How Philly Responded To 1970 Panther Convention
Bob Feldman | 07.18.2000
A look at how Philly cops were used to discourage folks from attending 1970 Black Panther Party Convention.
In considering how the Philadelphia Power Structure's police
department may react to the 2000 GOP Convention Week
anti-corporate Movement protests, it might be helpful to review
how the Philly police responded, historically, to the Black
Panther Party's "Call for Revolutionary People's Constitutional
Convention, September 7, 1970, Philadelphia, PA."
In a June 19, 1970 "Message To America" that was published
in the underground newspaper Quicksilver Times on June 23,
1970, the Black Panther Party stated:
"The hour is late and the situation is desperate. America is
now in the middle of the greatest crisis in its history. The Black
Panther Party believes that the American people are capable
of rising to the task which history has laid before the nation. We
believe that the American people are capable of rejecting the
fascist solution to the national crisis...
"We therefore call for a revolutionary people's constitutional
convention, to be convened by the American People, to write a
new constitution that will guarantee and deliver to every
American citizen the inviolable human right to life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness!
"We call upon the American people to rise up, repudiate, and
restrian the forces of fascism that are now rampant in the land
and which are the only real obstacles standing between us and
a national resolution of the national crisis.
"Only through this means can the present character of
America, the purveyor of exploitation, misery, death, and
wanton destruction all over the planet earth, be changed."
The 1977 book The Cop Who Would Be King by Joseph
Daughen and Peter Binsen indicates, however, that Corporate
Philadelphia and the then-Rizzo-led Philly police department
did not roll-out the welcome mat for the 1970 Black Panther
Party Convention in Philadelphia in the same way that
Corporate Philadelphia has apparently rolled-out the welcome
mark for the 2000 GOP Convention in Philly this year:
"The summer of 1970 was Rizzo's last as police
commissioner...As the summer of 1970 wound toward a close,
Rizzo became increasingly concerned about a `revolutionary
people's constitutional convention,' which was scheduled to
begin September 5 at the North Philadelphia campus of
Temple University under the sponsorship of the Black Panther
"`We don't want it here,' Rizzo announced. `But if it's peaceful,
we're not going to stop it'...
"Late on the night of August 30 , Rizzo and his aides
were preparing to strike directly against the Panthers. By 2
a.m., the department was assembling 100 men, all of them
experienced marksmen, to be deployed into three raiding
parties against three Panther headquarters. The necessary
warrants had been obtained, and Rizzo went home to bed.
"Shortly before 6 a.m. on August 31, 1970, the raiders struck.
They encountered no resistance at Panther offices in North
Philadelphia and Germantown and found no evidence to justify
any arrests. But at the Panther headquarters on Wallace Street
in West Philadelphia, gunfire was exchanged, 14 persons
were taken into custody...
"The raiding party virtually dismantled the two-story building on
Wallace Street, which also served as a residence for some
Panthers. The plumbing was ripped out and furniture was
destroyed. As the occupants emerged, hands above their
hands, the lone woman was led to a van and searched by a
policewoman. The men, most of them bare-chested and
barefoot, were lined up against the wall. Before the men could
be searched, however, six of them were suddenly standing
there naked. Their pants and shorts had dropped to the
sidewalk and they had stepped out of them. A photographer for
the [Philadelphia] Daily News, Elwood P. Smith, snapped off a
photograph and the sight of six Panthers and their bare
buttocks was distributed around the world by United Press
International. The Panthers later claimed the police ordered
them to strip...
"`This was an excellent job,' Rizzo said, in response to a wave
of criticism that raged after the photograph of the naked
Panthers hit the streets on August 31 ...
"Returning to the thing that worried him most, the
Panther-sponsored convention, Rizzo said:
"`They are not going to come into the community and challenge
the whole community...If they come in, we will have no trouble
unless they break the law. Then they'll be taken on by the black
and white policemen...'
"Panther sympathizers filed a suit in U.S. District Court asking
that Rizzo and the police department be enjoined from violating
the rights of political dissidents and blacks for a period of one
"Despite Rizzo's fears...the three-day revolutionary convention
opened on September 6  and closed on September 8
without incident. Rizzo had 1,000 police ready in the event
trouble developed, but they were unobtrusive and forced no
"When it was over...the city's business and civic leaders made
it clear that they appreciated Rizzo and his effort. The Greater
Philadelphia Movement [GPM], whose members include major
bankers, real estate tycoons, utility executives, merchants and
lawyers, sent Rizzo a telegram which said: `...We congratulate
you...for maintaining peace during the meeting at Temple
"The Urban Coalition, a group whose members interlocked to
some extent with GPM, sent Rizzo a letter stating, `During the
recent period of tension, you and the department worked under
great stress and provocation to maintain order and peace in a
manner that was unobstrusive, reasonable and most effective.'
"The signers of the letter included Richard C. Bond, chairman
of the Wanamaker Trustees and former president of John
Wanamaker, the city's largest department store,...and R.
Stewart Rauch, Jr., president of the Philadelphia Savings Fund
Society, the largest savings bank in the city."