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American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton

A Film by Bob Richter; Co-Producer Lise Pearlman

Formerly titled “The Real Trial of the 20th Century?”

This documentary focuses on the sensationalized murder trial of Black Panther Party Co-Founder Huey Newton in the volatile summer of 1968. Newton was accused of killing an Oakland, California policeman and wounding another in an early morning shootout in October of 1967. Newton himself suffered a near-fatal abdominal wound. By the time of the trial, J. Edgar Hoover considered the Black Panthers the biggest internal threat to American security; Leftists dubbed Newton America’s Che Guevara. Earlier that year, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Bobby Kennedy had rocked a nation already bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. By the fall, it was a tinderbox waiting to explode.
Unlike O.J. Simpson, Newton took the stand in his murder trial. He defended his revolutionary political party as a response to 400 years of racism and accused the deceased officer and the surviving policemen of abusive treatment, insisting he had only acted in self-defense. If the Newton jury came back with the expected death penalty verdict against the charismatic black revolutionary, national riots were anticipated. Instead, less than a week after the whole world watched Chicago police bashing heads at the 1968 Democratic Convention, an unusually diverse jury headed by a pioneering black foreman reached a surprising verdict that still reverberates today—had it turned out otherwise Barack Obama would likely not be President.

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