LA Paper Bust

On June 27, 1970, in the afternoon, four community workers were selling Black Panther papers on the corner of 6th Street and Broadway. Two policemen came up to them and said, "Come with us, you're all under arrest." The charges were begging and illegal solicitation of funds. That night they were all bailed out, bail ranging from $165 to $225. Bond was posted at 10% of those amounts. Bond is nonrefundable.

On June 30, one brother was selling the Black Panther newspaper at the corner of 6th and Broadway and he was accosted by a police officer. "What did I do wrong?" he asked. He was arrested for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. His bail was $625; the non-refundable bond $62.50. Three days later, on July 3rd, another brother met the same fate at the same location. On July 8th a sister and a brother were picked up for begging on the corner, once again selling the Party newspaper.

The Black Panther Party communicated with and informed its people through its Black Community News Service. When the paper was not distributed, the Black community was shut out and isolated. The increase in police harassment of newspaper sellers seemed to be correlated with the increase in the nationwide focus of the paper. There was also a new section dedicated to self-defense and the use and handling of weapons that may have made the law enforcers a little nervous.

The results of this harassment were three-fold: disrupting the sale of the paper, putting paper sellers away for a few days and depleting the Party's funds through bond and legal fees. When the police felt that they could get away with even heavier charges, they put the paper sellers away without bail, as suspected felons. This usually occurred on the weekend and the suspects had to remain in jail for several days before they were arraigned. The bail was set enormously high for felonies or the charges were brought down to misdemeanor level, or the charges were dropped and the prisoners set free.

For example, three days after the July 8th bust, Lloyd Mims and Jackie Johnson were arrested selling papers on 6th and Broadway. Jackie, in fact, had been the brother busted on the 8th. Mims was charged with assault with a deadly weapon (a felony) and Johnson was charged with robbery. There were taken to jail on a Saturday. It was Tuesday before Mims was taken to court where the felony charge was reduced to disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and a misdemeanor battery charge. Bond was posted at $62.50. Johnson was held until Wednesday at which time the charges against him were dropped, meaning that he had spent 5 days in jail for no reason other than the vengeance of the police and the courts directed at the Black Panther Party and its newspaper.

On July 14th, Ronnie Hawkins was busted on a felony warrant that was later changed to a traffic warrant that was dismissed the next day, at which time the felony warrant was reissued and he was put back in jail. The LAPD was intent on destroying the Party and its paper distribution and was willing to twist the arms of justice to achieve this end.

In Catch-22, Heller says, "They can do anything to us that we cannot stop them from doing." This was true of the Panthers and the LAPD. In Germany, when Hitler rose to power, he arrested those who sold the Socialist and Communist newspapers, arrested the publishers and stopped the papers from going to press. The Black and Brown communities had to fight this process in order to receive the community information services to counteract the distortions of the establish press.