By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
By that time Finney was emulating the Panthers, wearing a black leather jacket with buttons demanding liberty for jailed Panthers founder Huey Newton. Although he says he "never was much of a student," one of his teachers singled out Finney as a gifted youth, and he was admitted on an ecomomic-opportunity scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley. At Berkeley, he says, "I found myself in a totally radical atmosphere." During 1968 and 1969, he fought successfully for the formation of Third World College, an ethnic-studies program at Berkeley. "During a heated moment of the student protest," he recalls, "a group of our people was attacked by some white university jocks - they tried to rough us up, but we ended up roughing them up." Finney says he was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon after kicking one of the jocks in the ribs. He got off with a year's probation. "I actually turned myself in," he says. "I was one of the many major characters in that whole drama."
He says he also participated in the students' People's Park takeover. "Picture in your mind tear gas dropping out of helicopters, police cars on fire, police shooting tear-gas canisters and students throwing 'em back at the police," Finney says of the incident, smiling broadly at the memory.
While at Berkeley he would have joined the ranks of the Black Panthers, his former idols, Finney says, but the organization was falling into disarray - its leaders were murdered, fleeing the United States, escaping into alcohol and drugs, and hunted down as part of Cointelpro, the FBI program that targeted leftist movements. Instead of the Panthers, Finney joined the local chapter of the Republic of New Africa (RNA), a militant separatist group that wanted to form a black nation somewhere in the Deep South. "We were not looking at a mainstream solution. We were into [leftist theorists such as] Regis Dubray, Franz Fanon," he says. "Black nationalism has always been a strong political force within the black progressive community, due mainly to white racism."
As his political temperature rose, his enthusiasm for university life began to cool. "It seemed pointless," Finney remembers. "It had a lot to do with the frustrations of being a young black rebel at that time. You don't want to go into the mainstream, and yet you don't know exactly what you're doing." Finney dropped out of Berkeley in 1970. He got married that same year, and his daughter, Malaika, was born. Although he worked at a variety of jobs - a salesman, a laborer for a small, black-owned construction company - trying to find employment, he says, was "mostly just a whole lot of job interviews and turn-downs."
Finney began packing a pistol around Berkeley and participating in RNA paramilitary bivouacs in California state parks. A confrontation seemed inevitable. During one exercise in Los Padres National Forest in 1971, he says, "We were armed to the teeth, 30 or 40 of us. It was like a military retreat. The cops tried to bust us, but they didn't realize how well armed we were. They set up a roadblock, they said we could leave the park but we had to turn in our weapons. We said fuck that. We had 30 barrels sticking out of those cars - they backed off. We definitely promoted aggressive self-defense." The way he and other RNA members saw it, they were an insulted people, victims of racism that he says "has driven black minds to insanity and violence." Violent self-protection, as they saw it, was not an unreasonable strategy.
On August 18, 1971, Jackson, Mississippi, police raided a local RNA office. One cop was shot and killed in the ensuing shoot-out. Eleven members of the militant group were charged with murder and state treason, a crime that carried the death penalty. Days later, black militant George Jackson was shot, allegedly as he attempted to escape from Soledad state prison in California, although Bob Dylan wrote a song that summed up the feelings of the radical left, depicting Jackson's death as cold-blooded murder. Authorities were beginning to "harass" the Berkeley chapter of the RNA, Finney says. "People were tense, angry. It's amazing that I'm alive." Early in November 1971, RNA leaders asked Finney and two other members to come to Mississippi.
The three men rented a car, intending to drive to Jackson. But on November 8, before 11:00 p.m., eight miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, they encountered unexpected difficulties. Finney refuses to discuss the specifics of those difficulties. "While I was on my way to Jackson, Mississippi, there was a reported shoot-out on an Albuquerque highway where one cop ended up dead," he says. "And I was in Albuquerque at the time. I'm not gonna say whether I was there or not when the cop got shot. Let me just say that, according to the police, I was."
The murder of Officer Robert Rosenbloom is still an open investigation, and the state police refuse to release their files. But newspaper clippings from the days that followed, along with documents provided by the Albuquerque office of the FBI, offer some insight into the story. Rosenbloom, 28 years old and a six-year veteran of the state police force, stopped a green 1972 Ford Galaxie on Interstate 40 that night. At 10:47 p.m. Rosenbloom radioed headquarters that he was about to stop the car for a check. Six minutes later he called again and requested a computer check of the car's California license number. At 10:55 p.m. the state police radio dispatcher attempted to contact Rosenbloom to tell him the car had neither been stolen nor was wanted. There was no answer.