50 Years On: The Ingleside Police Station Ambush and the Black Liberation Army

This story contains accounts of violence and racism.

This week marks fifty years since the night a nationwide network of clandestine violence touched down in the quiet center of Balboa Park, across the freeway from Sunnyside. The ambush on the Ingleside Police Station left one officer dead, Sergeant John V Young, and a civilian clerk wounded. It was one of a great number of armed actions taken in cities during the 1970s by self-proclaimed revolutionaries identifying with different causes.

While much has been written and dramatized about more sensational actions by radical groups then, such as the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the campaign of the Black Liberation Army against the police in San Francisco has not seen nearly as much print. The 1970s was a time of intense political violence, resulting in considerably more deaths by terrorism than the post-9/11 period.[1] The passage of fifty years is a chance to reflect on what has changed—and what has not changed—in policing, anti-Black racism, and domestic terrorism.

The legal proceedings related to the attack played out over almost the entire intervening five decades—a messy and incomplete case. The last man implicated in the ambush who was still incarcerated was only released on parole this last October, after 49 years in prison; for some his sentence was too short.

The Ambush

On the evening of Sunday 29 August 1971, two men entered the Ingleside Police Station at 9:40 p.m. armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and a 9mm pistol.[2] The station had only three people working there at the time; just an hour before a bomb had gone off at a bank branch in Stonestown, planted as a diversion by the attackers, and most officers were elsewhere in response. The attackers had been given an all-clear signal by a woman who entered the station in disguise to make a false report and scope out the situation a half-hour beforehand.

Once inside, one of the attackers pushed the shotgun into the speaking hole in the barrier at the front counter, and fired multiple shots, killing Sergeant Young and wounding a clerk, Ellen Nina Lipney. A third officer was not hit; he crawled over and dragged the wounded Young out of the line of fire. The attackers continued to fire shots, at the window and an armored door. Accounts vary, but as many as 18 shots were fired from the shotgun, and more from the pistol.

Some reports state that the gunmen intended to set a bomb to detonate after they left, to destroy the station, but it failed to go off. Outside perhaps three accomplices were on look-out duty. After the attack, which took only moments, all those involved escaped from the station grounds through an opening that had been previously cut in the chain-link fence that separated the station from the adjacent Interstate 280 freeway. On the verge of the freeway waited two cars, which left both live shells and skid marks on the road when they sped off northbound.

Before I give an account of the Black Liberation Army and the legal cases that resulted in the 1970s and 2000s, here is a recollection of the life of the officer who died that night.

‘A Very Good Man’

Sergeant John Victor Young had served twenty-two years with the force, and when he died he left behind a beloved wife, Geraldine; they’d been married for twenty-four years. He also left behind a great deal of good will and the respect of seemingly everyone who knew him. Those who worked with him widely acknowledged his compassion, even temper, fairness, and religious devotion. “He treated cranks and superior officers alike, with the same kindness and understanding.” Another officer who worked with him said: “He was careful with his language and a good listener.” Young had a commitment to helping people, no matter what their history or circumstances. Among his desk duties before he was assigned to Ingleside was helping ex-convicts who sought legal rehabilitation that could lead to having their records expunged; sometimes he went further, even digging into his own pocket to help one who needed a bit of cash. [3]

Sergeant John V Young. About 1970. SFPD/AP.
Sergeant John V Young. About 1970. SFPD/AP.

During the 1960s, Young also worked in the department office overseeing charity activities in the city. This sort of oversight is now part of the machinery of State government, but then for any group in the city raising money for charity, applying to the SFPD and later submitting accounts that added up was all that was needed. Young worked on the submissions part time. It was a desk job that required politeness and meticulousness. He was periodically quoted in the newspapers calling out dodgy fund-raising schemes, and sometimes touting the good work done by various groups. He had a kind heart and this work put him in touch with others doing good work, though clearly there was also accounting involved.[4]

Sergeant Young was personable. Police Chief Thomas Cahill liked Young, and made him an aide. Young often also served as Cahill’s driver. He managed to be both generous and practical, and his excellent public relations skills were the reason that Police Chief Alfred Nelder, when he was appointed in 1970, had taken him from behind a desk, put him back in uniform, and posted him to Ingleside station.

The tragic irony of this change was that it put him directly in the line of fire on that August night.[5]

Boys At Risk

Jack and Geraldine Young did not have children of their own, but had spent over two decades helping at-risk youth at the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma. Founded in 1945 by the Roman Catholic diocese to support teen boys, the residential center was a place where the Youngs could “act as parents,” visiting at least monthly, and sponsoring annual summer trips for the boys to San Francisco. This included a tour of the Hall of Justice and an outing to Playland. Other activities included trips to baseball games and Winterland Ice Follies.[6]

One alumnus of the program, John R Brown, had lived at Hanna for four years as a youth in the 1950s when his family couldn’t support him and he was getting into trouble. Brown recalled: “Sergeant Young was a kind of father to me….If it weren’t for people like him, I wouldn’t be where I am,”—which for Brown at the time of Young’s funeral was stable, employed, married, and housed. A success story. One of the directors at the center said, “Jack managed to turn the boys around and get them headed right.”[7]

Jack Young’s volunteer service did not end with Hanna Boys Center. He was also on the board of El Retiro, a Catholic retreat; he acted as president of SFPD’s Widows and Orphans Aid Association; and he volunteered at St Anne’s Home for the Elderly on Lake St in the Richmond. He was a leader in Our Lady of Fatima, a group of Catholic officers who met and worshiped together regularly, and he organized the group’s annual picnic in Sonoma.[8] Young also volunteered for the department’s Fishing on the Bay program, for low-income families.

