The Symbionese Liberation Army Has a Rough Day


Hours long shootout with 400 cops ends badly.

The Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) was one of the most famous, or more accurately infamous’ radical groups to come out of the social chaos of late ‘60s and early ‘70s America.  The Marxist, race conscious, group of terrorists were known to commit robberies and homicides and were a target of federal and local law enforcement. 
By May of 1974 the SLA had moved their base of operations from the San Francisco area to Los Angeles.  On May 16, 1974 SLA members Bill and Emily Harris were shoplifting at a sporting goods store in LA when they were caught by a security guard.  They engaged in a fight with the staff, who managed to disarm them.  Patty Hearst was waiting outside and saw the commotion.  She started shooting into the store to help the Harris’ escape.  The trio made off in a van.

The LAPD was able to track the van back to 1466 East 54th street by looking up past parking tickets.  Early in the morning of May 17th, 400 members of the LAPD, FBI, LA Sheriffs and California Highway Patrol surrounded the house.  They demanded that they occupants surrender, but only an old man and young girl came forth.  The girl stated that the house was full of heavily armed people. 

After repeated verbal warnings, the LAPD fired tear gas into the house.  The volley of gas was met with a fusillade of automatic gunfire from the SLA members inside.  A gun battle raged for almost two hours before fire broke out inside the building, probably from a tear gas canister.  Two terrified women ran from the house to surrender.  They were not SLA members and had merely been partying at the residence. They were arrested without incident.

The rest of the outlaws continued shooting at the cops.  As the fire consumed the house, two SLA members, Nancy Ling Perry and Camilla Hall came out shooting.  They were almost immediately killed by the police.  The four other SLA members inside either killed themselves or died of smoke inhalation.  In all it is estimated that there were almost 9,000 rounds fired during the standoff. 

The Harris’ and Patty Hearst were not among the dead.  They were in a safe house in Anaheim watching the drama unfold on TV.  The backbone of the terrorist organization was broken, but members continued to carry on the ill-conceived fight through 1975 by when most members were either dead or captured.       

by Christopher Flanagan


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