FADE TO BLACK

part 2 of 2
Watson's primary public role, it seemed, was to get arrested. "I spent a lot of time spread-eagled over somebody's hood or trunk," he says.

Today many of the charges appear foolish, and the whole dance--provocation, arrest, rhetoric--reads like a game in which both sides agreed to the rules beforehand. Watson was busted once for not using his turn signal as he drove out of an alley; another Denver Panther was charged with loitering.

Still, the constant confrontations and headlines fueled the community's outrage and kept the Denver party in the public eye. In 1970 Lauren Watson even leapt onto the national stage.

"During that time, I represented the Black Panthers almost exclusively," recalls Leonard Davies, then a young civil rights lawyer. "I was sort of house counsel. I handled five or six cases for Lauren. He was the leadership here--the Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver all in one. He was big, very articulate and fearless.

"The Panthers had their headquarters in Five Points. The day after Nixon was elected, Lauren and some guys were coming out, and Lauren said something like, `Now it's our turn,' and flipped off some police sitting across the street. Lauren and several guys got into cars, and the cops followed them."

"After an O.J. Simpson-like chase through the neighborhood," Davies remembers, Watson "called me on the phone from a gas station. He was charged with resisting arrest, refusing to obey a police officer, interference with a police officer--the Holy Trinity of police charges then."

At the time, Colorado was one of only two states in the country to permit cameras in courtrooms, and New York's National Educational Television took the opportunity to film Watson's entire trial. The four-part, six-hour film was directed by Denis Sanders, who went on to win two Academy Awards.

Watson was acquitted after only two hours of jury deliberations. ("Juries--you can't predict them," says Robert Cantwell, who was the arresting officer and now works for the state Department of Corrections in Colorado Springs. "I didn't see any harassment. To me, Lauren Watson was just another number.")

The movie opened in New York City to generally positive reviews: Like trials themselves, the New York Times reported, the movie "is a mixture of complete fascination and occasional moments of delay and tedium." Today, Watson does not own a copy of the film and recalls few specifics about the events surrounding the court case.

For Lauren and Mary Lou, the frantic activity and constant stream of adrenaline obscured the line between their public and private lives. Even the moments that should have been their most personal were defined by the Black Panthers.

The couple was married on August 8, 1968. "We had a very nice wedding," Mary Lou recalls. Afterward, the couple retired to the Panther headquarters at 34th and Franklin, where, she adds, "we had a lovely reception.

"We left that place for the evening and left all our gifts and things behind," she continues. "Later, Lauren got a call saying that police had raided the building. Everything inside was destroyed, including my wedding dress." Reports estimated damage to the Panther headquarters at $9,000.

Three years later Mary Lou's sister came to town. "She was trying to get a check cashed at the Safeway at Colfax and Josephine," Mary Lou recalls. "The cashier was giving her a lot of trouble, and she was being very insistent. Finally he said, `I'm going to call security,' and she said, `Go ahead.'"

Both Lauren and the Denver police showed up, and the argument turned into a fight. Lauren punched an off-duty cop. Mary Lou, nine months pregnant, was elbowed in the stomach. Eight hours later she gave birth to a son. The couple named him Hasira; in Swahili the name means "rage."

Other, less obvious strains wore away at the Watsons in steady and unseen ways. "You got so busy, many times we didn't even see each other for long periods," Mary Lou recalls. "But we had a sense of purpose, and I accepted what that purpose was. I knew that what had to be done didn't necessarily mean being together all the time. We didn't even think of our marriage in traditional terms that way."

With his history of run-ins with police and the tendency of Panthers in other cities to die violently or disappear silently into prison, Watson and the Black Panther Party appeared destined to live or die together. But in 1970 he was purged by the party's national headquarters.

"The national [leaders] became so involved with themselves that if you weren't from Oakland, you weren't shit," Lauren recalls. "If you didn't preface something by saying `Huey says...' or `Eldridge says...' or `Bobby says...,' you were full of shit. It became a personality cult.

"In 1970 the guys from Oakland came and said I was not giving them appropriate political leadership and that they'd decided to replace me."

"They took him off somewhere in the mountains," Mary Lou remembers. "When he came back, he said he had been removed. We went to City Park, and we talked for hours. He told me they'd said it had come to their attention that he was not working for the good of the people but for himself. And that certainly was not true, because we didn't ever have a down payment on bubblegum.

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2 comments
DayDreamer1
DayDreamer1

I failed to point out that a man does not forfeit the right to live...if it is taken where NO EVIDENCE has been discovered for a 53 gun solute to take place...to this day evidence remains inconclusive where our State of the Art crime Lab should have pulled this case as it was one of the first bizarre, African American deaths to be tried where it did "change crime lab procedures," for the historical value of how we are to conduct work today.


With Gods Will 

DayDreamer1
DayDreamer1

As I research, I wish to congratulate Mr. Watson on his sustaining his physical abuses of what inhumane life brought for that time period. However, there is a man, who sustained the same appalling ordeals in our far State. He was a man who dates back to the same conflicts of simple traffic nonobservances that resulted in many harassments' documented in the 1950s. Mr. Watson and this man, my father, once stood for the same goals: the freedom to help elderly stay in their home, to not shave his beard, to have fair education, many uncalled for battles with law enforcement.. i.e. all are in articles. Their were men, Dr. King, Malcolm X, Emmitt Till, Medger Evers, Fred Hampton, and many others, who knew they were going to die for what we have in our present time and do not appreciate. It is sad, I cannot find any information on my father; when goggled.  However, to have many articles says a lot about a man who no one wants to do a follow up on.


Articles as this one was true for the Civil rights Era. I wish to "Lay" my father "Down In Peace" with the truth told. A true story untold.


My father's death was a horrific "53 gun" solute where there was no proof of wrong doing." No True Bill" did read" No True Will".


As God Continues to give His Grace and Mercy

 
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