A Sunnyside Childhood

Jack Young grew up in the Sunnyside neighborhood, just across the freeway from the Ingleside Police Station. Born in 1920, both he and his twin brother Alfred Jr attended Sunnyside Grammar School, Aptos Junior High, and Balboa High School. His boyhood paper route for the Examiner covered Westwood Park.

His parents Alfred Young and Mary Lynch had met in the 1910s in the Irish community centered around St Peter’s Church in the Mission District, located at 24th and Alabama. Mary’s parents were Irish immigrants from County Waterford. Mary was born in 1886, and her mother looked after her and her four older siblings largely on her own, as their father was often not present and later died. But as a single parent, Mary’s mother was supported by a network of relatives and the close community in the Mission.

Alfred, Jack’s father, was born in Chicago in 1883 to a Scottish father and a Quebecois mother. He grew up in the South of Market district before the 1906 Quake, working as a messenger boy when he was a teen. As in his wife-to-be Mary Lynch’s family, his father was absent for periods. But Alfred’s mother did not have the same sort of support from an extended family as Mary’s mother had, and she spent some time in Stockton State Hospital before she took her own life in despair when Alfred was a teen.[9]

When the Quake came in 1906, Alfred was part of the contingent of young men who worked fighting fires, which made him one of the South of Market Boys. He moved to the Mission after that, meeting Mary Lynch while lodging in the house of her aunt and her married sister.[10]

Married in 1912, Alfred and Mary Young bought a cottage the following year on Staples Avenue from Rudolph Mohr’s company, a trim, well-made house to start their family life in the Sunnyside district, which had begun to fill out in the post-Quake years.[11]

House at 351 Staples Avenue in Sunnyside where Sgt John V Young grew up. His parents owned it from 1913 until his mother's death in 1968.
351 Staples Avenue in Sunnyside where Sgt John V Young grew up. His parents owned it from 1913 until his mother’s death in 1968.

If Jack Young as an adult was committed to helping at-risk boys who struggled with little support, that may well have grown out of both his family’s history of absent fathers and the devotion and love given to him as a child. His mother was especially intent on helping Jack and his twin brother to thrive during their infancy and youth, entering them in healthy-baby programs; this intense effort on her part may have been the result of her pain and regret at having lost her first baby a few years before to failure-to-thrive. Jack’s happy young face was featured twice in news items during his childhood.[12]

When Jack’s father died suddenly of a heart attack at home when Jack was six, his mother was faced with the task of raising twin boys on her own, and began working as a telephone operator, her occupation for the next twenty-five years.[13]

Clipped and Polished

When he was a young teen, Jack Young worked delivering newspapers. He must have been enthusiastic and appealing even then, for he and his brother Alfred ended up on the radio in 1935, entertaining listeners on KYA with tales of their newsboy routes and giving a “personality sketch.” After graduating from Balboa High, he worked as a meat-packer for H. Moffat Company on 3rd Street.[14]

Jack Young served during World War II, in naval intelligence, spending an extended time in Panama. After the war, he worked as a buyer for the oil company Aramco. He soon met Geraldine Kelly, the daughter of Irish immigrants who owned a house on Folsom Street in the same Mission District neighborhood where his own parents had met and married. Geraldine’s family also suffered from an absent father who had been unable to meet his family’s needs at certain points, a lack that had to be met by her dedicated mother, close siblings and the larger community they all belonged to. Jack and Geraldine were married in St Peter’s Church in the Mission on 31 May 1947. [15]

His career in the SF Police Department began in 1949 after he felt compelled to leave the oil company when they relocated their offices overseas; he decided staying in the city was more important than keeping that job.[16]

The couple lived at an apartment at Capp and 24th Streets for a while when they were first married, before buying a house on 45th Avenue in the Sunset–the same house where Geraldine would be interviewed by numerous reporters twenty years later when Jack was assassinated.

1533 45th Avenue, San Francisco, the home where Jack and Geraldine Young lived at the time of his death. Google Streetview.
1533 45th Avenue, San Francisco, the home where Jack and Geraldine Young lived at the time of his death. Google Streetview.

“The Young’s trim home here reflected his clipped and polished appearance. The lawn in front of their tan stucco house has been carefully tended, and inside, the walls painted a subtle pink, rooms shine with care. On a living room table lies a photograph of some of the Hanna boys. Several of them are now married.”[17]

Sergeant Jack Young’s life was cut short by a group of men who picked him out for assassination based solely on the police uniform he wore and what it symbolized for them, and in that they knew very little indeed of the life of their victim.

Two years after the attack, the road through Balboa Park that from leads from San Jose Avenue to the Ingleside station was renamed in honor of Sergeant Young.

The Other Casualty

Also hit by gunfire in the attack was Ellen Nina Lipney, a civilian clerk at Ingleside station. Her back was to the window when the shots came in a flurry. She quickly hid behind a file cabinet, and it was said that her diminutive height saved her life; only her left arm was hit with buckshot, fracturing the bone at the elbow. The injury did not prevent her from raising the alarm on the police radio immediately.

Lipney was a 32-year-old single mom then. Years later she stated that, once healed, her injured left arm was four inches shorter than her right. Her recovery took five months. At first, she was granted only about half her regular salary. Mayor Alioto was plumping to be reelected that season, and when her plight was publicized, he jumped on the chance to score some good PR by making things right. Alioto’s efforts led to legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors, making it so that any city employee assaulted on the job would receive full pay while recovering.[18]

Ellen Nina Lipney in 2019, on the occasion of the 48th anniversary of the ambush, at a ceremony at Ingleside Police Station. Ingleside Police Station Newsletter, 4 Sep 2019.
Ellen Nina Lipney in 2019, on the occasion of the 48th anniversary of the ambush, at a ceremony at Ingleside Police Station. Ingleside Police Station Newsletter, 4 Sep 2019.

