The Richmond VA Black Panther Party Information Center was located at 8 E. Baker St., That same Group of Panthers Expected a Raid & This Chapter was connected to The Washington D.C. Chapter
The confrontational tone of these early days of the D.C. chapter resulted in intense surveillance and persecution of the Panthers. Willie Dawkins, organizer, Jim Williams, coordinator, and Charles Brunson minister of defense, provided the local leadership which oversaw the NCCF transform into an official Black Panther Party during summer 1970. Hilliard himself placed Charles Brunson, a senior Panther member, in charge of organizing and securing the Convention site. In August 1970 he was charged for the unregistered weapons confiscated by the police on the Fourth of July raid. The D.C. police department, the U.S. Attorney’s office and lawyers for the Panthers worked together to avert a potentially explosive situation.
They allowed Brunson, charged with possession of a prohibited weapon, to surrender voluntarily in the Court of General Sessions rather than issue an arrest warrant. The U. S. Attorney explained that the warrant was not issued because, “Experience in other cities indicates they have had major confrontations.” So, “when we have a viable alternative, we should use it.” The government wanted to avoid another major raid but continue the pressure on the Panther chapter.
The Richmond Black Panther Party, The Richmond Five Case, and Zayd Shakur Connection – Haki Kweli Shakur
Zayd Shakur, Panther deputy minister of information for the East Coast, stated that if a warrant was issued, police will be allowed to search Panther offices or homes “as long as they are accompanied by members of the community, namely the Citizens’ Board of the Pilot Precinct Project and our attorneys.” He also said that “the person that the police are looking for is not in any of our offices or homes” but also “judging from the repressive history meted out against our party and black people here in Babylon, we think it would be stupid and absurd for us to turn over one of our members to barbaric tortures.”85 Shakur came down to the D.C. chapter from New York City after the July 4th raid, and guided the response of the Panthers for the next few months. The Panthers continued their belligerent tone for the next six months.86
The height of publicity of the D.C. Panthers came in the first months of existence, from June to November 1970. The Panthers were in every newspaper in D.C. and the chapter enjoyed new recruits among local black radicals.
The Growth of the chapter was problematic because many new recruits were enchanted by the image of the Panthers, and knew little about the Ten Point Platform and the community services central to goals of the party. The Black Panther’s major confrontation with the Metropolitan Police happened within two weeks of its formation, and the Washington chapter felt it was necessary to publicly explain to the community and other radicals why it did not have a shoot out with the police. The Black United Front, a rival Black Nationalist organization, questioned the tough talk of the Panthers, and used the raid as an example of Panther bluster and cowardice.
In an open letter to the community the D.C. Panthers responded to the Black United Front. On one side of the letter was drawn an armed Panther holding a bloody machete and a pig’s head with a police officer’s cap, and while the other side declared the chapter’s position on the raid. Entitled “Death to the Fascist Pigs,” the letter was distributed with Black Panther Newspapers and outside the community information center and Chapter headquarters. It challenged the rumor that the Panthers were scared of the police.
“Some of our peoples that weren’t on the scene are wondering if we violated our principles by not wiping out the first of those gangsters that crashed through our door. Then some of our comrades who weren’t at the scene are questioning the order that was given to ‘hold our fire until we’re fired upon.’” The D.C. Panthers went on:
“We’ll kill anybody that stands in the way of our freedom. And because they were able to take four of our weapons and beat us after we didn’t shoot, they still can’t stop us. How can they?
We will take a hundred beatings as long as it educates our people on the necessity of arming themselves. Every attack the pigs make brings them closer to their DOOM!
The flyer was meant to assure Washington’s black community the Panthers were prepared to fight the law. The Panthers were focused on being the most radical, the most revolutionary group in D.C. Under direction of Zayd Shakur, the Panthers continued preaching military revolution. By 1970 the National Committee began to purge its most militant and violent members. The split between Cleaver and Newton began with these purges. Cleaver preached the need for urban guerrilla warfare and Newton declared community organization and education the number one priority. Shakur and his wife, Assata Shakur, left the Panthers in the fall of 1970 to join Eldridge Cleaver’s splinter group the Black Liberation Army, a much more militant and violent revolutionary group comprised of the most militant ex-members of the Panthers. In 1973 Zayd Shakur and a New Jersey State Trooper were killed in a shootout on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike, and Assata Shakur was arrested for the death of the trooper. In 1979 she escaped prison and fled to Cuba, where she currently resides.88 The Panthers who gravitated to Cleaver’s group often ended up imprisoned or killed; at the national level the Panthers refocused on community survival programs.
The violent tone and confrontational posture of the chapter kept it in the sights of the Metropolitan Police and the FBI. With Charles Brunson charged, law enforcement continued surveillance and worked on infiltration and building a network of informants to destabilize and destroy the Panthers in D.C.
The FBI’s Counter Intelligence Project (CONITELPRO) used eavesdropping, bogus mail, disinformation, and harassment arrests to deepen the split and create animosity between Panther leaders. The FBI and local law enforcement created intense pressure on the D.C. Panthers, especially by manufacturing threats from rival black revolutionary groups such as the Black Nationalists. The FBI used agent provocateurs and infiltrators to sow dissent in the leadership of Panthers, and advocated violence that often ended in arrest or death.
The Panthers in D.C. had to deal with this persecution of local law enforcement and the strife that afflicted the National Headquarters. By the end of 1970 the Black Panther’s national circulation reached 250,000, and the Panthers continued to use the paper to fund the party. 99 In D.C., the members of the Panther chapter continued to pound the pavement and spread the word. Osa Massen, a sixteen-year-old member of the party recalled selling papers on 14th and H in front of the Waxie Maxie record store, a popular hangout where “everyone” went. “I can remember having conversations with people going in and out of the record store. It really was a good feeling to sell all of them.”100 She stated how “we also had an information table in front of the house where we would sell books or give out information, and I would sometimes sit out there to speak with the people in the community.”101 The dedication and devotion of some members began to change the perception of the Panthers as violent militants.
Sherry Brown, the Minister of Information for the D.C. and Baltimore Panther chapters, described competing cultural nationalist organizations in the District, including Stokely Carmichael’s All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (AAPRP). The AAPRP, Black United Front, and other Pan-Africanist organizations felt the Black Panthers should not associate with SDS and other white leftists, particularly the Patriots. They felt black activists should not look to white activists for help, and “D.C.’s cultural nationalists had a more nationalistic line about black community, exclusively black police, businesses, government.”102 The former Minister of Information of the D.C. Panthers stated his group had a coalition building and international approach; and the Panthers took a lot of criticism in the black community for their cooperation with white radicals.103 By fall of 1970 the Black Panther Party leadership supported coalitions with groups working for female and gay liberation, and in the Shaw/Cordozo/Columbia Heights neighborhoods cultural nationalists used these unpopular issues to deter recruits from joining the D.C. chapter and steer them to other organizations.
When asked about the paucity of recruits in D.C., Sherry Brown stated that, “it was a very white-collar, very bourgeois city. D.C. was more of a middle-class city, unlike the Baltimore and Philly chapters that had many more members and had a lot more going on. Baltimore and Philadelphia were blue collar, were more lumpen proletariat folks, and they were the primary recruiting target. Panthers would work with the poorest of the poor. Washington had more government jobs here and had a more bourgeois orientation.”
104 The lack of heavy industry, such as the steel mills and ports in Baltimore, made Washington harder to organize. Much of the District’s black workforce was not unionized, and therefore less class-conscious than other industrial cities.
In the fall of 1970 the Panthers sued the Metropolitan Police for the July 4th raid. The Washington chapter lawyers filed a $1 million dollar lawsuit against the police, and a week later on October 17th all charges against those arrested in the confrontation were dropped, including the charges against Charles Brunson for possession of illegal weapons.105 The Panthers were sure that they would be raided again, and desired greater firepower.
