Black Liberation Army
Dates of operation1970–1981
Split fromBlack Panther Party
Active regionsUnited States
Black nationalism
Political positionFar-left
Part ofBlack Power Movement
Battles and wars

The Black Liberation Army (BLA) was an underground Marxist-Leninist, black-nationalist militant organization that operated in the United States from 1970 to 1981. Composed of former Black Panthers (BPP)[2] 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.[3]


The Black Liberation Army gained strength as Black Panther Party membership declined. By 1970, police and FBI sabotage (see COINTELPRO), infiltration, sectarianism, the 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. The conditions under which the Black Liberation Army formed are not entirely clear. 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.[4] A fallout between Cleaver and other Panther leaders followed from his public criticism of the BPP, among other things accusing Panther social programs of being reformist rather than revolutionary. Others, including black revolutionary Geronimo Pratt (AKA Geronimo ji Jaga), 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.[5] Assata Shakur, in her autobiography, Assata: An Autobiography, asserts:

"… the Black Liberation Army was not a centralized, organized group with a common leadership and chain of command. Instead, there were various organizations and collectives working together and simultaneously independent of each other."[6]

One such organization was the Philadelphia-based Black Unity Council, which renamed itself the Black Liberation Army in 1970, independent of BLA groups in New York and DC.[7]

Maxwell Stanford, founder of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), cites the Black Guards, a wing of the RAM, as direct BLA forerunners.[8]

The newly formed BLA believed that "the character of reformism is based on unprincipled class collaboration with our enemy"[9] and asserted the following principles:

  1. That we are anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist.
  2. That we must of necessity strive for the abolishment of these systems and for the institution of socialistic relationships in which Black people have total and absolute control over their own destiny as a people.
  3. That in order to abolish our systems of oppression, we must utilize the science of class struggle, develop this science as it relates to our unique national condition.


1970–72: Attacks

According to a Justice Department report on BLA activity, the Black Liberation Army was suspected of involvement in over 70 incidents of violence between 1970 and 1976.[10] The Fraternal Order of Police blamed the BLA for the murders of 13 police officers.[11]

On October 22, 1970, the BLA was believed to have planted a bomb in St. Brendan's Church in San Francisco while it was full of mourners attending the funeral of San Francisco police officer Harold Hamilton, who had been killed in the line of duty while responding to a bank robbery. The bomb was detonated, but no one in the church suffered serious injuries.[12]

On May 21, 1971, as many as five men participated in the murder of two New York City police officers, Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones. Those arrested and brought to trial for the shootings include Anthony Bottom (a.k.a. Jalil Muntaqim), Albert Washington, Francisco Torres, Gabriel Torres, and Herman Bell.[13]

On August 29, 1971, three armed men murdered 51-year-old San Francisco police sergeant John Victor Young while he was working at a desk in his police station, which was almost empty at the time due to a bombing attack on a bank that took place earlier - only one other officer and a civilian clerk were there. Two days later, the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter signed by the BLA claiming responsibility for the attack.[14][15]

On November 3, 1971, Officer James R. Greene of the Atlanta Police Department was shot and killed in his patrol van at a gas station. His wallet, badge, and weapon were taken, and the evidence at the scene pointed to two suspects. The first was Twymon Myers (suspected to be one of the group's leaders[16]), who was killed in a police shootout in 1973, and the second was Freddie Hilton (a.k.a. Kamau Sadiki), who evaded capture until 2002, when he was arrested in New York City on a separate charge and was recognized as one of the men wanted in the Greene murder. Apparently, the two men had attacked the officer to gain standing with their compatriots within Black Liberation Army.[17]

On January 27, 1972, the Black Liberation Army assassinated police officers Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie at the corner of 174 Avenue B in New York City. After the killings, a note sent to authorities portrayed the murders as a retaliation for the prisoner deaths during the 1971 Attica prison riot. Two suspects died in "unrelated shootouts with cops — one in New York, and one in St. Louis, with Laurie’s gun in his car" and a third was sentenced in 2016 to 21 years for selling heroin to undercover police.[18] Another suspect, Henry Brown, was tried for the murders and found not guilty.[19] Evidence found at the scene has been lost.[20]

