Debate Over Panther Deaths Continues
Speaking last Friday night at a Sanders Theatre benefit for the Black Panther Defense Committee. Charles R. Garry, attorney for party chairman Bobby Seale, labeled Edward J. Epstein a "congenital liar."
Epstein is a former teaching fellow in Government who, in an article appearing in the February 13 issue of the New Yorker, questioned Garry's long-standing charge that 28 Black Panthers have been killed by the police.
Garry originally made the charge in December 1969 after Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot by Chicago police during a raid on the city's party headquarters.
Garry's accusation was widely publicized, appearing in hundreds of newspapers and magazines around the country. Subsequently Garry's. Sanlice murders of Black Panthers." Fransisco office issued a list of "28 po-
In his article, "The Panthers and the Police: A Pattern of Genocide" Ep-
stein attempts to determine the circumstances of 18 of the 28 deaths on Garry's list.
He concludes that only two deaths-Hampton's and Clark's-substantiate Garry's charge that local police departments are conspiring to commit "genocide" of the Black Panther Party.
Garry has stated that his charge of conspiracy on the part of the police is substantiated by a public statement by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, to the effect that the Black Panthers were the most dangerous ac-tivist group in the United States.
Epstein and Garry had a chance to confront each other on the David Frost Show, taped February 18 and broadcast March 1.
At that time Epstein reiterated his charge that only ten of the Panthers on Garry's list were actually killed by the police, and that only two of those ten were killed under circumstances suggesting "genocide."
These two-Hampton and Clark-meet Epstein's requirements for victims of genocide because at the time of their deaths they were unarmed, were not engaged in committing a crime or in threatening the police, and were known to the police ahead of time as Panthers, he said.
Garry contested both Epstein's definition of genocide and his version of the facts of the other cases of Panther deaths, accusing Epstein of taking a "jaundiced point of view, a police point of view" of events involving the police in the black ghetto which led up to the killings.
Garry claimed, for example, that Epstein had relied too heavily on police testimony and records instead of consulting relatives of the dead Panthers and ghetto residents who witnessed the killings.
In general, however, Garry refused to discuss the cases specifically. He stated that he had drawn up his original list of 28 deaths in a very short time after the assassination of Hampton and Clark, fearing that a wave of violence against the Panthers was impending.
Garry repeatedly cited Hoover's threatening condemnation of the Panthers and stated his belief that the number of Panthers murdered in its wake exceeded even 28.
In an interview last night, Epstein asserted, "These deaths start off as just ghetto incidents. Who's not? Then along come the Panthers-middle-class college kids who don't know anything about the ghetto-and these deaths become 'police raids,' part of a Federal genocide plan."
Garry also accused Epstein of prejudicing the cause of his client, Bobby Seale, and Seale's co-defendant, Ericka Huggins, who are now on trial for their lives in New Haven in connection with the death of Alex Rackley, discussed in the New Yorker article.
The publicity given the case in Epstein's article has demonstrably affected prospective New Haven jurors, but Epstein last night defended himself against Garry's charge by claiming that he had no control over when his article would appear.
"The New Yorker has had the story since November; for all I knew the trial would be over by the time they decided to run it. Nothing in the article reflects on Seale himself. Besides, Garry is using the wrong tactics. He could have gotten a very quick trial for Seale if he had settled for a mostly white middle-class jury. As for Ericka Huggins, I think she's very much mixed up in Rackley's death," Epstein continued.
The segment of the Frost show featuring Epstein and Garry was originally scheduled to last 15 minutes, but occupied instead the show's entire 90 minutes.
Frost, Epstein, and Garry grew visibly angry during' the discussion, and Garry frequently referred to Epstein as a "liar," a "windbag," a "racist," and "an agent of the FBI or CIA."
After Garry labeled Epstein a "racist," Frost retorted, "No one who is familiar with Mr. Epstein's record would believe such a charge."
Epstein last night said that he did not know what Frost could have been referring to in his record which would contradict Garry's charge of racism. He stated that he had no history of civil rights activity, for example, but that it was possible that Frost had been trying to protect himself or Garry from a libel action by Epstein.
Epstein then admitted, however, that since as a "public figure" he would find it difficult or impossible to collect damages for libel. Frost's defense of his racial attitudes was superfluous.