Fifty years ago, June 11, 1970, just before midnight roll-call, a bomb exploded outside the North Omaha police assembly building. Nearly two dozen officers were inside preparing for shift change. The crime was never solved.
Although no arrests for the bombing were ever made the police believed the local Black Panthers, known as the National Committee to Combat Fascism, were responsible. Captain Murdock Platner testified before two Congressional committees about the bombing in testimony that went unreported in Omaha.
“A bomb was exploded in the North Assembly Area, which is an outlying police station….This occurred as rollcall was being held, around 11:30 that night. There were 20 police officers at this rollcall. This bomb was set off on the back side of the building, and if it had been set on the other side, it probably would have collapsed that whole part there, and no telling how many officers would have been injured. There was no officer actually severely injured, just their hearing, and some of the uniforms were dirty and what-not. This bomb was of such force that it cracked this building from end to end, clear from the back toward the front….which I heard, through informants, was done by the Black Panthers.”
“They became very active, and they met very frequently, traveled back almost weekly, Des Moines, Kansas City, and on occasion two of these people went to California to speak with members there. They started in, repeatedly, forcing confrontations with the police which then resulted in several misdemeanor arrests, which they made the most of, saying that we were persecuting these people. This was the type of thing where a Black Panther would be in a car driving alongside of a police car and point a gun at the officer and say, “You are going to die,” with a few slang words thrown in with it. We know that they were buying at this time quite a few pistols, rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. We had information, received from maybe not too confidential a source, that they possessed dynamite, that they possessed hand-grenades, and so far as we know they were trying to buy machine-guns.”
“All of the information we have indicates that these militants were taught in Des Moines or Kansas City or San Francisco about how to make an ambush, how to make the weapon, and then how to put it into practice. It is my opinion that the Omaha militants were pushed into doing something drastic in Omaha because they were trying to regain their standing in the national organization. There definitely are connections between militants in Omaha and many other cities in other States.”
Platner moved on to the topic of informants. “As you probably know, informants are pretty hard to come by in this business. They know if anything happens, or their status is revealed, that they will be done away with in some form or another, either beaten unmercifully or killed. The information we get from these people, they tell us, but we are unable at anytime, have been unable to get somebody who will go to court and testify. They are in fear for their life. We did have, at one time, where we hired informants, but we could not get them to risk their lives, and we did hire people to feed us the information as they could get it. We never got anybody who was in the inner circle of this organization. We could get people to hang around and tell us what was said in the meetings, and so on, but we never could get anybody to tell us what actually happened, and getting your information third and fourth hand, you are handicapped because to get a search warrant, there has to be probable cause, and it has to be from a reliable person. I am not sure we could have found anybody we could have used in this.”
In other words, Platner’s informants did not know who placed the bomb yet he was willing to name the Black Panthers in his testimony.
The bomb immediately turned unwanted attention on Edward Poindexter, chairman of the NCCF chapter. Already the subject of a police harassment campaign, Poindexter was also on the Federal Bureau of Investigation “Security Index” detention list. Poindexter recounted what the heat was like.
“I’d spend the night at different homes so that the cops couldn’t pick up a pattern. Each night I was at a different safe house to sleep. Since it was unusually quiet…in terms of police harassment, I decided to walk north on Twenty-fourth Street instead of cutting through alley ways as usual.”
“Mama’s house was only a few blocks from headquarters, and I’d expected to be there within five minutes. But as I got two blocks from headquarters a cop cruised by and looked at me with surprise. I instantly knew there was going to be some stuff, so as they turned off Twenty-fourth and out of sight I took the opportunity to jet north to Spaulding and cut west before the cops had a chance to double back for an assault on me. Pity the poor soul caught alone on a side street with no witnesses.”
“About half way up the street I looked back to see the patrol car screech around the corner in pursuit of me. I ducked between two houses and cut through an alley. I heard the patrol car halt, the door open and slam shut, and the familiar but frightening sound of a riot pump shotgun lock and load.”
“When I reached Twenty-seventh Street, I decided not to enter the house, but instead duck behind the hedges and wait for the cops to pass. I kneeled on the lawn and felt the salty sweat dripping down my face. My forearms and hands even glistened with it.”
“Moments later the patrol car cruised slowly past the house with its searchlight passing over the hedges and house. That was the longest ten seconds of my entire life.”
Although Poindexter was not charged with the police station bombing he was later blamed for the August 17, 1970 bomb murder of Patrolman Larry Minard. Convicted in April 1971 after a controversial trial marred by conflicting police testimony, perjured testimony, unreliable scientific evidence, planted evidence, and a withheld FBI Laboratory report, Poindexter was sentenced to life at hard labor without parole. Poindexter, who denies any role in Minard’s death, is imprisoned in the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary, where he approaches a half-century behind bars for a crime he continues to claim he did not commit.
The article contains excerpts from FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, available in print edition at Amazon and in ebook. Portions of the book may be read free online at NorthOmahaHistory.com. The book is also available to patrons of the Omaha Public Library.