1972–79: Actions and flights

See also: American fugitives in Cuba

On July 31, 1972, five armed individuals hijacked Delta Air Lines Flight 841 en route from Detroit to Miami, eventually collecting a ransom of $1 million and diverting the plane, after passengers were released, to Algeria. The authorities there seized the ransom but allowed the group to flee. Four were eventually caught by French authorities in Paris, where they were convicted of various crimes, but one—George Wright—remained a fugitive until September 26, 2011, when he was captured in Portugal.[21] Portuguese courts rejected the initial pledge for extradition. American authorities may still appeal this decision.

In another high-profile incident, Assata Shakur, Zayd Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were said to have opened fire on state troopers in New Jersey after being pulled over for a broken taillight. Zayd Shakur and state trooper Werner Foerster were both killed during the exchange. Following her capture, Assata Shakur was tried in six different criminal trials.[22][23][24] According to Shakur, she was beaten and tortured during her incarceration in a number of different federal and state prisons. The charges ranged from kidnapping to assault and battery to bank robbery. Assata Shakur was found guilty of the murder of both Foerster and her companion Zayd Shakur, but escaped prison in 1979. Shakur eventually fled to Cuba and received political asylum there. Acoli was convicted of killing Foerster and sentenced to life in prison.[25]

1981: Brinks robbery

Main article: Brinks robbery (1981)

The BLA was active in the US until at least 1981 when a Brinks truck robbery, conducted with support from former Weather Underground members Kathy Boudin, David Gilbert and Judith Alice Clark, left a guard and two police officers dead. Boudin, Gilbert and Clark along with several BLA and May 19 Communist Organization members, were subsequently arrested.[26][27]


Anarchist sympathies

Main article: Black anarchism

Following the collapse of the BLA, some members — including Ashanti Alston, Donald Weems (a.k.a. Kuwasi Balagoon) and Ojore Lutalo — became outspoken proponents of anarchism. Weems died in prison of an AIDS-related disease in 1986. Alston remains active in prison support and other activist circles. Lutalo was released from prison in 2009 after serving 28 years on charges related to a shootout with a drug dealer in 1981 (and parole violation stemming from his conviction for a 1975 bank robbery), during which time he was punished with solitary confinement for receiving anarchist literature. While incarcerated, the Anarchist Black Cross Federation gave him support.[28]

On January 26, 2010, Lutalo was arrested for endangering public transportation while on the Amtrak train to New Jersey after attending the Anarchist Book Fair in Los Angeles, being mistakenly identified as making terrorist threats on his cell phone. The charge was dropped for lack of evidence, and Lutalo settled a suit against the city of La Junta, Colorado, where his arrest was made, for an undisclosed amount.[29]

Later trials

Main article: San Francisco 8

In January 2007, eight men, labelled the San Francisco 8 were charged by a joint state and federal task force with John Young's murder.[30] The defendants have been identified as former members of the Black Liberation Army.[31] A similar case was dismissed in 1975 when a judge ruled that police gathered evidence through the use of 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 of the accused: Ray Boudreaux, Henry W. Jones, Richard Brown and Harold Taylor. That same month, Jalil Muntaquim pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter becoming the second person to be convicted in this case.[32]

List of members and associates

BLA members in prison as of 2023 include the following:

BLA fugitives:

Other BLA members and associates:

See also


  1. ^ "BLACK LIBERATION ARMY AND THE PROGRAM OF ARMED STRUGGLE" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on November 28, 2022. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  2. ^ "Black Liberation Army Papers (1963-1998)". Archived from the original on 2023-01-20. Retrieved 2023-01-20.
  3. ^ Cleaver, Kathleen; Katsiaficas, George (2014). Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Black Panthers and Their Legacy. Routledge. p. 12. ISBN 9781135298326.
  4. ^ "Caged panthers". 2005-10-11. Archived from the original on 2020-11-21. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  5. ^ Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party, 2001.
  6. ^ Umoja, Akinyele Omowale (ed.) "Repression Breeds Resistance: The Black Liberation Army and the Radical Legacy of the Black Panther Party.", New Political Science, 21.2 (1999): 131-54.
  7. ^ a b "The End of Rage". 7 December 2021. Archived from the original on 28 May 2022. Retrieved 11 May 2022.
  8. ^ "Revolutionary Action movement (RAM): A Case Study of an Urban Revolutionary Movement in Western Capitalist Society" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2012-08-01. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  9. ^ "Message to the Black Movement" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  10. ^ "Assata Speaks - Hands off Assata - Let's Get Free - Revolutionary - Pan-Africanism - Black on Purpose - Liberation - Forum". Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved January 9, 2006.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 2, 2006. Retrieved January 9, 2006.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "Police Officer Harold Hamilton". Archived from the original on August 3, 2021. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  13. ^ Elizabeth Solomont, "New Arrests in a Decades-Old Slaying of Police Officers" Archived 2016-12-20 at the Wayback Machine, The New York Sun, January 24, 2007.
  14. ^ "Sergeant John Victor Young". The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP). Archived from the original on 2020-06-22. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  15. ^ Crimes of the centuries : notorious crimes, criminals, and criminal trials in American history. Chermak, Steven M., Bailey, Frankie Y. Santa Barbara, California. ISBN 978-1-61069-593-0. OCLC 911518322. Archived from the original on 2020-06-23. Retrieved 2020-06-21.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  16. ^ Kaufman, Michael (16 November 1973). "Slaying of One of the Last Black Liberation Army Leaders Still at Large Ended a 7-Month Manhunt". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "Office of Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr". Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-07-15. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  18. ^ "Final suspect in infamous cop-killing heads to jail — for dealing heroin". 2016-01-07. Archived from the original on 2019-12-09. Retrieved 2019-12-08./
  19. ^ Conlon, Edward (19 July 2018). "The War at Home: Remembering Foster and Laurie". NYPD.
  20. ^ "Evidence disappears in case of two NYPD officers killed in East Village by 3 members of the Black Liberation Army". 2016-01-23. Archived from the original on 2019-12-09. Retrieved 2019-12-08./
  21. ^ "Man who escaped from N.J. prison 41 years ago is captured in Portugal". 2011-09-26. Archived from the original on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  22. ^ Times, Joseph F. Sullivan Special to The New York (1977-04-26). "Assault Charges Add 26 Years To Mrs. Chesimard's Life Term". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2020-06-23. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  23. ^ Times, Walter H. Waggoner Special to The New York (1977-03-26). "Joanne Chesimard Convicted in Killing Of Jersey Trooper". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2013-10-20. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  24. ^ Times, Joseph F. Sulliv'An Special to The New York (1977-03-25). "Chesimard Jury Asks Clarification of Assault Charges". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2020-06-23. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  25. ^ Times, Richard J. h Johnston;Special to The New York (1974-03-16). "Squire Sentenced to, Life For Killing State Trooper". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2020-06-22. Retrieved 2020-06-21.((cite news)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ "The Brinks Robbery of 1981 - the Crime Library — the Explosion — Crime Library". Archived from the original on February 9, 2015. Retrieved October 28, 2015.
  27. ^ "Under Fire: The Death of the Black Liberation Army | The FBI Files S3 EP14 | Real Crime on YouTube". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2022-10-21. Retrieved 2022-10-21.
