Award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution premiered on PBS Tuesday night and featured a face familiar to Fullertonians. Pat McKinley, former Fullerton police chief and councilman, made an appearance throughout the documentary. He, of course, was one of three council members to be recalled in 2012 after Fullerton police beat Kelly Thomas to death. But long before that, McKinley had been a young officer with the Los Angeles Police Department during the Black Panthers’ heyday and even took part in the SWAT raid on the party’s office that turned into an hours-long shootout.
“We took a very proactive stance in combating what we considered a terrorist organization,” McKinley, often the most engaging lawman in the film, says. The no-knock warrant served on December 8, 1969 capped a volatile year that saw federal and local law enforcement agencies try to annihilate the revolutionary black power group. “A very close friend was working intelligence and he told me, ‘Pat, these guys think they’re going up against some street hoodlums,'” McKinley says in the film. “He said, ‘They’re not, they’re fighters and they’re shooters. Don’t be at the door.” Five hours and 5,000 rounds of ammunition later, the first-ever SWAT operation ended with the Panthers surrendering.
The documentary, timely as ever, aptly chronicles the rise of the Panthers, from Huey Newton’s leadership in Oakland, to free breakfast programs for children, to the killing of Chicago Panther Fred Hampton in December 1969. But Like most grand narratives of the Black Panther Party, the small Santa Ana branch of the Southern California chapter gets no mention, despite its over-sized history. On June 4, 1969, Santa Ana police officer Nelson Sasscer died from gunshot wounds after stopping two pedestrians at night.
The very next morning, police arrested and jailed Daniel Michael Lynem, head of the Santa Ana Panthers, for the shooting. The case against him fell apart for lack of evidence, but a jury later convicted Arthur League, another Santa Ana Panther, of second-degree murder for the crime in a dubious trial. The Sasscer murder foiled the Santa Ana Panthers and Lynem moved to Los Angeles to help with the party there. He quickly became disillusioned, though, quitting the Panthers on December 7, 1969, the day before the shootout that McKinley took part in.
McKinley, for his part, eventually came to Fullerton to head one of the most boorish PDs in OC, creating an atmosphere that led to the beating death of Thomas—you can read it yourself in this cover story.
Watch The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution online in case you missed Tuesday’s premiere or if you just want to see it again!