Charles Brunson, a founding member of the chapter and in charge of convention organization, again was jailed on weapons charges from a traffic stop on Interstate 95 in Virginia.
Brunson’s path to imprisonment began with the theft of a Chinese sub- machine gun and a Russian light machine gun from the residence of a Richmond, Virginia gun collector in October 1970. In Richmond, contacts with the Black Panthers in Washington told of the cache, now including German machine guns as well, and Charles Brunson traveled to Richmond to secure the arms for the D.C. chapter. With him was Jacob Bethea, a fellow D.C. Panther. They were arrested on Interstate 95 in Virginia for the crime of transporting stolen weapons and faced trial on May 21, 1971. Brunson and Bethea were convicted with Bethea given eight years and Brunson four years.
When Brunson and Bethea were arrested, there was little over a month left to plan for the Revolutionary Peoples Convention. The Panthers resubmitted their proposal for the later dates of November 27, 28, and 29, 1970, and the Armory board again denied their proposal. D.C. Panther leaders Willie Dawkins, Juan Shoop, Jacob Bethea, and Charles Brunson were jailed on various charges, and less inexperienced Panthers had a month to find a hall.
The Richmond Five Case Continued: Esutosin Omowale Oaunkoya ( Formerly Charles Brunson ) ” If i remember correctly it’s was the latter part of 1969 Hilliard dispatched me to D.C. … I get to D.C. and contact Jim Williams who had grown up on D.C. We immediately started working together, Brunson had his hands full as he was directed to organize The Panthers Richmond Virginia Information Center in 1970. In August 1970 Brunson was charged for the unregistered weapons confiscated by the Police July 4th Raid.
In The Fall of 1970 Panther lawyers filed a 1$ Million dollar law suit against The MPD for the July 4th Raid and a week later on October 17 all charges against those arrested in the confrontation were dropped including charges against Brunson for possession of illegal weapons, The Panthers were sure they would be raided again and they desired greater fire power, Brunson one of the primary organizers of the national convention was again jailed on weapons charges after a traffic stop on Interstate 95 in Virginia.
Brunson’s path to imprisonment began with the theft of a Chinese Submachine gun and Russian light machine gun from the residence of Richmond Virginia Gun Collector In September. In Richmond contacts with The Black Panthers in Washington has been told of the collectors cache. Apparently Brunson’s traveled to Richmond to appropriate Arms for the D.C. Branch. With him was Jacob Bethea a fellow D.C. Panther, after they successfully acquired the stolen weapons the car they were traveling in was stopped by a Virginia State Troopers. Five were arrested and charged for the crime of transporting stolen weapons.
These Panthers were soon dubbed ” THE RICHMOND FIVE ” a trial would ensue May 21 1971 and Bethea, Brunson, And one other man Albert D. Moore of Richmond would be convicted, with Moore & Bethea given 8 years & Brunson 4 Years. Albert Moore’s Brother Howard C Moore was scheduled to be retried at a later date, and Junius A. Underwood Jr faced similar charges and also was tried at a later date.
Waverly Patrick Allen Jr. a undercover FBI operative who had acquired the weapons was a Unindicted Co- conspirator. The D.C. Branch Presented it’s Case to the media and published a press release in The Black Panther Paper in November 1970 denouncing the criminal charges against The Richmond Five.
” Here in Richmond Virginia their using a known dope addict who is also a police informer in attempt to railroad these courageous brothers who fought to serve the oppressed people of the community these brothers and those people who have openly supported them have been harassed and intimidated daily by Federal Agents. Now THE RICHMOND FIVE and countless other Political Prisoners reaffirm our position that there will never be justice in The American courts until the people are the judges.
ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE, FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS
Black Panther Party Washington D.C. Chapter
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Source: The Black Panther Party in a City Near You