It was Lipney’s sharp eye that helped provide an excellent description of the Black Liberation Army member who entered the station less than an hour before the ambush—a lookout who had been deployed to scope out the situation inside, and give a signal with a flashlight to the others waiting outside to attack. While this white woman made a report, later determined to be fictitious, Lipney noticed that she was wearing a blonde wig that poorly disguised her dark hair, noting also her prescription eyeglasses and unusual tall height. Later this suspect was identified as Marilyn Buck, the “only white member of the Black Liberation Army.” Buck was never charged in this incident, but was convicted of federal charges relating to the illegal transportation of ammunition over state lines.[19]

The Wrong Man

“They really killed the wrong man,” said Police Chief Alfred Nelder directly after the incident. Although clearly meant to be a tribute to the kindness and goodness of Sergeant Young, the statement has a disturbing aspect to it, begging the question: Would there, in some eye-for-an-eye world, be a ‘right man’ amongst the officers of SFPD then—one who was somehow deserving of assassination? There is here a shadow of the tacit acknowledgment that there were officers prone to brutality against people of color—here as elsewhere, then as now—whose death at the hands of those who had vowed to revenge such brutality would have made some sort of twisted, primitive sense.

Injury and death at the hands of police officers at that time was still a too-common fact of life for Black people; there may be fewer incidents now, and with videos there is some chance of justice. But then, with very little effort, a great many white people could avoid ever becoming aware of that part of the collective lives of communities of color. This odd statement from Nelder nods at an awareness.

Indeed, Mayor Alioto had appointed Alfred Nelder in April 1970 in order to bring some needed changes to the police department. The previous chief, Thomas Cahill, had had a very heavy hand with youth protest and hippie liberties. The time for that was past. Alioto had great sensitivity to the public mood, and the public was leaning away from Cahill’s style of policing. The calls for what would now be called community policing had begun. Alioto wanted better results or at least a better image, something he could brag about when it came time for his reelection the following year.[20]

Once appointed, Nelder brought about a few changes in the department. One of them was to move Jack Young back to street duty; it was this change that put Young directly in the line of fire on August 29, 1971. Less than four weeks after the assassination of Sergeant Young, Chief Nelder resigned; there were intimations of political differences between Alioto and Nelder, which had left Nelder with a sense of not being appreciated for the work he had done, and feeling alienated from Alioto’s inner circle. One account said Nelder felt “greatly hurt” by the criticism he endured after Sergeant Young’s death.[21] No one responsible for that death had been taken into custody yet, let alone named—and it had been Nelder’s idea to place Young back at the neighborhood station.

After his death, Young’s wife Geraldine Young recalled: “Chief Nelder said Jack was one of the greatest public relations officers in the department—just what was needed on the street.” Transferring Young represented some effort on Nelder’s part to soften the image of the SFPD, as it came under the pressures of the period; the midcentury head-cracking mores of San Francisco’s no-nonsense Irish-Catholic hegemony were on the wane. Nelder himself would be replaced with the city’s very first Protestant chief, Donald M Scott, less than four weeks after the Ingleside ambush.[22]

Other changes in the department had been brewing for some time. In 1968 the union called Officers for Justice was formed by Black officers; they brought suit in the early 1970s against the SFPD for discriminatory practices and won, bringing in oversight that changed hiring and promotion practices for decades to come.[23] Most recently the department was plunged into scandal and scrutiny in 2016 over a series of racist and homophobic texts by officers and a string of deaths of people of color at the hands of officers, ultimately resulting in a major review, which found numerous faults in the department in bias, use of force, and community policing, among other areas.

Perceptions of the city’s policing shift over time, and priorities and pressures change; presently there is a lot of social media noise about property crime, while the fall in violent crime gets little bandwidth. Urban policing that everyone finds both fair and sufficient will remain an elusive target for the foreseeable future.

Black Rage and Black Militancy

In a time when the Black Lives Matter movement draws vast media attention to egregious incidents of police brutality, it is remarkable to recall a time when such brutality was far more common and almost never brought into the light of wide public awareness, let alone brought to justice. In the 1970s, one response to that racist violence was armed militancy and anti-police violence by revolutionaries like the Black Liberation Army.

The Black Liberation Army (BLA) was formed in the wake of the virtual disintegration of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in early 1971. The blaze of divisive internal power struggles within the BPP had been generously stoked and persistently fueled by a years-long illegal campaign of subterfuge by the Federal Bureau of Investigation called COINTELPRO. It was a struggle that sorted out some of the most radical and violent members, who went underground and became the loosely organized BLA.[24] In the words of Akinyele Umoja, “BLA members saw themselves coming to the defense of an oppressed and colonized people that were victims of a genocidal war. American police were seen as the occupation army of the colonized black nation and the primary agents of black genocide….[They] saw themselves continuing the revolutionary agenda of the Black Panther Party from clandestinity.”[25] Its stated goal was “to take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States.”[26] It was a war, and as one scholar of domestic terrorism notes, “BLA rhetoric framed ‘assassinations’ of policemen as a legitimate tool of warfare.”[27]

Origins of a Dirty War

Originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the Black Panther Party (BPP) was founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California. Armed resistance was paired with a range of social programs to meet the needs of Black communities in cities all over the US where chapters were founded. Members openly and legally carried weapons as they witnessed police interactions with community members; the famous free breakfast for school children was started. The BPP had widespread support; in 1969 the Wall Street Journal reported that 62% of Black people “professed admiration for what the BPP was doing.”[28] That same year, at a US Senate hearing on the pressing problem of hunger in America, California Senator Jesse Unruh noted that the Black Panthers “supply more free breakfasts for needy children than the Federal government,” which had a pilot program going then in Los Angeles.[29]

That was also the year that FBI head J Edgar Hoover declared, “The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country.”[30] And thus began the FBI’s ruthless war against BPP members and programs. Hoover found every aspect of Black empowerment threatening, once even saying that the repression he sought against Black organizations of any and all kinds was justified on the grounds of the collective threat of Black retaliation for the history of lynching.[31] In Hoover’s equation, law and order must always trump justice, and the needs of white people always take precedence over those of Black people.

