Officer Tsukamoto at AAIFF

July 29, 2007


Thirty years after Tsukamoto's death, a Berkeley investigator re-opened his case. What's the status?

The Berkeley investigator, Lieutenant Russell Lopes, encouraged the California state attorney general to take on the case. They sat on it for a year, then this past spring, they declined to hold a grand jury hearing. Lopes no longer works for the Berkeley police, so in effect, the case is closed.

Did you contact the Tsukamoto family when you learned that?

I did. They're obviously disappointed. They put a lot of hope into this; for 32 years, they didn’t hear much at all about the case. Then in 2002, Lopes decided to re-open up all cold murder cases. In two years, he made progress with the Tsukamoto case and made arrests. In 2005, he made more arrests. Everyone thought this was the big break, so to have it go nowhere is excruciatingly painful for the family.

What made this murder case so difficult to solve?

It's a tricky case. The people present at the crime scene were Ron Tsukamoto, the shooter and a third witness. The witness died eight years after Ron’s murder, in 1978. Other witnesses saw pieces of the crime, but they’ve all passed away.

How do you learn about the case?

In 2005, the Berkeley police had made a second set of arrests. If it hadn’t been for those arrests, I never would’ve known about the case. I read about it in the San Francisco Chronicle, and I just didn't get it. If the Black Panthers were targeting the police, why did they target one of the first Asian American officers? Was it race-related? And in 1970, how many Asian American officers even existed?

What were the main challenges?

Finding activists who were willing to go on camera. Potential sources shut down when they realized I was producing a film about a police officer that was murdered. To them, that automatically put me on one side of politics, and they assumed I had a certain bias because I chose to produce this film. One told me, "Why do you want to focus on a police murder? There were Black Panthers who were killed during this time—why don't you do a story on that?"

People were worried about how I would portray the Black Panthers. There has been so much incendiary coverage on the Panthers, and they felt the film would just add to that. Also, it was very common at that time, and still even now, to have negative feelings about the police. Because this was a documentary about a police officer that was murdered, very few people wanted to go on camera and admit that they hated cops, and that at rallies, they once yelled "off the pigs!"

The Black Panthers declined to be interviewed for your film. Why?

When Lopes made a connection between the suspects and the Panthers, they saw it as just another way to drag the Panthers' name in the mud—even decades later. That's why it was so important for someone from the Panthers to go on camera and explain what kind of organization they were. Instead, Yuri Kochiyama [who appears in the film] taught me more about what the Panthers were about. She also pointed out that Ron was a rookie with no record of being abusive toward anyone in the community. This was just a guy who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.




