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Fri, 01.15.1943

Donald DeFreeze, Thief, and Radical born

Donald DeFreeze

*Donald DeFreeze was born on this date in 1943.  He was a Black radial, Bank robber, and the leader of the Symbionese Liberation Army.  He was also known as Cinque Mtume, using the nom de guerre "Field Marshal Cinque,"  

Donald David DeFreeze was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Louis and Mary DeFreeze, the eldest of eight children.  His mother was a registered nurse at a convalescent home.  His father was a violent man who punished him three times as a child by breaking both his arms.  He dropped out of school in the ninth grade at age 14 and ran away from home. He moved to Buffalo, New York, where he lived with the Rev. William L. Foster, a fundamentalist minister, and his family.  He became a street gang member in Buffalo, was arrested and jailed.  Following his release from prison, DeFreeze moved to the Newark, NJ.

In 1963, he married Gloria Thomas, who had three children from a previous marriage. DeFreeze and Thomas had three children together and in 1964 she had him arrested for desertion.  In 1964, police stopped DeFreeze while he was hitchhiking on the San Bernardino Freeway near West Covina, California, and found a tear-gas pencil bomb, a sharpened butter knife, and a sawed-off rifle in his suitcase.  In 1965, DeFreeze was arrested for firing a gun in the basement of his home. "I started playing with guns and fireworks," he would later write.  “Just anything to get away from life and how unhappy I was".  The charges were dropped and DeFreeze took his family to California where they settled in Los Angeles.  He said that the worries of trying to support the children engulfed him. He wrote, "I just couldn't take it anymore. I was slowly becoming a nothing".   

In 1967, the police stopped DeFreeze for running a red light on his bicycle. The police said that when he was searched, they found a homemade bomb in his pocket, and in the basket of the bicycle, another bomb and a pistol. DeFreeze said he had found them and was trying to sell them because of his family's needs. He was given three years of probation. The probation officer who interviewed DeFreeze wrote that the youth was "deeply troubled by this case.  On November 17, 1969, DeFreeze was injured in a gun battle with police outside a bank in Los Angeles. He was convicted of having stolen a $1,000 negotiable cashier's check and sent to Vacaville Prison. 

While incarcerated at Vacaville Prison, DeFreeze joined the Black Cultural Association, a group with contact at the University of California, Berkeley through professor Colston Westbrook. Through this group, Berkeley students were allowed to visit the prison to help prisoners with educational and political discussions. People outside of the university also attended. Through this organization, DeFreeze met with some far-left radicals who were working as volunteers in the prison and was converted to their political ideology.  DeFreeze set up his own small group, Unisight. This is believed to have been the beginnings of the Symbionese Liberation Army.  He was transferred to Soledad Prison in Soledad, California in December 1972. DeFreeze escaped from Soledad Prison on March 5, 1973.  He made his way to Oakland, California, where he was hidden by white friends from the Vacaville BCA.  He was taken to the house of Patricia "Mizmoon" Soltysik, with whom he then lived for several months. Through Soltysik, DeFreeze met Camilla Hall, a Berkeley artist.  DeFreeze, along with Soltysik, founded the Symbionese Liberation Army and soon recruited members for his group. 

On May 17, 1974, the Los Angeles Police Department surrounded a house at 1466 East 54th Street where DeFreeze and five other SLA members were staying and demanded that occupants surrender. Following the exit of an elderly man and a child, a tear gas canister was fired through a window and answered with bursts of automatic weapons fire. During the shootout the police were outgunned by the SLA's automatic weapons and the SLA's gas masks rendered the tear gas ineffective. The house caught fire during the shootout, possibly from an outdoor-type combusting tear gas canister. DeFreeze and others crawled through a hole in the floor into a crawlspace beneath the house, where they continued to fire at police until the crawlspace likely caught fire. Apparently burning alive, DeFreeze committed suicide by shooting himself in the right side of his head with a pistol. He was the final fatality during the shootout. His corpse was so severely burned that his family did not initially believe the remains were him.  DeFreeze is buried in Highland Park Cemetery, Ohio. 


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