In pursuit of answers to the mystery of Betty’s death, I subsequently discovered that the Panthers had killed more than a dozen people in the course of conducting extortion, prostitution and drug rackets in the Oakland ghetto. While these criminal activities were taking place, the group enjoyed the support of the American left, the Democratic Party, Bay Area trade unions and even the Oakland business establishment. (The head of Clorox, Oakland’s largest company, for example, sat on the board of the Educational Opportunities Corp.)
On a far smaller scale, the Panther killings were an American version of the “Katyn massacre,” the infamous murder of Polish officers carried out on Stalin’s orders that the left had denied and kept hidden for decades, until the opening of the Soviet archives settled the “dispute” for good. It was much harder for me to understand why the Panthers should be able to get away with these murders in democratic America, and why the nation’s press should turn such a blind eye to a group that the nation’s law enforcement had made an object of its attentions.
Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that to this day not a single organization of the mainstream press has ever investigated the Panther murders, even though the story is one that touches the lives and political careers of the entire liberal establishment, including the first lady and the deputy attorney general in charge of civil rights for the Clinton administration. Both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Lann Lee began their political careers as law students at Yale by organizing demonstrations in 1970 to shut down the university and stop the trial of Panther leaders who had tortured and then executed a black youth named Alex Rackley.
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