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Sun, 05.31.1970

The Black Liberation Army is Formed

*The Black Liberation Army (BLA) is celebrated on this date in 1970.  This underground Black Power revolutionary organization operated in the United States from 1970 to 1981.

Composed of Black Panthers (BPP) and Republic of New Afrika (RNA) members who served above ground before going underground, the organization's program was one of war against the United States government, and its stated goal was to "take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States." The BLA carried out a series of bombings, killings of police officers and drug dealers, robberies (which participants termed "expropriations"), and prison breaks.

The Black Liberation Army gained strength as Black Panther Party membership declined. By 1970, police and FBI sabotage, infiltration, sectarianism, lengthy prison sentences, and death of key members (among them Fred Hampton) had significantly undermined the Black Panther Party. This convinced many former party members of the desirability of underground existence, seeing that a new period of violent repression by the U.S. federal and local government was at hand. BLA members operated under the belief that only through covert means, including but not limited to retribution, could the movement be continued until such a time when an above-ground existence was possible.

It is commonly believed that the organization was founded by those who left the Black Panther Party after Eldridge Cleaver was expelled from the party's Central Committee. A fallout was inevitable between Cleaver and other Panther leaders after publicly criticizing the BPP and accusing Panther social programs of being reformist rather than revolutionary. Others, including Geronimo Pratt, assert that the BLA "as a movement concept pre-dated and was broader than the BPP," suggesting that it was a refuge for ex-Panthers rather than a new organization formed through schism. 

Following the collapse of the BLA, some members - including Donald Weems and Ojore N. Lutalo became outspoken proponents of anarchism. Weems died in prison of an AIDS-related disease in 1986. Lutalo was released from prison in 2009 after serving 28 years, during which time he was punished with solitary confinement for receiving anarchist literature. On January 26, 2010, Lutalo was arrested for endangering public transportation while on the Amtrak train to New Jersey, being mistakenly identified as making terrorist threats on his cell phone. The charge was dropped for lack of evidence, and he settled a suit against the city of La Junta, Colorado, where his arrest was made, for an undisclosed amount. 

In January 2007, eight men were charged by a joint state and federal task force with John Young's murder. The defendants were identified as former members of the Black Liberation Army. A similar case was dismissed in 1975 when a judge ruled that police gathered evidence using torture. On June 29, 2009, Herman Bell pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Sgt. Young. In July 2009, charges were dropped against four accused: Ray Boudreaux, Henry W. Jones, Richard Brown, and Harold Taylor.

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