The FBI’s COINTELPRO operations enlisted local police departments and media outlets everywhere to support its suppression of the BPP. The phrase “violence-prone” was paired with “Black Panther Party” repeatedly in the media.[32] Raids were planned and organized by the FBI but carried out by local police, who were often told they would face massive gunfire when confronting BPP members in their houses, and so went in with guns blazing. Often those very weapons had been sold to BPP chapters by FBI infiltrators themselves, of which there were thousands by 1970.[33] The dangers posed to members resulted in many leaving the Party.[34] In December 1970, the BPP leader in Chicago, Fred Hampton, was killed by local police in a hail of gunfire as he slept, and others in the house injured, in a raid that eventually resulted in a massive civil settlement in court for $1.85 million (~$6m now), for the survivors and families. “But no criminal action was ever taken against the killers or their supporters.”[35]

When Huey P Newton was released from prison in late 1970, a power struggle ensued among the would-be leaders of the BPP, resulting in what is generally called the Split. While Newton called for a de-emphasis of armed resistance, the other major force in the party, Eldridge Cleaver, who was exiled in Algeria, still extolled the importance of that response.[36] The FBI delighted in their chance to stoke the conflict, using various dirty tricks to set one faction against the other and seed paranoid suspicions on both sides, exploiting the chaos to magnify the tensions.[37] “The Black Panther Party’s downfall cannot simply be attributed to COINTELPRO—though it stands as a principal agent of its destruction,” noted one analyst.[38] Another echoed this conclusion: The “most important issue was not whether the BPP emphasized a reformist or a radical agenda in response to the [FBI] counterinsurgency, but its inability to maintain its organizational unity and cohesiveness in the face of repression.”[39]

As the Party disintegrated in the fallout, followers of Cleaver went underground to make up what became the Black Liberation Army. Several came from the New York City area, while others were from the Bay Area and elsewhere. “Although loosely organized and operating in a number of cities, the BLA was in essence a New York–based cell of violent extremists,” according to one researcher.[40] In May 1971, the BLA cell that would later kill Sergeant Young in San Francisco, carried out ambushes of police officers in New York, resulting in the deaths of two officers. As a result, when BLA members were later captured and implicated in both the New York and San Francisco killings, it was the NYPD who had first dibs on the suspects over the SFPD.[41]

San Francisco Actions

In the year before the ambush of the Ingleside station, the BLA was responsible for several bombings, police shootings, and robberies in the city. It was a long list of violent and destructive actions centered on police stations and police officers. While he was in custody in 1972, Anthony Bottom (now Jalil Muntaquim) gave such a long list of purported BLA attacks that, according to a report much later, investigators at the time “thought he was mentally ill”.[42]

Bottom claimed that in October 1970 they buried the bomb at St Brendan’s Church, off Laguna Honda Blvd, that went off during the funeral of a police officer; in January 1971, they were responsible for ambushing two officers at Steiner and Waller, leaving both injured. He claimed responsibility as well for the bombing of the Housing Police at Hunters Point, also that month, resulting in damage but no injuries.

In February 1971, a shootout with BLA member Richard O’Neal resulted in a special officer being wounded. O’Neal was convicted and served ten years; after release, he served as a civil employee of the City for 25 years, working in the Southeast Community Center in the Bayview. Nonetheless, O’Neal was subsequently named in 2007 as a co-conspirator later when the Ingleside case was re-opened in the 2000s, although he had been in custody at the time it happened. (More on the re-opened case later in this article.)

Also that month police were called to an empty house that had been booby-trapped with dynamite, but they escaped injury. The following month, BLA members placed dynamite on the roof of the Mission Police Station, but it failed to go off. In July 1971, they robbed a savings and loan of $9400, at Sutter and Divisadero. Then in late August, the group planned a series of attacks, aspects of which went awry, in part because of faulty guns and explosives.

On 23 August, they planted a bomb at the Glidden Paint Factory (now gone) at 16th and Missouri that resulted in damage but no injuries.[43] The dynamite was said to be “old and sweating.” Then in the final weekend of the month several attacks were planned to be carried out in quick succession: on Friday another attempted attack on the Mission Station, with an anti-tank gun that didn’t go off; in the early-morning hours on Saturday, two members attacked the patrol car of Officer George Kowalski at 16th and Bryant. A car chase followed, and Anthony Bottom and Albert Washington were taken into custody when the submachine gun they were using jammed. This meant they were not available for the planned ambush on the Ingleside station, which was to take place that night, with the ambush of two unidentified police officers planned for Sunday, to finish the weekend of violent and sensational destruction.

The Ingleside attack was delayed by one day due to the arrests of Bottom and Washington on Saturday morning, and the last ambush of police officers was axed altogether as the heat had been turned up around the city in the aftermath of Sergeant Young’s death.[44] Still at large a month later, BLA members carried out a robbery at the Bernal Heights branch of the Bank of America, walking away with $15,000 on 20 September 1971.

