Most of us that remember the Black Panther Party generally associate the name of the organization with violence. But when it was originally fashioned in Oakland, California in 1965 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, its major function was to spotlight alleged police brutality that was said to be widespread in black neighborhoods. When the group was founded, only sixteen of Oakland’s six-hundred, sixty-one police officers were of Afro-American descent. The group promoted Marxist and socialist principles, but its early nationalistic reputation appealed to a diverse participation of mostly blacks, but some non-blacks as well. By 1968 the group’s policies grew across the United States with headquarters in most major cities. They created a ten-point program professing “Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace” among other ideas. The group introduced an assortment of social programs designed within black communities in attempts to alleviate poverty, improve health among those who lived in inner city neighborhoods, and moderating the overall public image of the Party.
However, as the group evolved, its reputation for violence became more noticeable. A California law afforded The Panthers the right to carry a loaded shotgun or rifle, providing it was displayed publicly, and not aimed at any individual. This practice of openly carrying weapons and publicly making statements that were threatening in nature such as “The Revolution has come; it’s time to pick up the gun” and “Off the pigs (police)!” assisted creating the Panthers’ status as a violent group.
In the mid-1980s, for all intents and purposes, the Panthers disbanded. But before their demise, William Potts, a/k/a William Freeman, now 56, was a member in good standing.
In 1984, Potts hijacked a Miami bound flight that left Newark, New Jersey, rerouting the aircraft to Cuba. Earlier this month, federal agents returned Potts to U.S. soil where he verbally admitted that what he did was “an act of terrorism”. He admitted in writing, to the action being an act of air piracy as well, after his formal arrest by FBI agents at Miami International Airport, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Medetis.
Medetis’s words were issued during Potts’ bond hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman when she requested that Potts be held pending trial due to the supposition that he’s a flight risk as well as a danger to the community. She alluded to the legal “presumption” of detention for the type of offense he allegedly committed as well as the possibility of a long prison sentence. She also mentioned that if Potts was released he would most likely be arrested by New Jersey State authorities for the robbery of a gas station that took place in that state the day before he hijacked the jet.
Summarizing the hijacking, and current air-piracy charge against him, U.S. Attorney Medetis quoted details that were found in an FBI affidavit. According to the document, On March 27, 1984 Potts declared he planted explosives aboard the New York-to-Miami bound flight. He demanded the aircraft be diverted to Havana, Cuba. The affidavit further went on to show that he then handed the flight crew of the Piedmont Airlines jet a note, describing himself as a black militant. He threatened to blow up the plane if it attempted to land in Miami. He also demanded $5 million in cash.
The day before the hijacking, Potts, held-up a gas station in Bergen County, New Jersey brandishing a knife, according to the attendant who was threatened by him. A warrant for his arrest for that case is still outstanding.
According to a CNN interview with him, Potts, who had two daughters with a Cuban wife, refused previous offers by the Cuban regime to send him back to U.S. But now, he is apparently desperate to be reunited with his two daughters. He previously sent them to the US and told CNN that as he “watched their plane take off… he was filled with regret for having hijacked a plane,” when he was a young man.
He went on to tell the network that he had not been able to reach a plea agreement with US authorities but hoped that any jail time he would be facing now, would be reduced by the time he had already served in the Cuban prison.
His attorney argued that Potts should be granted a low personal surety bond before his trial began, noting that the two girls are now living with his mother in Atlanta, Georgia. The above-mentioned children were born to him and a Cuban wife that he previously lived with on the Island Nation. “He wants to be in the United States,” his lawyer said… “He has arrived at the place where he wants to be.”
But after all considerations were pondered by Judge Goodman he told Potts “The facts are the facts,” when Potts protested the accounts during his court appearance before him. Shortly thereafter he denied him bond partially due to the New Jersey case.
Potts said he originally thought he’d be welcomed as a revolutionary when he arrived at the communist-controlled country in the early eighties. He also believed he’d be given guerrilla training. But the government of Cuba, at the time led by Fidel Castro, detained him and after trial sent him to prison for the hijacking charge. He spent 13 years in a Cuban jail for the offense.
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