Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Echoes of the Revolution 

The struggle between Bay Area law enforcement and the Black Panthers is still going on after 35 years

Wednesday, Nov 15 2006
Five black men strode into the Ingleside Police Station at 9:40 p.m. on Aug. 29, 1971. Sgt. John Young, who worked at a desk near the station's visitor window, stepped toward the bulletproof glass to ask if they needed help. One man jammed a 12-gauge shotgun in the window's speaking hole and fired.

The buckshot caught Young high in the chest, punching him to the floor. A few feet away, office clerk Nina Lipney sat typing while listening to a Dictaphone, her back to the glass. Though her headphones dulled the gun's roar, she swiveled at the noise. The move likely saved her life. Instead of the gunman's second shot hitting her square in the back, two pellets ripped into her left arm. She dropped to her knees and crawled to safety behind a wooden filing cabinet.

Officer Jim Nance, the third person in the station and seated at a desk behind Young's, dove to the floor when he heard the blasts. As seven or eight more shots raked the office, Nance snaked over to the wounded sergeant. His breathing fast and shallow, his chest a bloody void, Young gasped his final words: "Help me."

Nance dragged him away from the window as the intruders, seeking access to the squad room, pumped 10 shots into the glass and an armored door. When neither gave way, the men fled, running behind the building and squeezing through a hole they had cut in a chain-link fence.

The fence separated the station property from the Ocean Avenue on-ramp leading to northbound Highway 280. A blue Chevelle and a beige sedan sat idling on the ramp's shoulder. The men climbed in and the drivers punched the gas, streaking the asphalt with tread marks before the cars slipped into traffic.

Officer Ray Shine arrived at the station at 11 p.m. for his regular shift that Sunday night. Unaware of the attack, he saw the parking lot choked with squad cars, their lights aglow. Officers carrying shotguns patrolled the grounds. Reporters milled outside the building's front doors.

Shine had graduated from the Police Academy a week earlier. Assigned to Ingleside, he braced for the ostracism of veteran officers, who habitually treated rookies as "less than garbage." The 51-year-old Young, known to most as Jack, proved the exception. A member of the force since 1949, he offered his hand, welcoming Shine to the SFPD.

Lean and bald, with an open, almond-shaped face, Young bore a reputation for decency that preceded his promotion to sergeant a year before his murder. The San Francisco native and Navy veteran worked as an aide to Chief Thomas Cahill for 12 years. As part of his duties, he assisted ex-cons in their search for a steady paycheck or a place to live, easing their re-entry to the outside. Married but childless, he also served as a counselor at a Sonoma center for delinquent boys, steering them away from further trouble.

Possessed of a civility seldom ascribed to cops of any era, much less during the 1960s and '70s, Young earned the in-house sobriquet "St. Francis of San Francisco." His murder roused collective anger in the ranks. "Guys were pissed because Jack was a truly good guy," says Shine, who retired three years ago. "He was the mother hen of the station."

In death, he represented the latest police casualty in the seething struggle between law enforcement and New Left radicals. An SFPD lieutenant, comparing Young's murder to similar cop killings in New York and Philadelphia, considered him a victim of "the revolutionary conspiracy." The details of the assault suggested an intricate plot with as many as a dozen players.

A dark-haired white woman wearing a blond wig and glasses walked into the station an hour before the shooting to report losing her purse. A witness saw her click a flashlight on and off before entering — possibly to signal an unseen accomplice. (Police later learned that the woman provided a bogus name and personal details in her report.)

Soon after she departed, the station received calls about a bomb detonating at a bank in Stonestown. Investigators described the explosion as a ploy to empty the station; the response of officers to the scene left Young, Lipney, and Nance alone in the building. The five men showed up 20 minutes later, and the abruptness of their attack gave Lipney and Nance only a glimpse of them. A lack of physical evidence, save for ejected shotgun shells, further bedeviled detectives.

The Ingleside shooting occurred eight days after San Quentin prison guards gunned down "Soledad Brother" George Jackson during a botched breakout attempt. Before trying to escape, Jackson, field marshal for the Black Panther Party, incited a bloody cell-block riot that killed three guards and two inmates. His death provoked vows of revenge from the Panthers and a splinter faction, the Black Liberation Army.

Authorities suspected the BLA in a series of police ambushes from Los Angeles to New York, despite a membership of fewer than 100. In the wake of Young's murder, the Chronicle and Examiner received identical letters signed by the BLA. The group boasted about the siege of the "Ingleside Pig Sty" and called it "one political consequence for the recent intolerable assassination of Comrade George L. Jackson."

Yet 35 years later, with the black power revolution long since dissipated, it is former Panthers and BLA members who remain shadowed by the events of Aug. 29, 1971. This summer, state and federal authorities delving into Young's murder served DNA warrants on some two dozen people, among them five men identified as potential suspects by police in 1973. The collecting of mouth swabs marked the most recent turn in what has evolved into an investigation without end. In 2005, state prosecutors convened a pair of grand juries in San Francisco to examine the case, two years after federal prosecutors impaneled one of their own. None of those gambits yielded clues that led to arrests.

About The Author

Martin Kuz


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"