Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt Dies

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June 4, 2011
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Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt. a leader of the Southern California branch of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s, died in Tanzania on June 3 at the age of 63.

Pratt, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, moved to Los Angeles from rural Louisiana in 1968 and quickly became a leader of the Black Panther Party, which was founded in 1966 by Oakland activists Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and David Hilliard in the aftermath of Malcolm X's assasination and violent clashes between police and African Americans in South Central Los Angeles.

Inspired by liberation struggles of African, Asian, and Latin American counties, the Black Panthers advocated armed self-defense against police abuse. From its base in Oakland, the party grew to a nationwide membership.

The Black Panthers and Pratt specifically were targets of the FBI's notorious counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO, whose purpose was to infiltrate, disrupt, and discredit organizations that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI, considered subversive.

The FBI created divisions within the Black Panthers and between the Panthers and other African American organizations.

Pratt was the target of a frame-up for the 1968 killing of a young woman in Santa Monica. He was convicted and spent more than 25 years in prison.

His struggle for a re-trial drew support from Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King, members of Congress, and the ACLU.

Pratt was eventually freed after an Orange County judge hearing Pratt's fifth petition to re-open his case ruled that a key witness during Pratt's 1972 trial had committed purjury and was an FBI informant.

In 2000, Pratt received a $4.5 million settlement from the FBI and Los Angeles Police Department for his wrongful imprisionment.

Pratt had been living in Arusha Tanzania for several years and worked with the United African Alliance Community Center, a youth organization.

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