Leftist icon dies in the Motherland
Geronimo Pratt was 63
Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, the Vietnam War-hero-turned-Black Panther who became a cause célèbre for the leftist leaning counter culture, has died in his adopted Tanzanian homeland of a heart attack. He was 63 years old, and is survived by a daughter and three sons.
Ayuko Babu, a fixture of the activist movement of that era and the current director of the Pan African Film Festival, summed up the legacy of Geronimo ji-Jaga (the name he adopted) thusly:
“As Ossie Davis said of Malcolm (X), Geronimo symbolized the best of Black manhood. Borrowing a phrase from the great comedian Richard Pryor, he stood up to the powers that viewed people of color as a disposable commodity, intending to ‘take your life and waste it like salt.’”
Born and raised in the Louisiana hamlet of Morgan City, which straddles the parishes of St. Martin and St. Mary, Pratt was a star high school football quarterback who was mentored by neighborhood elders as the Civil Rights Movement raged throughout the South. As hostilities escalated on the Indochina Peninsula, he volunteered for paratrooper training, and as a member of the fabled 82nd Airborne Division, became a highly decorated veteran of two combat tours during that controversial Indochina conflict, before his discharge and relocation to Los Angeles to attend UCLA.
There he met former Slausons gang leader Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, who’d formed the Southern California chapter of the Black Panthers. Carter dubbed him “Geronimo” as an homage to his paratrooper background, and promoted him to minister of defense to utilize his military expertise. In 1970, Pratt was arrested for the shooting death of Caroline Olsen, a 27-year-old elementary schoolteacher, and her husband, Kenneth, who was shot but survived an armed robbery for $18 at a Santa Monica tennis court.
Pratt had been fingered by fellow Black Panther and police informant Julius Butler, who was part of a maze of double agents, agents provocateur, con men, and connivers who inhabited the late 1960s and early 1970s political minutia that was a staple of American society of that era.
The crux of the persecution case hinged upon a match between a handgun belonging to Pratt, a Colt .45, and the standard-issue military sidearm of the Vietnam era, and the cartridges found at the crime scene. Pratt’s car, a Pontiac GTO convertible with North Carolina plates, had also been seen in the area.
Further complicating the case was Pratt’s recent break with the Panther hierarchy. He’d always maintained that he was hundreds of miles away at a Black Panther meeting in Oakland, during the time of the murder. No one in that organization vouched for him however, including Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, and Elaine Brown, who comprised that group’s top brass. Pratt’s pregnant wife Saundra was also murdered in 1971, possibly as a result of the division according to numerous sources.
A then-little-known Loyola Law School graduate, Johnnie Cochran, was retained for his defense, and after his client’s 1972 guilty verdict, became convinced Pratt had been the target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO (for Counter Intelligence Program) project geared towards disrupting domestic political organizations. The murder conviction politicized Cochran, and his belief that the justice system was ethnically biased led to his use of the “race card” in the 1995 O. J. Simpson murder case that made Cochran famous. Cochran vowed that what happened to Pratt would not happen to Simpson.
During his 27-year incarceration, Pratt attracted a cadre of celebrity activists, political figures, and humanitarian groups across the globe, including the American Civil Liberties Union, and Amnesty International, who clamored for a retrial.
In 1997 in a courtroom in conservative Orange County, Pratt’s previous conviction was voided, citing evidence that had been concealed or completely disappeared from the police and district attorney’s property rooms, as well as the possibility that the chief witness, Julius Butler, was a covert informant for both the FBI and the LAPD.
In 2000 Pratt was awarded a $4.5 million settlement on the grounds of a wrongful imprisonment and violation of his civil rights. He was also the godfather of iconic rapper Tupac Shakur, who was himself the offspring of two Black Panthers.
After his release, in a well-publicized return to the Louisiana bayou of his youth, Pratt jumped from a limo near his ancestral home, pausing to sample an offering of crawfish before embracing his 90-year-old mother. Upon her death, he moved to selfimposed exile in the village of Imbaseni, 15 miles from the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. There, in the home of his ancestry, he continued his activism for humanitarian causes.
Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, which held a candlelight vigil Friday, June 3, in Pratt’s memory, voiced the sentiments of many with the following statement:
“Geronimo was my friend, mentor, and comrade. He always treated the younger generation of activists with love and respect. My heart is filled with sadness. I will miss his courage and strength he always displayed. This is a sad day for the activist community around the world.”
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—A community tribute will be held in Leimert Park today to honor Rodney King, the motorist whose 1991 videotaped beating by Los Angeles police officers led to the city’s worst riots.
The 47-year-old King was pronounced dead early Sunday after being pulled from the bottom of the backyard swimming pool at his home in the 1000 block of East Jackson Street in Rialto in San Bernardino County.
View Park resident and retired Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) police officer David Anthony couldn’t believe his eyes when he entered the Lock n’ Load gun and ammo store in Henderson, Nev.
But there it was right in plain view, a pristine 60mm machine gun positioned high on a shelf for sale; a weapon, he feels, that kept him and his platoon alive during his tour of duty as a 19-year-old machine gunner in 1968 in the Vietnam War.
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. — The FBI was assisting the Los Angeles Police Department today in the search for a 10-year-old Northridge girl who disappeared from her home during the night.
Nicole Ryan, who lives in the 8000 block of Oakdale Avenue, is White, 4 feet 11 and about 100 pounds, with long red hair.
The girl’s mother told police she saw her daughter in her room about 1 a.m.. But when she returned to the bedroom about 3:30 a.m., the child was gone, so she called police, LAPD Capt. Daryl Russell said.
The LAPD’s history of impropriety casts an especially long shadow across the annals of law enforcement, given the city’s scrutiny as a media center, but it has its competition, especially in the persona of Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia police commissioner and mayor, whose polarizing bravado easily rivaled the legacy of the LAPD’s William Parker and Darryl Gates.
Score one for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope, for their very emotional outcry about the so-called “Django Unchained” slave dolls. On Friday, Jan. 18, the Weinstein Co. announced that it has asked toy maker NECA to discontinue the “Django Unchained” action figure dolls after receiving complaints that the dolls were offensive and trivialized the horrors of slavery.