Between October, 1970 and January, 1972, the BLA conducted a number of bombings and attacks on police-related targets, and on officers themselves. The assassination of two NYC cops, Greg Foster and Rocco Laurie, on January 29, 1972 brought the total number of officers attacked to 10, with six fatalities. But attacking law enforcement so directly brought intense police pressure.

By the end of 1973, the NYPD was crowing that it “broke the back” of the BLA after they killed a group member named Twywon Meyers, who was wanted for questioning for the killings of Foster and Laurie. However, the organization was quickly moving into another phase—getting its comrades out of jail.

“There was an idea that prison was the basis of colonial states, and so of course prisons are going to be used to oppress these movements,” Berger explains. “Movements had a responsibility to get their comrades out. The BLA is both looking to Palestine and South Africa and Vietnam and all these places overseas, but they’re also drawing on the prison movement at the time. It really saw the prison not only as representative of the racist state but as something that can be conquered and overcome.”

The BLA engaged in a series of daring jailbreaks—from trying to cut through walls with a blowtorch at NYC’s notorious Tombs to donning wetsuits and taking rafts out to Rikers Island. A few worked, most didn’t, and some had tragic ends, like that of BLA member Rema Olubaga who attempted to climb down to freedom from the Brooklyn House of Detention but died when his rope broke.