Captures and Convictions

In the immediate aftermath of the Ingleside station ambush, the police force here was unsure of what organization might be behind it, although the head of the Police Officers Association claimed right away that there was “definitely a national conspiracy against policemen by some maniacs.”[45] Shortly after, a letter was sent to the SFPD and the media claiming credit for the attack, saying “revolutionary v[i]olence was committed against the Ingleside Pig Sty as one political consequence for the recent intolerable political assassination of Comrade George L Jackson.” It was signed “The George L Jackson Assault Squad of the Black Liberation Army.”[46] George Jackson was a revolutionary activist incarcerated in San Quentin who “came to symbolize the desperate plight of California’s black prison population.”[47] Just the previous week, Jackson had been shot and killed during an escape attempt; many in the radical left believed the escape was a setup engineered to assassinate Jackson, and there were retaliatory actions taken by several groups. Now there was a name for the group intent on killing police.

One of the weapons taken from Anthony Bottom and Albert Washington when they were captured after the Mission district shoot-out, the day before the Ingleside ambush, was subsequently tied to the killings of two New York City policemen the previous May.[48] Other suspects implicated in the Ingleside attack were taken into custody over the following two years, including Herman Bell and Francisco Torres. SFPD built a case, but when several suspects who were in custody in New Orleans were to be extradited, New York was given precedence in determining to which state they would go.[49] Bottom, Washington, and Herman Bell were convicted in 1975 in New York for the assassination of the two police officers killed three months before the Ingleside ambush. Francisco Torres was tried but not convicted of those killings, though he then pleaded guilty to the robbery in Bernal Heights that took place in the month after the Ingleside incident, and was incarcerated.

Also in 1975, BLA member Ruben Scott and two others were indicted by a grand jury in San Francisco, for being lookouts in the Ingleside attack. But it was revealed that they had been subjected to torture at the New Orleans jail when they were captured, in order to obtain confessions regarding the Ingleside attack, and so the case was thrown out by a California judge the following year.[50]

The Case Reopened

In 1999 a task force was formed in San Francisco to re-open the case against BLA members for the death of Sergeant John V Young. Over the next seven years a case was assembled, framed in terms of conspiracy, which netted a large number of former BLA members. In 2007, Attorney General Jerry Brown brought charges against eight men in the case, the so-called San Francisco 8: Herman Bell, Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Hank Jones, Jalil Muntquim (Anthony Bottom), Richard O’Neal, Harold Taylor, and Francisco (Cisco) Torres. Bell and Muntaquim were already in prison in New York State for killing the NYPD officers in 1971. The case was built on shifting sand, weapons evidence that had disappeared and slivers of fingerprints; and the reverberations of the torture inflicted on suspects in that New Orleans jail in 1973 could not be ignored.

In February 2008 the case was called the “most expensive and most complex case we have had in this county,” by public defender Jeff Adachi. The City was forced to pay the $2 million legal fee bill for the defendants, requiring an appropriation from the Board of Supervisors to cover the costs. One of the eight, Richard O’Neal, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was released in January 2008 after eight months in jail. [51]

In June 2009, three members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Eric Mar, John Avalos, and Chris Daly, asked that the charges against the remaining seven suspects be dropped, citing the use of confessions obtained under torture in 1973, which had voided the case in 1976. POA president Gary Delagnes objected strongly, saying “Regardless of how this confession was obtained, these seven people murdered a police officer in 1971.”[52] [Emphasis mine.]

Despite the request from the Supervisors, Herman Bell, who was already in a NY prison, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was given five years’ probation. Jalil Muntaquim pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter. Charges against Brown, Boudreaux, Jones, and Taylor were dropped.[53] Francisco Torres continued to fight his case, and in 2011 the charges against him were also dismissed.

Great Grandfathers in Prison

Herman Bell, Albert Washington, and Jalil Muntaquim all served very long sentences in NY State for the murders of the NYPD officers; each was denied parole many times. Washington died in prison. Bell was released in 2018. Muntaquim was released in October 2020. Refused parole repeatedly, their sentences by the time of release far exceeded what is usually served by those convicted of murder.

In prison Muntaquim worked on social justice issues and founded The Jericho Movement. Bell earned several degrees.[54] Cisco Torres, after his release, has worked with troubled youth.[55] The cause of elderly Black power activists in prison was addressed in a 2018-2020 series in The Guardian, “Black Power Behind Bars”.

In a recent book of portraits of Black Panthers by photographer Bryan Shih and Yoruhu Williams, Bell, Muntaquim, and Torres recorded some thoughts about their involvement with and commitment to the Panthers.[56]

Reflecting on why he had not followed through on a promising football career, Herman Bell said: “I set aside my personal ambitions and decided to do what I could to help improve the quality of life for our people….[T]hat explains why I didn’t choose that white picket fence and the two-car garage and all the other things that come my way if I’d gone in that other direction.”[57]

Herman Bell, photographed by Bryan Shih in 2016.
Herman Bell, photographed by Bryan Shih in 2016.

Talking about going underground after the split in the Black Panther party, Cisco Torres said: “Wherever we went we still carried the party lines. You still wanted to keep breakfast programs going, still do community work, but it became more difficult. By then we had been targeted….People were dying, people were getting arrested…Imagine all that coming at you at a young age.”[58]

Cisco Torres, photographed by Bryan Shih in 2016.
Cisco Torres, photographed by Bryan Shih in 2016.

Jalil Muntaquim recalled: “We were encouraged by our youthful enthusiasm, our bravado, about what we believed to be the right way to challenge the system, and we ultimately had to pay the price for it.”[59]

Jalil Muntaquim, photographed by Bryan Shih in 2016.
Jalil Muntaquim, photographed by Bryan Shih in 2016.

