parents will look again at the baby, Mai. Tiny black girl-child in a berserk land—is she the orphan of a nearly burnt-out revolution? Is she the symbol of a hard-won pride? Or is she the promise of a future race war in which single human beings must be sacrificed for the collective political point?

We wait for an answer to come out of New Haven, the Model City.