Thursday, June 09, 2005

What Do Russell Crowe and The Black Panthers Have In Common?

I didn't smoke dope during the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, or this century. So I probably have a clearer memory, than many members of my generation, of the details of the Panther 21 Trial. As the name implies, 21 Black Panthers were indicted in Manhattan on hundreds of felony charges of conspiring to blow up Macy's, The Bronx Zoo, the 41st Precinct in the Bronx, and myriad other -- what are called today -- "soft targets".

In 1969 I was a freshman at New York University, living in Queens with my Mom and sisters, and huge gaps to fill between early morning and late afternoon classes. Needless to say to anyone who knows me, I hadn't made any friends at NYU, and had less pocket money than any of the other 25,000 undergraduates. How to kill time? I began walking around lower Manhattan, principally watching the World Trade Center being constructed and roaming the streets of what would later be called SOHO and Tribeca, which were then light-industrial districts teaming with printers, seamstresses, and other fellow members of the New York working class.

Months passed and the weather started to turn nippy. I started to hang out at NYU's student radio station and newspaper long enough to obtain passable press credentials and resumed my walks. This time, armed with my "press credentials" I headed towards the courthouses on Manhattan's Foley Square and Centre Street. There was going on the most-celebrated political trial since the Chicago 7, the Panther 21 trial.

My classes prevented me from attending fulltime but I had a great time, nevertheless. I met many of my favorite journalists: Murray Kempton, Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin and Margot Adler. I got invited to a couple of parties for reporters, as well as the Panthers' victory party held at the offices of The Law Commune, in a loft at 640 Broadway that would probably fetch north of $5 million now. Yeah, the Panthers were acquitted of all charges. The only Panthers who were hung out to dry were those who had not trusted their skillful lawyers and skipped out on bail. Their lawyers included Bill Crain, Sanford Katz, Bob Bloom, Charles McKinney and Gerry Lefcourt.

Yup, the very same Gerry Lefcourt who is now representing Russell Crowe. Don't despair Russell, you've got great legal representation!

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