History

July 29, 1968: About That Typewriter . . .

The original Seattle Black Panther Party headquarters in the Central Area
The original Seattle Black Panther Party headquarters in the Central Area

In the heavy political weather of the summer of 1968, a war between the Seattle Police Department and the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party was almost inevitable. Tensions between the SPD and the Seattle BPP — barely six months old and already making an openly activist mark on a profoundly passive-aggressive city — were already stark enough without the typewriter business. On the date in focus here, the SPD raided the BPP office in the Central Area and arrested Panther captain Aaron Dixon and defense minister Curtis Harris. While Harris was released the next day, Dixon was charged with alleged possession of — no, not drugs; no, not weapons; get this — a stolen typewriter.

It was a laughable pretext with terrible consequences. Occurring in the midst of tension between Seattle’s black youth and the city government over the latter’s failure to provide adequate social services for minorities — and a summer that had already seen riots break out in the Central Area — the raid and arrests sparked yet another such riot in the neighborhood. This time it was serious: the July 29 riot lasted three days and resulted in further arrests — at least 69, according to one account — along with the wounding of seven police officers and two civilians hit by gunfire and rocks, in addition to property damage throughout the Central Area.

The aftermath was political as well as physical: while the riot itself died down, the resulting war between the SPD and the Panthers would last another two years. The raid was — and still is — believed by many surviving Seattle BPP members and associates to have been part of a nationwide effort by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy the nationwide BPP, one of a number of FBI terror operations against citizen activist movements in effect at the time.

One last intriguing detail about the events described above deserves mention here. About that typewriter: it may or may not have found its way into the BPP office by means other than theft, judging from the later acquittal of Aaron Dixon in the matter of its possession. Funny how such things happen — especially when “law and order” are involved.

Sources: “4 Wounded In Outburst Of Gunfire,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 30, 1968, p. 1; Don Hannula, “Negroes Criticize Amount of Force in Police Search,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 2; “Panther Leader Charged in Theft,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 2; Mike Wyne, “9 Injured in Gunfire-Marked Outbreak in Central Area,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 3; “Ramon Blames Disturbances on Arrests,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 3; “30 Police-Action Protesters Crowd Into Chief’s Office,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 3; “Leader of Panthers Free on $3,000 Bail,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 31, 1968, p. 4; “Violence Must Be Curbed” (editorial), The Seattle Times, July 31, 1968, p. 10; “Aaron’s Trial,” Helix, August 1, 1968, p. 4; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995); Aaron Dixon, “My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain” (Haymarket Books, 2012); Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (www.civilrights.washington.edu).