No Reconciliation, Small Justice

Jack Young’s widow Geraldine died in August 2008, after living the last thirty-seven years of her life without her beloved husband, a man whose hand she could never again hold, whose laughter she could never again hear, and whose retirement she would never share as they aged together. She did not live long enough to see Herman Bell, the man who wielded the shotgun that killed her husband, plead guilty the following year. She died with this chapter of her life never resolved or made right.

Sergeant John V Young’s death did not further the cause of breaking down the structures of racism in this country. And neither does a prison system that keeps elderly Black men locked up who have already served their time. As Black Lives Matter has brought civil rights and systemic racism back to the fore of national conversation and concern during the Covid era, it still proves to be a struggle that is far from resolved in the United States. Thankfully, those fighting in the present era are generally armed with smartphones, not shotguns.


Afterword

My sincerest thanks to Kathleen Laderman for her helpful and exhaustive genealogical research on the extended Young family, her proofreading and editing, and her invaluable encouragement for what has been for me a difficult project to complete.

Honoring the lived experiences and realities of all those I write about is one of my most closely held values; I have not always seen how to do that for all parties in this story. I hope readers will forgive me for any area in which I may have failed to meet their expectations.


Bibliography

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ENDNOTES

  1. Rosenau, William. (2013). “Our Backs Are Against the Wall”: The Black Liberation Army and Domestic Terrorism in 1970s America. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. 36. 10.1080/1057610X.2013.747074.
  2. My account is assembled from a number of sources. “Shotgun-Wielding Men Invade Ingleside Station: Sergeant Killed in Attack,” SF Chronicle, 30 Aug 1971, p1; Birney Jarvis, “Manhunt for 2 Gunmen—Woman Shot,” SF Examiner, 30 Aug 1971, p1; “Police Think Five Gunmen Made Attack on Station,” SF Chronicle, 31 Aug 1971, p1; “Police Seek Woman in Wig,” SF Examiner, 31 Aug 1971, p1; “Letter Boasts of Ingleside Attack,” SF Chronicle, 1 Sep 1971, p1; Jaxon Van Derbeken, “Death of Sgt John Young: Evidence Revealed in ’71 Slaying: Affidavit Tells of Secret Witness Recently Matched Fingerprints,” SFGate.com, 26 Jan 2007. https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/THE-DEATH-OF-SGT-JOHN-YOUNG-Evidence-revealed-2654068.php; Daley, Robert. 1973. Target Blue. Delacorte Press.
  3. Peter Stack, “The Slain Officer—‘A Very Good Man,’” SF Chronicle, 31 Aug 1971. Book Review for Days of Rage by Bryan Burroughs, reviewed by Dennis Bianchi, San Francisco Police Officers Association website, 1 Jul 2015. https://sfpoa.org/node/796
  4. Regarding John Young’s work in the charity vetting department of SFPD (all San Francisco Examiner): “Watchdog on Charites Plea,” 13 Nov 1962; “Charity Balloons Grounded,” 18 July 1964; “Lucky Aids Kids Despite Gold Deficit,” 7 Apr 1965; Harry Johansen, “Cops Seek Synanon Fund Facts,” 16 Jul 1965; Ernest Lenn, “Tightening of Charity Controls: Better Business Bureau Studies Supervision,” 19 Mar 1967; Ernest Lenn,“Promoter Skimming Charities: City Gets a Warning,” 19 Nov 1967; Russ Cone, “Candy Sales Probed: Rebels Quit,” 14 May 1969; Ernest Lenn, “’Save the Huskies’ Fund Probe Ordered Here,” 5 Jun 1969.
  5. Ernest Lenn, “Shuffle for 100 Police: 3 More on Racial Unit,” SF Examiner, 16 Apr 1970; Baron Muller, “Sergeant’s Wife: Understanding and Kind Man,” SF Examiner, 30 Aug 1971; Peter Stack, “The Slain Officer—‘A Very Good Man,’” SF Chronicle, 31 Aug 1971.
  6. Elmont Waite, “Slain Police Officer: Tributes to a Friend,” SF Chronicle, 4 Sept 1971; Notes for a speech by Frank Jordan on the occasion of the 48th anniversary of the death of Sgt John V Young, Ingleside Station Newsletter, San Francisco Police Dept, 4 Sep 2019. Facsimile of speech found here: https://www.sanfranciscopolice.org/sites/default/files/2019-09/SFPDInglesideNewsletter20190904.pdf
  7. Elmont Waite, “Slain Police Officer: Tributes to a Friend,” SF Chronicle, 4 Sept 1971.
  8. Phone interview, Dermot Philpott, retired SFPD officer, 27 Aug 2021.
  9. 1900 US Census for Alfred Young, his mother, and younger brother, 162 Clementina: Year: 1900; Census Place: San Francisco, San Francisco, California; Page: 3; Enumeration District: 0014; FHL microfilm: 1240100 ; California State Archives; Sacramento, California; Stockton State Hospital Commitment Registers, Vol. 13-14, 1899-1904; Roll Number: 7; Film Location: MF8:10; The suicide by rat poison of Mary (Starr) Young (1858-1902) in SF Chronicle, 16 Jul 1902.
  10. Mention of his belonging to the South of Market Boys Club in Alfred Young’s obituary, SF Chronicle, 22 Jan 1927; San Francisco Directory, 1909, puts Alfred Young lodging at the home of Catherine and Paul Richert, 2618 22nd Street, which was also home to Helen and Louis Albin. Catherine was Mary Lynch’s married sister, Helen was her mother’s sister, i.e. her aunt.
  11. Real estate transactions, SF Recorder, 6 Jun 1913; Baron Muller, “Sergeant’s Wife: Understanding and Kind Man,” SF Examiner, 30 Aug 1971.
  12. “Husky Youngster to Exhibit Charms for Baby Show Prize,” SF Chronicle, 1 Oct 1922; “Baby Hygiene Committee Promotes 67 Infants into the ‘Runabout’ Class,” SF Chronicle, 18 Jun 1926. John Alfred Young Funeral Home record. Ancestry.com. California, U.S., San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1895-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1895-1985. Microfilm publication, 1129 rolls. Researchity. San Francisco, California.
