Panther 21

The Panther 21 is a group of twenty-one Black Panther members who were arrested and accused of planned coordinated bombing and long-range rifle attacks on two police stations and an education office in New York City.[1] Among the defendants were Afeni Shakur, Lumumba Shakur, Ali Bey Hassan, Michael Tabor, Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin Wahad, Jamal Joseph, Abayama Katara, Baba Odinga, Joan Bird, Robert Collier, Sundiata Acoli, Lonnie Epps, Curtis Powell, Kuwasi Balagoon, Richard Harris, Lee Berry, Lee Roper, and Kwando Kinshasa.[2][3][4]

The trial eventually collapsed and the twenty-one members were acquitted of all charges.[5]


Prosecutors alleged that the Panthers had planned three attacks for Friday, January 17, 1969 at 9 am. Police claimed that dynamite had been placed in the three locations:

Attack Result
Bronx Forty-fourth precinct police station Dynamite sticks at the Forty-fourth Precinct station had been switched by a police undercover agent with phonies, so that only a blasting cap exploded
Manhattan Twenty-fourth Precinct police station The fuse on the phoney sticks had been improperly lit
Queens Board of Education office Real dynamite which was from a source other than the undercover police blew a hole in the side of the building

At the Queens school near the forty-fourth precinct station, one Panther, nineteen-year-old Joan Bird, was arrested, while two men escaped. The men left behind a long-range rifle. Police claimed that the Panthers planned to use it to shoot at the police as they rushed out of the burning building after the explosion.[1]

Indictments and incarcerationEdit

On April 2, 1969 twenty-one Black Panther members were indicted. The number dropped from twenty-one to thirteen, who were arraigned before Judge Charles Marks with bail set at $100,000. The defendants could not make bail immediately and so many spent the months detained in Rikers Island.[6] Joseph A. Phillips from the District Attorney's Office led the prosecution, with Jeffrey Weinsten as his assistant.[1][7] The Panthers were charged with conspiracy to kill several police officers and to destroy a number of buildings, including four police stations, five department stores, and the Bronx Botanical Gardens.[8]

During their incarceration, many people and organizations publicly supported the Panther 21 and raised money for their bail and legal expenses. Abbie Hoffman helped put up money to bail out one of the defendants.[9] Various churches around New York City also helped raise money for the defendants.[10] The composer Leonard Bernstein hosted parties raising money for the Panthers. It was one of these parties in support of the Panther 21 that Tom Wolfe wrote about in his essay "Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's," in which he coined the term radical chic.[11]

Two of the defendants fled to Algeria during the trial.[12]


The District Attorney read Chairman Mao Zedong's Little Red Book and showed the court the movie The Battle of Algiers.[7]

At the time, the eight-month trial was the longest and most expensive in New York State history.[7]


The Black Panther members were acquitted on May 12, 1971 of all 156 charges.[5][7]


  1. ^ a b c Political Trials in History: From Antiquity to the Present, Ron Christenson.
  2. ^ newafrikan77 (2016-05-13). "Why The Panther 21 Case Matters and Political Prisoners Should Be Freed and Exonerated". newafrikan77. Retrieved 2019-01-27.
  3. ^ "Afeni Shakur, Tupac's Mom, Legacy Remembered by Fellow Panthers". NBC News. Retrieved 2019-01-27.
  4. ^ Asbury, Edith Evans (1970-02-01). "16 Black Panthers Go on Trial Tomorrow in State Court Here". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-27.
  5. ^ a b The Black Panther Party (reconsidered) Charles Earl Jones.
  6. ^ Sachs, Andrea. "From Gun-Toting Black Panther to Ivy League Professor". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2019-01-27.
  7. ^ a b c d One Year Later: The Radicalization of the Panther 13 Jury, New York Magazine May 29, 1972, Catherine Breslin
  8. ^ The Briar Patch: The Trial of the Panther 21, Murray Kempton, (1973).
  9. ^ Asbury, Edith Evans (1971-02-09). "2 Panthers' Bail Ordered Revoked". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-27.
  10. ^ "Churches Provide $100,000 Bail Here For Black Panther". The New York Times. 1970-01-31. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-27.
  11. ^ "BBC - When Leonard Bernstein partied with the Black Panthers". BBC. Retrieved 2019-01-27.
  12. ^ Asbury, Edith Evans (1971-05-14). "Black Panther Party Members Freed After Being Cleared of Charges". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-27.