1968 — Huey Newton convicted of manslaughter

Huey P. Newton was one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, and a man of deep thought. He had read widely in politics and philosophy, and created for himself and the Black Panthers a philosophy he called ‘revolutionary humanism’. He stood for the rights of black people across America and the world, the rights to self-determination and self-defence. But he wrestled with the need for revolutionary violence, as well as infighting in the black community.

Just before dawn on 28 October, 1967, Huey Newton and a friend were pulled over by an Oakland Police Department officer named John Frey. Frey called for backup, and after fellow officer Herbert Heanes arrived, a fight broke out. Shots were fired, and all three were wounded. Heanes testified that the shooting began after Newton was under arrest, and one witness testified that Newton shot Frey with Frey’s own gun as they wrestled. No gun on either Frey or Newton was found. Frey died later that day, and Newton was convicted of manslaughter, but a mistrial was declared. The case was tried two more times with the same outcome, and the state declined to prosecute a fourth time.

Referenced in:
Hallelujah, I’m a Bum — Barbara Dane

1970 – The National Guard opens fire at Kent State University

In what Hunter Thompson called “this brutal year of our Lord, Nineteen-Hundred and Seventy”, there was brutality a-plenty on display, a veritable war across the USA. Largely fought between those who had awoken from the American Dream to the rather less pleasant reality, and those who wished very very deeply to stay safely asleep, there was violence on both sides of the table, and each side was convinced that the other had drawn first blood.

The Kent State shootings, at the university of that name in Kent, Ohio, were one of the last explosions of this violence. The students had gathered to protest President Nixon’s illegal invasion of Cambodia, which he had announced on May 30. In 13 seconds, 77 Ohio National Guard troops fired 67 rounds into a crowd of over 2000 students, killing 4 and wounding 9 others (one of whom was paralysed by their injuries). Further violence was narrowly averted by Kent State faculty members led by Glenn Frank, who pleaded with students and Guardsmen alike to disperse and was heeded.

In the wake of the shootings, universities across the nation held sympathetic protests, as did many others. No criminal charges were ever brought against the Guardsmen involved, despite the fact that no less an authority than Vice-President Spiro Agnew (a qualified lawyer) pronounced the killings to be murders.

Referenced in:

Ohio — Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Driving Across Mythical America — Pete Atkin