  13. San Francisco Directories from 1931 to 1953 show Mary Young at 351 Staples Avenue working as a telephone operator until the early 1950s. When an employer was listed (1951 and 1953) it was H. Moffat, the meat-packing firm that had employed her son Jack as a young man.
  14. Radio notes, SF Examiner, 29 Jun 1935, p22, c6; 1940 US Census for the Young family: “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K98Y-6TB : 6 January 2021), Mary F Young, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 38-326, sheet 13A, line 34, family 296, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 310. ; Alfred Young was included in the graduating class of 1939 in the Balboa High School yearbook “U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012”; School Name: Balboa High School; Year: 1939; John Young’s WWII Draft card: National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; WWII Draft Registration Cards for California, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 2001.
  15. In the 1940 US Census, Geraldine’s family house at 2743 Folsom Street reported both her parents at the home, yet her father was recorded in the census at Napa State Hospital as well, the latter being more likely to be true. 2743 Folsom St: “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K98P-KY7 : 6 January 2021), Nora N Kelly, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 38-249, sheet 3A, line 8, family 65, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 307. AND “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K98P-PJQ : 6 January 2021), Robert Kelly, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 38-249, sheet 61A, line 13, family 65, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 307. Timothy Kelly at Napa State Hospital: “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K94H-8FB : 6 January 2021), Timothy T Kelly, Napa Judicial Township, Napa, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 28-17, sheet 33A, line 10, family , Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 269. Marriage date and place from: Ernest Lenn, “Entry for a Slain Policeman’s Widow,” SF Examiner, 29 Sep 1971, p14.
  16. Baron Muller, “Sergeant’s Wife: Understanding and Kind Man,” SF Examiner, 30 Aug 1971.
  17. San Francisco City Directories, 1948 to 1970; Peter Stack, “The Slain Officer—‘A Very Good Man,’” SF Chronicle, 31 Aug 1971.
  18. “Disability System’s Built-in Inequities,” SF Examiner, 28 Nov 1979, p9.
  19. “Police Slaying Link: Girl Gave Signal,” SF Examiner, 1 Sep 1971, p1; Farida Dawkins, “Meet the only white badass member of the Black Liberation Army who fought for black power,” face2faceafrica.com, 15 Aug 2018. https://face2faceafrica.com/article/meet-the-only-white-badass-member-of-the-black-liberation-army-who-fought-for-black-power; Buck was later convicted on several counts in relation to the Brinks Robbery in 1981 that resulted in the deaths of three officers. About the ammunitions charge: Phone interview, Dermot Philpott, retired SFPD officer, 27 Aug 2021.
  20. Ernest Lenn, “Shuffle for 100 Police: 3 More on Racial Unit,” SF Examiner, 16 Apr 1970; Ernest Lenn, “Chief Nelder Quits: Hints SF Politics Caused Decision,” SF Examiner, 23 Sep 1971.
  21. Ernest Lenn, “Chief Nelder Quits: Hints SF Politics Caused Decision,” SF Examiner, 23 Sep 1971; Charles Howe, “New Chief Sworn In,” SF Chronicle, 25 Sep 1971.
  22. Baron Muller, “Sergeant’s Wife: Understanding and Kind Man,” SF Examiner, 30 Aug 1971; Charles Howe, “New Chief Sworn In,” SF Chronicle, 25 Sep 1971.
  23. Sanders, Prentice Earl, and Ben Cohen. 2011. The Zebra Murders: a Season of Killing, Racial Madness and Civil Rights. New York: Arcade Publishing. https://www.vlebooks.com/vleweb/product/openreader?id=none&isbn=9781628721089
  24. Rosenau (2013), pp177-179.
  25. Umoja, Akinyele Omowale, “Repression Breed Resistance: The Black Liberation Army and the Radical Legacy of the Black Panther Party,” in Cleaver, Kathleen, and George Katsiaficas. 2014. Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: a New Look at the Black Panthers and their Legacy. Florence: Taylor and Francis, pp12,19.
  26. Black Liberation Army and the Program of Armed Struggle, a database of the FBI Library, a resource for academic use, includes this quote in its description. https://libraries.indiana.edu/black-liberation-army-program-armed
  27. Rosenau (2013) p182.
  28. Churchill, Ward, “’To Disrupt, Discredit, and Destroy’: The FBI’s Secret War against the Black Panther Party,” in Cleaver, Kathleen, and George Katsiaficas. 2014. Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: a New Look at the Black Panthers and their Legacy. Florence: Taylor and Francis, p84.
  29. Alan Cline, “Hunger Hearings: ‘Politics Hurts Plans for the Poor’,” SF Examiner, 10 May 1969.
  30. “J. Edgar Hoover: Black Panther Greatest Threat to U.S. Security.” UPI Archives. 16 Jul 1969. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1969/07/16/J-Edgar-Hoover-Black-Panther-Greatest-Threat-to-US-Security/1571551977068/
  31. Churchill, p80, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination.
  32. Churchill, p84, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination.
