On this dayDec 08, 1969

Los Angeles Police Attack Black Panthers in Violent Raid

Image | UPI Telephoto

On December 8, 1969, four days after the assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago, Illinois, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) violently raided the Black Panther Party’s headquarters in Los Angeles, California.

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, California, in 1966. Spurning civil rights tactics of marches, sit-ins, and boycotts, the Black Panther Party was inspired by the self-determination philosophy of Malcolm X and the “Black Power” speeches of Stokely Carmichael. The Party founded youth centers and free breakfast programs, organized legally-armed patrols to guard against policy brutality in black neighborhoods, and became popular among black urban youth as chapters spread throughout the country. In the 1968-69 school year, the Black Panther Party fed as many as 20,000 children.

Despite their goals of community empowerment and self-help, the Party was condemned by President Lyndon B. Johnson and other national leaders. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the group “the most dangerous threat to the internal security of the country” in the late 1960s. The FBI also launched an aggressive counter-intelligence program aimed at dismantling the Black Panther Party through misinformation, infiltration, and by facilitating violent attacks against the group.

In 1968, as urban riots were spreading across the country in response to police brutality, the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party formed to help combat the growing threat. The Party established monitoring patrols in black neighborhoods and worked to ensure police accountability. On December 8, 1969, the LAPD set out to serve a warrant to search Party headquarters at 41st Street and Central Avenue for stolen weapons. Though the warrant was obtained using false information provided by the FBI, police used it as the basis to ambush about twelve Party members inside the building. More than 200 police officers, including the newly militarized Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team descended on the headquarters, armed with 5,000 rounds of ammunition, gas masks, a helicopter, a tank, and a military-grade grenade. The Party members inside resisted the raid and surrendered only after holding off police forces for approximately five hours. In the end, three officers and six members of the Black Panther Party were wounded during this attack.

In 1976, five years after the FBI’s counter-intelligence program was shut down, a Senate committee concluded that the bureau’s tactics “were indisputably degrading to a free society” and “gave rise to the risk of death and often disregarded the personal rights and dignity of the victims.”

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