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.Share and Enjoy: