The current drive for “criminal justice reform” that is snaking its way through congress with bipartisan support seeks to get rid of “mandatory minimum” sentences, but the confessions of radical communists from the famed Black Panthers shows the folly and danger of giving judges completely free rein on sentencing.
In a display of corruption, two former officials of the Black Panther party admit that in the mid-1970s they were able to get one of their members a reduced sentence with no jail time in exchange for giving the judge their support in his bid to become Oakland’s first black mayor.
It’s the kind of corruption that would be made impossible by mandatory minimum sentencing. Because the judge had complete discretion over what sentence to give, he was able to trade political favors for justice.
It’s the sort of history lesson that the left-leaning mainstream media will never tell you, even though the entire story comes from the actual words of the people involved.
To set the scene: the year is 1975 and Black Panther Party cofounder Huey P. Newton has fled the country for Cuba after being charged with various crimes. Other members of the group, however, remain in Oakland to face criminal charges.
Who’s Who: The Black Panthers and Oakland’s First Black Mayor
Here are the key players in this story of corruption.
Huey P. Newton– co-founder of Black Panther Party. In 1975, he was hiding out in Cuba after being charged with murdering a teenaged prostitute and pistol-whipping his tailor. Newton was still running the party remotely. He demanded that he be called “the Servant” as a nickname.
Elaine Brown – put into place by Newton, Brown had political ambitions and a thirst for power, as she freely admitted in her autobiography. She cut the deal with Lionel Wilson that traded a light sentence for Black Panther political support.
Flores Forbes – a “gunslinger” for Black Panthers, at this point facing time. A deal with Lionel Wilson spares him jail.
Lionel Wilson – a judge in Alameda County who became the first black mayor of Oakland with the help of the Black Panthers. Brown and Forbes both claim he made a deal to give Forbes no jail time in exchange for the Panthers’ political support.
Flores Forbes’ Account
Flores had been charged after pulling a gun on undercover police officers and is trying to avoid jail time.
In his autobiography Will You Die with Me?, Flores recounts meeting with Elaine Brown in 1975 to discuss his case:
I was still going to court for the Fox Lounge incident when Elaine told me one day that she urgently needed to talk with me about my case. I met her in her office at the school complex in East Oakland. She said, “Flores, you need to take this assistant chief of staff position seriously. You have a case, and you shouldn’t be carrying a gun or hanging with them niggers in the Party that do.” “Okay, that’s fine with me,” I said in a low, meek voice. Elaine was a real firebrand, and I could tell she didn’t like the way I responded. “And besides,” she continued, “I think I’ve gotten things worked out on your case. So let me explain. I’ve spoken with the Servant, and he thinks we should make this deal.” I stiffened and waited and then asked, “What deal? If it’s doing the time, I can do that, no sweat.”
Forbes describes how Elaine Brown tells him that she “cut a deal.”
But as for you, High-Top Watts, a nickname she gave me in LA, I’ve cut a deal. Lionel Wilson is the presiding judge in Alameda County, and the nigger wants to be mayor. Remember our five-year plan? Well, we’re back on track. Lionel says if we back him, he’ll trade with us. You for the office of mayor. If the Party puts its full weight and organization behind Wilson, he’ll cut you loose. Your charges will be reduced down to a misdemeanor, and you’ll get probation and have to do community service at the Oakland Community School.” I loosened up after that and gave Elaine a big bear hug. Man, was I glad.
Forbes then recounts that the deal was made: “The deal was cut in the spring of 1975 and I avoided prison again.”
Elaine Brown’s Account
In her book A Taste of Power, Elaine Brown fills in the details. She begins by recounting a conversation she says took place in Cuba with Huey P. Newton.
In the discussion, Newton and Brown plot to turn Oakland into a base of operations to overthrow the U.S. government in a communist revolution. In order to do this, they want to establish political power in Oakland.
Newton suggest Lionel Wilson, a black judge who would like to be mayor. Brown writes that Newton says:
“What you’ve put us in position to do is actually establish the base. But it has to be a revolutionary base, not a Black Panther base. If we can align these groups into a revolutionary framework in Oakland, we’ll not only establish the base, we’ll establish a model for expansion. “Originally, I thought this could be accomplished if you ran for office again—for mayor. But that would be too costly for us, especially if you won. You’d be unable to run the party. I have someone else in mind. You can think of him as our Sun Yat-sen,” he said, referring to the progressive Chinese leader who was president of a provisional government before the success of the revolution.
