The Most Revolutionary Act

Diverse Ramblings of an American Refugee

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
Location
New Plymouth, New Zealand
Birthday
December 02
Bio
Retired psychiatrist, activist and author with a new young adult novel - A Rebel Comes of Age - due for release on Dec 21, 2013. My 2010 memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE describes the circumstances that led me to leave the US in 2002. More information about both books (and me) at www.stuartjeannebramhall.com

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FEBRUARY 4, 2012 9:43PM

The Mayor Who Said No to the Feds

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Wes Uhlman - Seattle Mayor 1969-1977

Wes Uhlman - Seattle Mayor 1969-1978

In my last post I wrote about the apparent defect in integrity and moral courage that plagues most American corporate and political leaders. This hasn’t always been the case. With the steady erosion of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights over the last decade, it’s high time we celebrated the real American heroes – the public officials who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power – often at great personal cost.

The Armed ATF Raid That Didn’t Happen

Few Americans have heard of Wes Uhlman, Seattle’s mayor between 1969 and 1977. According to his official biography, his main claim to fame was being the youngest Washington State legislator (at 23) and youngest Seattle major (at 34) ever elected.

Ward Churchill mentions Uhlman in his 1990 Cointelpro Papers. At the time, Uhlman declined to identify the federal agency he crossed swords with. Churchill misidentifies it as the FBI. In 2005 Uhlman disclosed, in an interview with the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History project (http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/Panther3_schaefer.htm#_ednref8), that the federal agency he stood up to was the Agency for Tobacco and Firearms. The ATF was the main agency responsible for the 1993 Waco massacre. In February 1970, they put strong pressure on Uhlman to agree to an armed raid on the headquarters of the Seattle Black Panther Party.

This was approximately three months after the December 1969 early morning FBI-police raids on the apartments of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and Los Angeles Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt. In Chicago a fourteen man team armed with submachine guns raided Hampton’s apartment at four a.m. on December 3rd. During the raid, they murdered Hampton and Peoria Black Panther leader Mark Clark in their sleep. Three days later a forty member Los Angeles SWAT team with 100 back-up officers staged a similar five a.m. raid on Pratt’s apartment. Pratt, having decided to sleep on the floor that night, miraculously survived. None of the LA Panthers, who defended themselves for four hours until the press and public arrived, were killed. Six were injured. All the surviving Panthers in both Chicago and Los Angeles were arrested for “attacking the police.”

Two weeks later Pratt was framed for a December 1968 murder the FBI knew he didn’t commit, owing to FBI wiretapping logs (which were concealed from the defense) that placed him 350 miles away from the murder scene. Pratt’s conviction was overturned in 1997. Following his release from prison, he emigrated to Tanzania, where he died on June 3, 2011.

Uhlman Threatens to Arrest the ATF

In his interview with the Civil Rights and Labor History Project, Uhlman reveals that an ATF agent contacted him only months after he took office in late 1969. His justification for raiding Seattle’s Black Panther headquarters was that they were stockpiling illegal weapons. Uhlman declined the offer. As he states in the interview, he feared for the safety of a police undercover agent who had infiltrated the Seattle Panthers. Moreover the police informant maintained all the Panther’s weapons were legal.

The ATF agent, infuriated when Uhlman refused to go along with the raid, threatened to carry it out without the city’s consent. Upon which Uhlman responded that he would encircle the Black Panther headquarters with cops, who would “determine who the aggressor was.” His clear message was that any ATF agents who attacked the Panther headquarters would be subject to arrest.

No Gestapo-type Raids in Seattle

The ATF promptly leaked the outcome of the meeting to the press, hoping to embarrass Uhlman as a “sympathizer of militants.” When the Seattle Post Intelligencer interviewed him in 1970, Uhlman stated he wanted no part of the “trend of attacks” on the Black Panther Party. He made specific reference to the Chicago raid in which the FBI murdered Fred Hampton. “We are not going to have any 1932 Gestapo-type raids against anyone.” He also pointed out that the Seattle Black Panthers only had a handful of members, even though numerous young blacks were “enthralled” by the group’s message. “If you give them a cause, they can make political hay out of it, and the kids will look on them like Robin Hoods.  Then you wind up with 900 Panthers.”

In the aftermath of Uhlman’s controversial stand, Uhlman received letters from people all over the US. Many attacked the mayor for his decision. I am struck by a distinctive turn of phrase reminiscent of the comments intelligence trolls leave on some of my blogs:

  • “When idiot public officials cast their lot with proven communist agitators and anti-american (sic) bastards as the BLACK PANTHERS then it is time to IMPEACH such public sons of bitches.”
  • “I don’t see why the federal agency had to ask a jerk like you whether they could stage a raid on the black panthers. (sic). This organization is downright rotten, but it takes a rotten jerk to know a rotten organization.  I hope one nite (sic) one of your soul brothers slits your throat.”
  • “Uhlman, you stupid ass, you are just as bad as the people, who are making such an issue of the two panthers who were killed in Chicago.”

The Civil Rights and Labor Project reports there were just as many letters applauding Uhlman’s decision for upholding the Bill of Rights protections against warrantless search and seizure :

  • “You have GUTS—and even more…it would appear you do support the TRUE American spirit and the Constitution of this country.  Let’s keep the principle…MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL!”
  • “As a fifty year old veteran of WWII [with] twenty-one years active military service allow me to extend heartfelt gratitude and congratulations in your brave decision to put the Bill of Rights, for which I have served so long, into effect.”
  • “We need more like you.  I don’t necessarily agree with the Panthers, but the tactics of the Police, et al, frightens me more.”