  28. ^ "Ojore". Archived from the original on 2016-04-16. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  29. ^ Cardona, Felisa. "La Junta to settle lawsuit with man who was wrongfully jailed". The Denver Post. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  30. ^ "Ex-militants charged in S.F. police officer's '71 slaying at station". SFGate. 2007-01-24. Archived from the original on 2011-06-29. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  31. ^ Black Liberation Army tied to 1971 slaying Archived February 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine (via USA Today)
  32. ^ "2nd guilty plea in 1971 killing of S.F. officer". SFGate. 2009-07-07. Archived from the original on 2011-06-29. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  33. ^ "The 19 black radicals who are still in prison after four decades". 30 July 2018. Archived from the original on 19 February 2022. Retrieved 19 February 2022.
  34. ^ "Officer James Richard Greene, Atlanta Police Department, Georgia". Archived from the original on 2016-04-25. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  35. ^ a b c d e f g Liberation, imagination, and the Black Panther Party : a new look at the Panthers and their legacy (pgs.137-38)
  36. ^ a b "The 19 black radicals who are still in prison after four decades". 30 July 2018. Archived from the original on 19 February 2022. Retrieved 19 February 2022.
  37. ^ "Joseph "Joe-Joe" Bowen|". Archived from the original on 2022-05-27. Retrieved 2022-05-11.
  38. ^ US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Most Wanted". FBI Most Wanted Terrorists. US Department of Justice. Archived from the original on August 5, 2018. Retrieved August 28, 2015.
  39. ^ Garza, Alicia. "A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement". The Feminist Wire. Archived from the original on May 15, 2019. Retrieved August 28, 2015. When I use Assata's powerful demand in my organizing work, I always begin by sharing where it comes from, sharing about Assata's significance to the Black Liberation Movement, what its political purpose and message is, and why it's important in our context.
  40. ^ Marques, Natalia (2023-07-21). "Ruchell Magee wins his release after 67 years in shackles". Peoples Dispatch. Archived from the original on 2023-07-22. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
  41. ^ "Former Black Panther Sundiata Acoli to be released from prison after 49 years". 11 May 2022. Archived from the original on 11 May 2022. Retrieved 11 May 2022.
  42. ^ "Sundiata Acoli, convicted in NJ state trooper's death, released from prison". Archived from the original on 2022-07-12. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Safiya Bukhari's "Lest We Forget"|". Archived from the original on 2023-01-18. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  44. ^ Wright, Bruce C. T. (17 December 2021). "Russell 'Maroon' Shoatz, Former Black Liberation Army Soldier And Prison Abolitionist, Dies At 78". Newsone. Archived from the original on 18 December 2021. Retrieved 18 December 2021.
  45. ^ Harrison, Ishek (4 October 2020). "Former Black Liberation Army Activist Granted Parole After 49 Years and Numerous Requests, Impending Release Sparks Backlash". Archived from the original on 6 October 2021. Retrieved 18 December 2021.
  46. ^ "The Eleventh Parole Hearing of Jalil Abdul Muntaqim". The New Yorker. January 25, 2019. Archived from the original on February 28, 2019. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  47. ^ "When will atonement come for Jalil Muntaqim?". 30 March 2021. Archived from the original on 2022-03-23. Retrieved 2023-01-19.
  48. ^ Joseph, Jamal, Panther Baby. New York: Algonquin Books, 2012, ISBN 1565129504, pp280
  49. ^ Lubasch, Arnold H. (1983-09-04). "4 of 6 Are Guilty in U.S. Brink's Case". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2020-06-24. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  50. ^ "At parole hearing, David Gilbert described radical journey". 30 December 2021. Archived from the original on 11 May 2022. Retrieved 11 May 2022.
  51. ^ "The Radical Life of Kathy Boudin". The New Yorker. 7 May 2022. Archived from the original on 8 May 2022. Retrieved 11 May 2022.
  52. ^ "Police Unions Fight to Rescind Parole for Former Black Panther". 26 February 2019. Archived from the original on 19 February 2022. Retrieved 19 February 2022.
  53. ^ "Former Black Panther, Robert Seth Hayes, Dies at 72 - Blavity". Archived from the original on 2022-02-19. Retrieved 2022-02-19.
  54. ^ "Arrest on Colorado Amtrak train over alleged threat | ABC13 Houston |". ABC13 Houston. Archived from the original on 16 March 2023. Retrieved 27 March 2023.