Growing up black in Omaha included loitering arrest for poet activist David Rice

Mondo mug
David Rice, later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, was arrested in July 1968 for loitering in Omaha and fined twenty-five dollars.        (credit: Omaha Police Department)

What were we but strangers to the land where we were born.” -Mondo

Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, former David Rice, was a poet, artist, writer, and civil rights activist. Mondo was also affiliated with the Black Panther Party as Minister of Information for Omaha’s chapter of the National Committee to Combat Fascism. Mondo’s activism with the Panthers led to his conviction for the 1970 bombing death of an Omaha policeman.

Before Mondo’s arrest for murder in a case manipulated by the infamous COINTELPRO program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation he was arrested by Omaha police for loitering. Mondo and ten other people were picked up during a police sweep to empty a parking lot. The July 7, 1968 arrest went to court a month later. The ten other people all had their cases dismissed for insufficient evidence. Mondo, who was covering the police action for the Buffalo Chip newspaper, went before a different judge who found him guilty of failure to disperse and fined him twenty-five dollars.

Mondo died in March 2016 at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary serving a life without parole sentence for a crime he said he did not commit. Edward Poindexter, a co-defendant and Chairman of the NCCF chapter, remains imprisoned, forty-eight years later. COINTELPRO was terminated by J. Edgar Hoover ten days after the Omaha Two trial ended in April 1971. Before his death Mondo, in a prison interview, described growing up black in Omaha.

Mondo was educated in Catholic schools and was one of the few black students in class during high school. Mondo attended St. Benedict’s grade school and Creighton Preparatory High School, an all-boys school. “While I was at Creighton Prep I did become aware of some things. I was a member of Young Christian Students that started to become aware of civil rights issues.”

Mondo asked a white girl from another school that was in his youth group to attend the homecoming dance. “That weekend she apparently told some friends. By the time I got to school on Monday it was all over Creighton Prep. Being naive and thinking I was one of the boys I’m not feeling it was a big deal but there were quite a few people at Prep that thought it was a big deal. People were talking about what they were going to do to me or to her. In one class they used the class time to talk about me. They were talking about bringing rifles and this kind of stuff. Eventually what happened was her parents told her if she went to the dance she would need to find new parents.”

So there were things like that I had to learn about. You can turn back the hands of time on the clock but you can’t turn real life back. Sometimes I wish I had gone to a predominately African high school but I didn’t and I had to learn some things. I had to deal with inner conflict, but my attitude is the things that you live bring you to where you are.”

I was, I think a junior in high school when I began to truly see that racism and injustice generally might be more than just aberrations….I was convinced that the oppression of African people, and other people of color, in this country was no accident, no mere flaw in the system.”

I was in Omaha all my life up until the time I got convicted and I had been involved in rights kinds of issues when I was in high school, probably seventeen, maybe a little younger and so by the time I was eighteen I had already started being watched by the police….I had become accustomed to being occasionally followed, seeing cars and police cars go up and down in front of where I was staying. I had gotten really good at being able to identify those unmarked cars because there would be a certain way they’d be driven and they had certain colors. Colors that were supposed to be inconspicuous, but you know nobody in the neighborhood would actually buy a car that color, like a funny brown and brownish green and so forth, almost solid camouflage colors, gray. We knew who it was.”

In March of 1968, several months before the loitering arrest, George Wallace came to Omaha and held a large rally at the Omaha Civic Auditorium. Inside the auditorium, five thousand supporters gathered to place Wallace on the Nebraska ballot. Fifty black protesters, including Mondo, were given delegate passes by Wallace’s security personnel and allowed onto the arena floor where they took up position standing in front of the podium, blocking the view of those seated in the front rows.

Wallace delayed his entrance for an hour while tension mounted between the protesters and the seated Wallace supporters. Jeers, shouts, and booing greeted Wallace from the protesters when he started to speak. Wallace snorted: “These are the free-speech folks you know. And these are the kind of folks the people in this country are sick and tired of.”

The crowd roared in agreement while the demonstrators began tearing up their protest signs and throwing the bits of cardboard and stick at the podium. Police moved in on the group while Wallace crowed, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to say that you ought to be thankful for the police of Omaha.”

Mondo was in front of the podium when the police assault began. Mondo was spotted by one of the policemen he regularly taunted. “We were up front sandwiched between the stage and the Wallace supporters. We were heckling, a good line of heckling. Then I saw Duane Pavel come out with a can of Mace and gets me right in the face. It knocked me out. Some people rushed me and picked me up and took me out of the auditorium. I could hear all hell breaking out but I didn’t know what was going on.”

The Buffalo Chip described the frenzied scene. “The unarmed demonstrators turned to flee, and the police followed them, beating them on the back of the head as they ran. As the demonstrators tried to escape, people picked up folding chairs and beat them as they ran by, or threw chairs at them.”

The blood rage spilled out of the auditorium into the streets and turned to riot. Mayor A. V. Sorenson said in an interview that the police were quick to use their clubs. “Their procedure was to use their clubs at the slightest provocation.”

The next night Mondo was out talking to angry black residents of the city. Mondo wrote an account of his own angst and the mood on the streets for Buffalo Chip. “As I prepare to retire to the bed, I consider the animal activities of the Omaha Police Department, the unabashed lying of our news media, and the unlimited stupidity of Mayor Sorenson. And I hope that the metal Citizens’ Protection sticks, which I am passing out, will help the police get the kind of justice they have asked for.”

Mondo’s taunting of the police marked him for harassment. After Mondo joined the Black Panthers and took on local leadership he was targeted by COINTELPRO agents of the FBI. In December 1969, J. Edgar Hoover ordered Special Agent in Charge Paul Young to get Mondo off the streets. The bombing murder of Patrolman Larry Minard in August 1970 was pinned on Mondo and Ed Poindexter despite a confession from a fifteen year-old that planted the bomb. The two men were never again to walk Omaha streets and spent the rest of their lives behind bars.

This article contains excerpts from the new book FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story. The book is available in print from Amazon and also in ebook format. Portions may be read online free at Patrons of the Omaha Public Library also have access to the book.

Author: richardsonreports

Author of FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two Story.

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