OAKLAND, Calif. -- Huey P. Newton, a revolutionary who co-founded the Black Panther Party in the turbulent 1960s and faded from social activism because of frequent brushes with the law, was shot to death early Tuesday on a street in a high-crime area plagued by drug dealing.
Newton, 47, whose latest scrape with police came early this year when he was arrested on drug charges, was found with three bullet wounds in his head. His body was found by police checking on reports of gunfire in the neighborhood.
Police Lt. Mike Sims said at a news conference that detectives were checking 'the possibility' that there was more than one assailant. He said the motive in the attack had not been established, but 'at this time there is no indication' that it was drug-related.
Newton apparently arrived in the area in a car found parked near his body, Sims said, and detectives were questioning the owner of the vehicle, whose name he withheld.
Residents said the car was seen parked in the same spot two or three times a week and Newton was seen walking around the corner to another destination. The San Francisco Examiner reported that California Department of Motor Vehicles records showed the 1988 car was registered to Newton's wife, Frederika, a nurse living in nearby Berkeley.
The slaying occurred just a few blocks from where Oakland policeman John Frey was shot dead with his own gun on Oct. 28, 1967. The officer's slaying led to Newton's conviction on a charge of manslaughter.
Newton's body was found at 5:44 a.m. near a housing project in an area of West Oakland known for its 'crack' trade. The death scene, in front of a white house, was just two blocks from the Black Panthers' first headquaters.
'We had a call of gunshots in the area,' Detective Dan Voznik said. 'He was found in the street and pronounced dead at a local hospital.'
'It's a tragedy,' said Joe DePalma, 27, a construction worker awakened by the shots. 'But I don't understand what he was doing out in West Oakland at that time of the morning.'
Anthony McNeal, 26, a neighborhood Outreach Program employee, said he had seen Newton in the neighborhood for some time. 'He was a powerful man, but now he looked lost,' he said. 'He wasn't the same man.' He added Newton had lost his 'drive and support.'
Leo Alderson, 38, another neighborhood resident, said gunshots were common in the area. 'They are like your alarm clock,' he said, adding that gunfire and killing were 'a way of life here.'
Newton and Bobby Seale started the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in October 1966 and, unlike the peaceful methods espoused by Martin Luther King Jr., they advocated radical measures including violence and armed self-defense to improve the lives of American blacks.
The fledgling party dramatically burst on the scene in 1967 when a group of blacks armed with carbines strode into the California Assembly chamber in Sacramento. Seale read a statement from Newton, the party's minister of defense, decrying black oppression by whites.
Newton, Seale and the Panthers stood for black power until the organization disbanded in 1982. Other prominent members included Eldridge Cleaver, David Hilliard, Rap Brown and Elaine Brown.