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The Consequences of Panthermania

Sunday, May 18. Two girls barely past puberty strayed in with vacant eyes and cardboard suitcases.

"Lonnie's friends from Bridgeport," somebody said.

Ericka and George Sams ordered one child to the kitchen to boil water. The second stray child was ordered to sleep with the suspect Rackley to get information out of him. The air pulsed with cross-currents of suspicion. George Sams had just put Rackley in the cellar. He would direct an interrogation of Rackley and record the proceedings on tape for national headquarters.

George Sams had learned party rules. Individualism on the Body Is Counter-Revolutionary. Meaning sex on party time is a no-no. But this didn't inhibit shy, romantic but exuberant Lonnie McLucas nor the exuberant Peggy Hudgins. They had fallen in love at first sight in February. Lonnie was at pains to prove his mettle to Peggy, which under the circumstances would not be easy. Lonnie and Warren Kimbro and George Edwards were low men on the totem pole. While the big shots waltzed in and out to Hartford, dropping orders, these three were left home with the girls to mind Rackley.

"Call Trailways Bus Company," came a surprise directive from Sams to Kimbro. "Find out what it costs to go down to New York." Alone briefly with his victim, Sams considered turning him loose. But Rackley complained he couldn't find a jacket. A jacket, what the hell kind of excuse was that! Sams ordered the victim taken from the cellar to an upstairs bedroom, where the interrogation resumed in earnest.

George Sams projects the air of a streetcorner hipster in early fifties shoulder pads. There's no mistaking the old diddy-bop walk . . . that sinking-down-in-the-ankles walk which sets the chin to sliding in and out and gives the over-all effect of a man moving on ball bearings. On him the Afro never quite came off. It looked more like a pompadour. Raised poor in the South by his father, George was three times shunted into mental institutions, once labeled a "dangerous mental defective."

". . . They needed more than a whimpering, tortured halfwit to build a purge on . . ."

George has been expelled twice by the Panthers. Or once. Depending on which day one asks.

"It was only once I was put out of the party, when I was expelled out by Chairman Bobby Seale," Sams later decided under cross-examination. "But I was reinstated by Stokely Carmichael."

Alex Rackley had claimed he could not read. But Sunday morning Sams found him lying in bed with Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-tung. Outrageous! Ericka was called in.

"So then the brother [Rackley] got some discipline in the area of the nose and mouth," said Mrs. Huggins, describing the scene while Sams tape-recorded her voice, "and the brother began to show cowardly tendencies, began to whimper and moan. We began to realize how phony he was and that he was either an extreme fool or a pig. So we began to ask questions with a little coercive force and the answers came after a few buckets of hot water. We found out that he was an informer."

Monday, May 19. The day began badly. Sobbing and choking on the upstairs bed, Rackley pulled out names. "Steve . . . Janet . . . Jack Bright . . . Akbar . . . Lonnie Epps . . . I heard a conversation between Janet Serno and Inspector Hill of the 28th Precinct . . ." At one point George Sams paused to give his victim a cold shower. It went like that into Tuesday. This scramble-minded boy sang an operetta out of the telephone book, longing to impress his inquisitors, while they copied every police interrogation technique they knew in the interest of their own survival.

Kimbro and McLucas got orders from Williams and Hithe. "Get Rackley ready to be taken away. Find a car. Call Hartford and tell those dudes to bring down some political power" (meaning—off the phone—guns). The officials left and confusion resumed.

A local newspaperman arrived that afternoon to interview the Panthers "about your different programs around New Haven." Chatty . . . a few Panthers doing a living room interview around a coffee table in which a rifle was hidden . . . while Alex Rackley lay spreadeagled and naked on the upstairs bed, alternately being scalded, bathed and recorded for headquarters.

Hithe returned during the interview; Williams followed. About now these two officials sent to straighten out the East Coast began to lose their grip.

Fortunately they were not around when the Hugginses, John's parents, unexpectedly drove by. They hadn't seen Ericka for more than a week. They were out searching for their granddaughter Mai.

"We have some baby clothes . . ." But Ericka had already left Orchard Street.


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