  33. During the Watergate hearings in 1972, the FBI acknowledged conducting literally thousands of separate illegal counterintelligence actions. Churchill, p82, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination. Between 1968 and 1971, the FBI increased the numbers of infiltrators on their pay from 3300 to 7500; many of whom acted as the instigators of BPP violence. Churchill, pp95-97, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination.
  34. By early 1970 a great many BPP members—as many as 40% by one account—had left the party. Churchill, p97-98, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination.
  35. Churchill, p85, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination.
  36. Umoja, pp8-9, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination.
  37. The FBI noted Huey Newton’s paranoia and mental instability, in Dec 1970, even claiming that it was their stepped-up efforts to destabilize the BPP that were responsible for his increasing mental instability. Newton’s efforts to regroup the Party were hampered by his drug addiction and gangster-like management style later; he died in a drug-related shooting in 1989 in Oakland. Churchill, p111, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination; Umoja, p10, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination.
  38. Henderson, Errol Anthony, “Shadow of a Clue,” in Cleaver, Kathleen, and George Katsiaficas. 2014. Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: a New Look at the Black Panthers and their Legacy. Florence: Taylor and Francis, p202.
  39. Umoja, p19, in Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination.
  40. Rosenau (2013), p183.
  41. “NY’s Move in Case of Police Slaying Suspect,” SF Examiner, 4 Sep 1973, p44.
  42. Jaxon Van Derbeken, “Death of Sgt John Young: Evidence Revealed in ’71 Slaying: Affidavit Tells of Secret Witness Recently Matched Fingerprints,” SFGate.com, 26 Jan 2007. https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/THE-DEATH-OF-SGT-JOHN-YOUNG-Evidence-revealed-2654068.php
  43. Birney Jarvis, “Bomb Rocks Paint Plant; Arson Quiz,” SF Examiner, 24 Aug 1971, p3.
  44. Charles Howe, “Ingleside Death: Convict Links Black ‘Army’ to Cop Killing,” SF Chronicle, 5 May 1972; Ed Montgomery, “Youth Names Suspect in Ambush Plots,” SF Examiner, 4 May 1972.
  45. “Shotgun-Wielding Men Invade Ingleside Station: Sergeant Killed in Attack,” SF Chronicle, 30 Aug 1971, p1.
  46. “Police Slaying Link: Girl Gave Signal,” SF Examiner, 1 Sep 1971, p1.
  47. Talbot, David, and Arthur Morey. 2013. Season of the witch: enchantment, terror, and deliverance in the city of love. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio. P170. Talbot’s book covers the same time and place and political struggles as this article, but manages somehow to never even mention the Black Liberation Army.
  48. CP McCarthy, “2nd Arrest in Police Ambush,” SF Examiner, 3 Sep 1973, p1.
  49. “NY’s Move in Case of Police Slaying Suspect,” SF Examiner, 4 Sep 1973, p44; “SF Police Testify in NY Case,” SF Examiner, 27 Mar 1974, p2; “Trio in SF Case Guilty in New York,” SF Examiner, 10 Apr 1975, p4.
  50. Ernest Lenn, “Three Indicted for Ingleside Police Assault,” SF Examiner, 7 Jan 1975, p46; Martin Kuz, “Echoes of the Revolution,” SF Weekly, 15 Nov 2006. https://archives.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/echoes-of-the-revolution/Content?oid=2161379&showFullText=true ; Jaxon Debeken, Marisa Lagos, “Ex-militants charged in S.F. police officer’s ’71 slaying at station,” SFGate.com, 23 Jan 2007. https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Ex-militants-charged-in-S-F-police-officer-s-71-2654930.php
  51. Brent Begin, “City is stuck with bill for legal fees,” SF Examiner, 7 Feb 2008, pA4.
  52. “Charges in 1971 Killings asked to be tossed,” SF Examiner, 9 Jun 2009. Letter: “On the Unjust Prosecution of the San Francisco 8, Statement from Supervisors Eric Mar, John Avalos, and Chris Daly,” 27 Aug 2009. https://www.freethesf8.org/Supervisorstatement.html
  53. Tamara Barak Aparton, “Four Cleared of Charges in Cop Killing,” SF Examiner, 7 Jul 2009, pA5.
  54. “Helpful Information For Your Letter Of Support For Parole Of Herman Bell” (PDF) https://kersplebedeb.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Parole-Info-for-Herman-Bell-Feb2018.pdf
  55. Brief bios on the San Francisco 8, albeit pretty outdated. “Who are the San Francisco Eight?” http://www.freethesf8.org/who.html
  56. Shih, Bryan, and Yohuru Williams. 2016. The Black Panthers: portraits from an unfinished revolution.
  57. Shih, p231.
  58. Shih, p224.
  59. Shih, p228.

 

3 thoughts on “50 Years On: The Ingleside Police Station Ambush and the Black Liberation Army”

  1. I had a personal experience with this. My friends and I were heading over to the market that was on the corner of San Jose and Ocean. Don’t remember name of Market or what is there now. We were crossing over the freeway on the overpass and saw a lot of activity. Being kids we went that way to see what was going on. This must have just happened. We were heading down the street now named for Sgt. Young right past the station. All of a sudden must have been a dozen Police running toward us rifles drawn telling us to halt. They kept us there for awhile questioning us. After realizing we were telling the truth and probably realizing we were just a bunch of high schoolers they let us go. After we got back to the neighborhood I remember my Dad had heard about this and was driving around looking for me. Found us at Forester and Staples and insisted on driving everybody home. One of those things you never forget.

    Marty Hackett

  2. Thanks Amy. A very sobering chapter from our recent history. In many ways things haven’t changed much at all.

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