Interview with Howard Saffold

J. Edgar Hoover made what's been an often quoted remark about the Panthers. Can you recall what it was that he said, how he characterized the Panthers, and the impact that that had on the Chicago police force?


J. Edgar Hoover's comment really amounted to, the Panthers were in his opinion the biggest threat to national security in America. Um, they had about six guns, half of them didn't work. Ah, we had all kinds of, of Klan movements going all over this country. And, and, and he decided to set the tone for how the Panthers were going to be dealt with in America. I don't know what his motivation was. I don't know whether he was actually personally afraid, or whether he thought in fact that his, his statement would, would, would, would, would be the, the binding fiber for, for police conduct, and I think it was. Um, you know, we live, we're in a, uh, uh, the police community is, uh, sort of a built-in reward and punishment system of its own. And you get a lot of rewards when you, when you go after who the boss says is the bad guy, and you get him. And I think what, um, J. Edgar Hoover was able to do was to give police officers the impression that it was okay, it was open season, you didn't have to worry about, um, the law, you didn't have to worry about the difference in, uh, the executive branch of government and the judicial branch of government. Um, I think what he in effect said is, is, is,"It's our ball game, guys. We've got the authority. Um, um, we have the capacity. Ah, let's crush 'em.".** And I think that that, that caused the kind of the reaction that, that, that was very easily, um, perpetrated here in Chicago. Um, the sad part about that, because it, it, it, it lends itself to what we're confronted with right today. The vast majority of police officers, White or Black, are not really prone to break the law. There's just a small percentage of them that would take it on themselves to, to, to steal, to murder in the name of the law. But the real problem is, that the vast, excuse me, the vast majority of them have bought into a code of silence that allows them to be apathetic, indifferent, when that kind of conduct is being perpetrated by members of this particular profession.