Wow, I really would like to see this film. I have been really fascinated and horrified by this case ever since it was re-opened in 2004. Some of the people that were caught up in the renewed arrests were family members of a close friend of mine and what they went through was really scary and it was a really shocking reminiscence of the Cointelpro days. It's too bad that none of the Black Panthers wanted to go on film about this incident -- I think especially because it was so fresh -- the legal implications of it anyway. As the filmmaker says, this incident just seemed like a real sign of the craziness of the times.
Full disclosure: Ling also wrote a piecce for Hyphen in the last issue (about the 4 Star Theatre and other Asian American movie houses.) You just missed her film playing in SF at the Slant Film Festival.
It deeply disturbs me that this interview (like much of the coverage on the reopening of this case) fails completely to mention or consider that the 'arrests' were made upon two mothers and grandmothers. This filmmaker must understand the importance of compassion in that she mentions the impact on the family of the officer, so should she not also place an equal concern on the impact of those wrongfully arrested during these raids based on trial and error - mistrials and errors that were considered "progress" in this interview.Is AN ARREST just a noun in written journalism. Does it not imply that these people were surveilled, followed, threatened, harrassed, traumatized, then arrested - wrongfully. That these lives could forever be placed in a constant state of insecurity, humiliation and paranoia after being publicly tried. And in the end of this case, this Lieutenant had no evidence against these women. They were innocent!In hind-sight, should this interview not consider and include that the attorney general would have "sat on the case for a year" for the JUSTIFIABLE reason of NOT BEING PRESENTED WITH ANY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE to charge these women with such a serious and grave crime.The suspects are not just amorphous anonymities - these particular people are dynamic beings with life stories and productive contributions to growing loving, thoughtful environments - and when they are found to be people uninvolved it is both criminal and inhumane not to recognize all of the human suffering within the case - with a public apology.In the terms that this interview regards a political group, I am obliged to emphasize the simple fact that we are living beings before we are members of political parties or occupations. So those uninterested in speaking about this case as representatives of political parties may be first inclined to consider the personal impacts on families and communities foremost and on political stances only as a consequence of personal conditions - aware that the errors of this case are omitted, only to be processed through acts of personal strengths and community compassions.
Please read the posting by CAMALO, if you haven't already. She has said all that I wish to say, except that I hope the friends and family of Tsukamoto will take the time to read her posting, also. I believe that they were also victims of the investigating officer who raised their hopes of a resolution in the case.
I have not seen the film, and I look forward to doing so. However, it worries me that the filmmaker didn't "learn about the Panthers" until she spoke with Yuri Kochiyama, and this was the last paragraph of the interview. Does the film cover Cointelpro? Does it cover the myriad other cases of police officer killings to justify political repression in the U.S.? What about Mumia, the Shakurs, Sekou, Fred Hampton, etc. etc. etc.? Even if no one wanted to be interviewed (perhaps because they are still being targeted), there are plenty of books and research materials to delineate that the Panthers were never a "cop-killing" group and that was never part of their manifesto. In deference to California history, she better know that.Tsukamoto was a Japanese-American who was born in Tule Lake. Of course he shouldn't have been killed, whoever killed him. That doesn't place him outside the history of what the U.S. government did to both Nikkei and African-American activists during that (and the present) time. Why did the Panthers decline an interview? Whom did she ask? What books did she read about Panther history, Oakland history, Black history, and the self-determination movement?I look forward to seeing the film and determining if Ling asked the right questions. Especially since, as Camalo stated, violent and vicious harassment of law-abiding citizens is still being carried out in Officer Tsukamoto's name.What was the motive of the Berkeley investigating officer? What about the state A.G.? I urge everyone to consider these questions, whether or not Ling's film covers them. I guess I will reserve judgement until I actually see it.
The filmmaker didn't say that she didn't learn about the Panthers until she spoke to Kochiyama. You make it sound like she didn't know anything about the Panthers. She said because no one from the Panthers would talk to her, she talked to Kochiyama, who could give her some first-person insight into the era. Why don't you see the film first before making assumptions and asking if she did her research? She asked Bobby Seale and other former Panther leaders for interviews and all of them declined.
BTW, the filmmaker does interview one of the people who was arrested as a suspect, a retired Oakland school teacher, to get his point of view. He described how the arrest came out of nowhere and he didn't understand what was happening. The filmmaker tried to contact all involved (there is a list at the end of the movie of those she asked for interviews but who would not give them) as well as others who were on either side during that era, to give the viewer an understanding of the times. Not everyone agreed to go on camera to give their point of view.
To answer a couple of Nina's questions, in the film Officer Lopes (the officer who was opening cold cases) stated that he did not believe the murder was in any way ordered by anyone in command in the Black Panther organization. He also stated that his interest in the case was because, as a police officer, it was like investigating the murder of a family member.
Officer Tsukamoto August 20, 1970, when a 28-year-old Berkeley police officer was shot and killed during a traffic stop,Right off jump street the BlackPantherParty become the focus of the murder,upgraded to conspiracy assassination.In August 1971 in San Francisco Officer Young is killed right off jump street the suspects are Black Panthers alledged.In 2007 @SanFrancisco 8 Black Panthers are arrested charged in the 1971 killing of SFPD.8BlackPanthers are railroaded send down the river to be executed for crimes they did not committ.California dreaming of executing Panthers in Mass [at] SF.The indictments have two parts - one of their charges was killing this precinct Sergeant Young, who was shot in the Ingleside (San Francisco) station in '71, but then they're charged with conspiracy to kill policemen, and that conspiracy goes from 1968-1973. And basically it's a broad-based attack on what they call the BLA (Black Liberation Army), but what is really the Black Panther Party in a lot of ways. It's an attack on the organization, on the history, and the politics of it. And they go through 6 or 7 events which they allege these people (were involved in) a conspiracy to kill policemen. So it is going to be a really multi-faceted prosecution.Mc Authur park was melting in the dark.4tops!
I am a former member of the BPSD. I knew both Styles Price, and Don Juan Graphenreed, the men arrested for the murder of Officer Ron Tsukamoto. It was an outrageous act and senseless murder then and now. At that time, we were creating bonds with your Yellow Brothers and Sisters that counterintelligence forces wanted to destroy and in turn demonize us to create an illusion that we were "Big Black Brutes". The murder of Officer Tsukamoto was a trickplay by the masters of illusions to divide us, and drive us apart. Graphenreed and Styles were not associated with the Oakland BPSD. They were associated with a man named Mark Comfort, and his group of agent-provocateurs, Elm Boy Dukes. In the late 70's, Comfort was allegedly murdered by one of his sons in Oregon. This group was part of a setup to assassinate either Stokely Carmicheal or H.Rap Brown when they came to Oakland on our Malcom's Day Celebration, but the assassination attempt was foiled when we captured a manchurican candidate, who I believed was later setup as a double of Donald Defreeze of the SLA. This same trickplay may be at the foundation of the assassination of Chauncey Bailey to create the illusion of Black on Black violence. The story of the assassination of Officer Tsukamoto lies in America's counterintelligence programs not the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The BPSD moto was to "Harm not One Hair of Our People". Officer Tsukamoto did nothing to harm our people. He didn't deserve to die like that. We were brothers with our Asian brothers and sisters in strugge, and remain so.
Divide and conquer, Minorities fall for this ploy much to often. The Black Panther Party was the fallguys for this murder. BPD killed Officer Tsukamoto
thank you for that background info, prince. the divide and conquer tactic is all too common.
Im sad that the Black Panthers declined her interview, but after reading about the history of the Black Panthers, ive never read any articles of them violently attacking police. This is light in the dark, I think its great LIU discovered this and questioned the facts. I cant believe an Asian is going against the grain. Especialy in exonarating the Black Panther party, well, to what ever extent, no matter how small or large . good luck with your graduate thesis.