When his captors uncinched the noose around his neck and shoved him into a wooden chair, Alex Rackley might have assumed his ordeal was over. He had already endured a flurry of kicks and punches, the repeated crack of a wooden truncheon, ritual humiliation, and a mock lynching. But it wasn’t over. It was about to get much, much worse.
Rackley, a slight, 19-year-old black kid from Florida, was tough (he had a black belt in karate), but hardly in a position to resist his psychopathic interrogators. During a previous beating he had gamely tried, kicking and flailing and swinging his arms. But this time he was tied to the chair, with a towel stuffed in his mouth to mute the screams. The women upstairs were tending to the children while assiduously preparing pots of boiling water—because traditional gender roles applied in the torture business, too.
When the bubbling cauldrons were brought to the basement—four or five of them—they were thrown over Rackley’s naked body. Then they worked him over some more. With him burned, battered, and bloodied, the towel was removed from his mouth. As a warning to those who would sell out the party to the Feds (“jackanapes,” “pigs,” and “faggots,” in the party’s nomenclature), the Lubyanka-style proceedings would be recorded on half-inch tape.
The interrogation begins with a woman’s voice: Brother Alex from New York was sleeping in the office…And I kicked him and said, “Motherfucker, wake up!” A few minutes pass, instinct kicks in, and Rackley tries to free himself. Sit down, motherfucker. Be still. The woman coolly and dispassionately reads the details of the previous interrogation session into the record: So then we began to realize how phony he was and that he was either an extreme fool or a pig, so we began to ask questions with a little force and the answers came out after a few buckets of hot water…then the brother got some discipline in the areas of the nose and mouth.
He wasn’t working for the Feds, but Rackley confessed to being a rat anyway. Why bother denying the “charges”? Every denial resulted in a new acts of barbarism anyway. Maybe this way he would be expelled from the party, but allowed to survive.
Ericka Huggins, George Sams, Warren Kimbro, and the other members of the New Haven Black Panther Party present in the house on May 18, 1969 had gotten what they wanted. So Rackley was carried from the basement and deposited into a bedroom usually occupied by a 7-year-old girl. Someone tied him to the child’s bed. Three days later, covered in his own shit and piss, Rackley was cleaned up by one of the Panther women and hustled out of the house into an idling car: He would be driven to a boat, they said, and brought either to New York or home to his native Florida.
With his arms again bound and a fresh noose around his neck—this one fashioned from a wire coat hanger—Alex Rackley, an illiterate teenager who had joined the Black Panther Party eight months earlier, was led to the edge of the Coginchaug River in Middlefield, Connecticut.
Of course, there was no boat. And there was no escape. “Orders from national [headquarters],” said George Sams, the bloodthirsty ringleader of the hit squad. “Ice him.”
Warren Kimbro, a Black Panther party cadre from the New Haven branch, put the first bullet in Rackley’s head, collapsing him in the shallow water. As his body heaved, another Panther foot soldier, Lonnie McLucas, took the gun from Kimbro and fired a bullet into his chest, just in case. They didn’t bother checking, but Alex Rackley was still alive, gasping and in pain, one expert later speculated, for almost four hours.
According to George Sams, he was merely following orders issued by Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party’s infamous co-founder and “chairman.” Not long after Rackley’s waterlogged corpse was fished out of the water, Sams, Kimbro, and McLucas were all behind bars, awaiting trial on murder charges.
And Ericka Huggins—that cruel voice on the tape interrogating Rackley; mocking him for crying; watching while he was beaten; telling the motherfucker to sit down during the torture session; witnessing him frog-marched out of the house with a noose around his neck, no shoes, and flanked by three armed men—would also stand trial, accused of orchestrating the killing with Seale.
When the theater lights dim and the PBS logo dissolves, a disembodied voice tells a parable of three blind men running their hands over the body of an elephant. They all describe something different: it feels like a wall, or a spear, or possibly a snake. “And that is quite often what happens with our descriptions of the Black Panther Party. We know the party we were in and not the entire thing.”
The first voice in Stanley Nelson’s documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, is mellifluous and childlike, not as sharp and hateful as it was on that 1969 tape. But here is Ericka Huggins, along with more than a dozen of her former comrades, educating viewers about the Black Panther Party’s (BPP) accomplishments, miraculously achieved in the face of interminable harassment from the FBI and police. With an assist from PBS, who will broadcast the documentary in September, Nelson has recruited a cast of shriveled militants for his one-dimensional Panther festschrift—a film that doesn’t disturb the ghost of Alex Rackley or the many other victims of the party’s revenge killings, punishment beatings, purges, or “disappearances.”
Is Michael Moynihan’s article correct in its criticism of the Black Panthers and the PBS presentation? Or, as so many FB commenters are protesting, is the left-of-center-leaning Daily Beast just pushing “teabagger” propaganda?
Read the rest of the article.
Is this supposed to be sarcasm? This has nothing at all to do with “journalism”; it is left wing propaganda. The most disgusting part of it all is how “outraged” they become at the sudden notice of a flag deemed to be “racist” and “inciting violence” when they turn right around and make a “documentary” glossing over the racism and violence of a group that still, with “New” attached to the name, exists today. And federally-funded PBS airs it.