Interview with Charles O'Brien

Could you describe the Sacramento visit, the Panther visit to the Sacramento State Capital as you heard about it. And just talk us through it.


Well, its, it, it was a little upsetting at the time and then almost immediately afterwards, it, it was a source of, of, ah, great amusement in law enforcement circles because the Panthers, principally Huey Newton had learned that, ah, waving guns in public, ah, was not in itself a violation of California statute. What he didn't realize of course was that carrying guns into the, into the legislative halls of Sacramento was specifically against State law. And so they went up there to make an impact. They had men, the background was that they had been surrounding police officers who were making arrests in the Black community, in a circle, waving the weapons and yelling about Miranda rights. And so an assemblyman named Don Mulford from Berkeley, introduced a bill to change the law on carrying weapons publicly, in open display. And the Panthers decided to make their point by visiting the State legislator and brandishing their weapons. The force that was up there was California State Police which are not a state police in the sense of some of the Eastern states but are basically guards on State buildings. And sometimes, unfortunately pejoratively referred to as door shakers. And the door-shakers, all of a sudden, had a, a number of, of armed Black, ah, rather militant and strident types, brandishing weapons and pouring in. And the Sacramento Police thought this was a very serious problem. And it was. I mean we didn't know what they were up to and when the calls came in to the State Department of Justice, we said, "What the Sam Hill is this all about?" And, ah, these crazy characters have escalated their actions again. Of course they guaranteed passage of the Mulford Act which changed the laws so they could no longer brandish their weapons, which may or may not have been one of the things they intended.