“Lionel Wilson is his name. I’ve been informed he wants to be mayor. His appeal can be very broad-based. With the party behind him, it’ll be the correct appeal. And I think he can win.
“Lionel’s no revolutionary. Matter of fact, he’s a judge. First black on the Alameda Superior Court, appointed by Pat Brown. But Lionel’s not tied into the system. He’s angry, and not afraid. I think I understand him because I know his youngest son, Stevie. It always seemed to me that Stevie was tortured by the fact that the family barely looks black. So he started running around Oakland acting like the ‘blackest nigger’ on the street. Stevie is Lionel’s heart. The point is, Lionel’s the piece that can link together the potential revolutionary force in Oakland. I want you to put him in office. If you do that, we’ll have the setup to make the base for revolution in the United States.”
“We’ll take Oakland. Port, stock, and barrel.” “Put Lionel in, and maybe I’ll be back for the rest.”
Elaine Brown then describes a discussion with Wilson; the “deal” that Flores refers to in his book. She assures him that the Black Panthers, who have developed a voter registration apparatus, can deliver votes for him.
(Lionel Wilson) would not announce his candidacy, he said, for some time—at least six months, which would allow him a year of campaigning for the next city election in April 1977. He would have to wind down, finish his immediate judicial tasks. Moreover, he had to organize a campaign strategy.
That six months would, I assured him, permit me time to adjust the party apparatus in order to be able to put sufficient people in the field to register blacks to vote, and to walk the precincts of the large black populace. It would also give me time to set aside the support money the party would donate to his campaign. In summary, I told him, I believed we could deliver the majority of the black vote; and the labor vote would not be difficult to secure.
In her book, Elaine Brown refers to Flores Forbes as “Ricardo” but recounts in detail how Judge Lionel Wilson used his judicial discretion to give Flores no jail time and give him “community service” actually working for the Panthers.
Tom Orloff, the Alameda County D.A.—who was slated to prosecute Huey on the murder charge—was sitting with his deputy, who was formally arguing for the state. Orloff had become obsessed with a need to personally be involved with even the most minute prosecution of Panthers. The deputy prosecutor insisted that the court understand that even though Ricardo had pleaded out to the assault charge, the sentence for gun possession was two years in prison. He presented Ricardo’s extensive arrest record to bolster his argument, and reiterated that Ricardo was not only a member of the Black Panther Party, he was a known gunslinger for the party.
Our lawyer argued that, given that Mr. Jones had conceded guilt, in exchange for which the prosecution had dropped the more serious charge of assault, he should not be so severely punished on the lesser count. He urged the court to impose the legal option of community service. Larry and I watched impatiently from the rear of the courtroom.
Lionel studied the papers before him. From time to time, he looked over his glasses, a gesture that indicated he was digesting some legal point.
The issue was the law of sentencing. The question of guilt or innocence was a foregone conclusion based on Ricardo’s plea.
When the lawyers sat down, Lionel made his considerations. It was true that Ricardo had been arrested numerous times, Lionel noted, referring to the prosecution’s argument. That arrest record included several charges of gun possession. It was also noteworthy that Mr. Jones had never, as the defense had pointed up, been convicted. Thus, Lionel stated, in the eyes of the court, the defendant’s legal record was clean. For the record, Lionel continued, he did want to state his position on the question of possession of handguns, which the state had raised so forcefully. The illegal (unregistered) possession of handguns by citizens of California was offensive to the public interest. He wanted the record to reflect that the court prayed that a body of law would be enacted by the legislature to ban all private possession of handguns. The record in the instant matter had to be taken on its face, however. The facts had to be viewed with an independent and impartial eye.
Lionel then ruled.
Given Ricardo’s record and plea, he would set punishment with a fine of $ 1,000 and suspend the prison term in lieu of one year of mandatory community service.
Elaine Brown could barely contain her amusement, she recalls.
As Larry and I—and surely Ricardo—tried to restrain ourselves from whistling and stomping, Lionel added that he had a specific recommendation as to such community service. Ricardo was to work at the Oakland Community Learning Center (which Orloff, his deputy, and everybody else knew was the party facility that housed our school), in accordance with the directives and requirements of the administration of that center.
The entire courtroom was rendered speechless—except me, whispering to Larry: “A really fine Sun Yat-sen.”
An entire courtroom rendered speechless at injustice and yet nothing could be done about it.
This example shows what the courts look like when judges have complete discretion in sentencing.
The leftists pushing “criminal justice reform” know this. It’s part of why they want to do away with mandatory minimums; to keep their agendas alive through political wheeling and dealing.