A Movement with No Institutions

What most interested Cleaver, and the subject he returned to again and again in his transatlantic phone calls, was the need to establish an aboveground network to support the BLA. Guerrilla units could not survive long, he knew, without donations, without volunteers to serve as couriers and press agents, without community support. A Panther named Bernice Jones was keeping the old Seventh Avenue headquarters open in Harlem, but as police pressure skyrocketed after the May attacks, many volunteers simply melted away. Those who remained came under relentless surveillance and harassment from the FBI and NYPD. By the summer there would be fewer than a dozen people working with Jones. “Everyone is just too scared,” Lumumba Shakur complained in one call to Algeria. “They all running and hiding in fear.” ...

The BLA’s most pressing problem, however, was a lack of aboveground support, something Cleaver and Sekou Odinga in far-off Algiers constantly harped on. Other than Right On!, whose next issue wouldn’t appear until August, there was none. Barely a dozen people now manned the Panthers’ Seventh Avenue storefront as their every move was tracked by the NYPD and the FBI. Both searched for links to the underground, but other than the intermittent calls to Algeria, all monitored by the FBI, there were none to be found. The calls, in fact, only revealed the tensions among those few volunteers still supporting Cleaver. At one point, Lumumba Shakur and the Right On! editor, Denise Oliver, got into a bitter argument. “I hit her in the titty!” Shakur crowed to Odinga in Algiers. Cleaver was forced to intervene.

With no donations, the BLA cadres turned to armed robbery. Their targets, as Dhoruba Moore’s experience demonstrated, were black social clubs and drug dealers; almost all these robberies are lost to history. “There were actions all over the five boroughs,” recalls Blood McCreary. “There were people in the drug business who were setting up others for us to move on. We raised a lot of money that way, and we were letting them know that drugs would not be tolerated anymore.”