Despite the controversy, Uhlman won his campaign for re-election in 1973. He retired from politics in 1978 to focus on his legal practice. A great pity. It seems that not one current mayor had the testicularity to say no to the Office of Homeland Security about the brutal crackdown they orchestrated against Occupy Wall Street sites.

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Men like that don't get into politics these days.
.
For a country that continually screams "freedom" and "democracy" at the world and inexorably employs every underhanded and openly brutal means to destroy it internally and externally throughout its history it is ironic that a man who defends it is so castigated. If it weren't so horrifying it would be amusing.
I agree with Uhlman that over-reaction tends to breed more hate, and I don't condone gestapo tactics. On the other hand, those who make a very public show of being armed to the teeth, and those whose publicly stated aims are to "off the pigs" shouldn't be surprised when the "pigs" take their threats seriously.

Again, I'm not condoning police riots, as we witnessed with the Chicago police in '68, but I'm saying that sort of thing was to be expected. The BP, like the SLA and other 60's radical groups, played with fire and got burned, baby, burned.

As for Waco, yes, that action was ill-advised and the consequences were horrific. But so was Jonestown. I guess what I'm saying is there is no good way to deal with cults, especially when those cults are armed to the teeth and preaching violence and hate. Those who go around talking about "second amendment solutions" would be well-advised to keep in mind they are seriously outmanned and outgunned.
Tom, I guess my experience with the Black Panthers was very different from your own - and from the image that was portrayed in the media. I was in Milwaukee in the late sixties. The Black Panthers I had contact with didn't run around brandishing rifles or talk about "offing the pigs." They spent most of their time organizing school breakfasts for school children and helping out in the middle schools in the inner city. I was a substitute teacher in one of those schools. Often it was extremely difficult (as a young white woman) to get my classes to come to order. Like other teachers in a similar situation, we would send a student to the office to fetch a Black Panther. And one of them would come sit in the front of the class till the students settled down. The kids all had enormous respect for them. The Panthers didn't need to say anything. They just sat there.

The Panthers were always very clear that their reason for carrying weapons was for self-defense - to protect themselves and their loved ones against arbitrary police violence on the streets. I'm not saying they were right or wrong in adopting this tactic. However as a volunteer for Mothers Against Police Harassment (in Seattle), I was called on to document some of this - random beatings, shootings (often of unarmed men), routine traffic stops in which cops would hold a gun to drivers' heads, sexual assaults on women, one incident in which a black city councilor was forced to drop his pants on a traffic stop. The black community has endured this gratuitous violence from police for decades, and no one should have to live this way.
I recommend Eldridge Cleaver's autobiography for another point of view.
I have read Cleaver's autobiography and am aware that he became a neocon and campaigned for Ronald Reagan. My friends in the African American community considered him an oreo (black on the outside and white on the inside), just like Clarence Thomas, Condi Rice and Colin Powell. These people may have done very well for themselves as individuals by supporting neoconservative political and economic policies. However the outcome of these policies was to shift even more wealth from black communities to banksters and corrupt property developers.

The Wall Street corruption we have witnessed over the past decade pales in comparison to the outright fraud committed on Seattle's African American community, in collusion with federal agencies like HUD, the Dept of Transportation and the Resolution Trust Corporation.

Catherine Austin Fitts who worked for HUD under the Reagan administration has written volumes about this. They just walked in and stole peoples' residential and commercial property. And if you didn't have deep enough pockets to file suit (and pay court and legal costs up front), there wasn't a bloody thing you could do.
I'm aware of Cleaver's turncoat reputation. I was referring to the fact that his book makes it clear the Black Panthers weren't just community organizers. Look, I wasn't on the front lines of the "revolution", but I was there, and I certainly said my piece in opposition to the war, and stood up for civil rights for blacks and women. In that, thankfully, we more or less succeeded.

Indeed, it was a revolution. That said, I didn't buy into the idea that everyone who disagreed with me was my mortal enemy -- my hope was to awaken the Silent Majority to reality.

Unfortunately, the other part of the "revolution", the part to which MLK was about to address his efforts, the part involving economic justice got sidetracked, in part because of the oil crisis, and in part because too many of the revolutionaries subverted their moral authority with sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

As a consequence, the establishment was able to re-establish its authority and continue selling-out working Americans to the highest bidder. Personally, I think the Occupy Movement may turn out to be part two of the revolution. But then and now, I don't believe armed insurrection has a snowball's chance of helping achieve our aims.
Thanks, Tom. I see now where you are going.

The main problem with the Black Panthers is that by the late sixties, 1/3 of their leadership were federal informants - who have a well earned reputation for promoting gratuitous violence. Ward Churchill documents this really thoroughly in the Cointelpro Papers. There was definitely not consensus in the Milwaukee Panthers about bringing about armed insurrection. As I recall there was a diversity of views. There was consensus on ending capitalism, mainly through education and movement building, and there was consensus on using weapons for self-defense. I had a friend who became a Black Panther when he was in the penitentiary at the same time with George Jackson - and no one told him the Panthers were about armed insurrection.