Former terrorist talks about path to peace

December 21, 2012
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Katherine Power, a self-described former terrorist involved in one of the city’s most infamous police murders 40 years ago, talked about her conversion from the “politics of rage” to peace at the Jamaica Plain Forum on Dec. 7.

“The politics of rage prevent either party [in a conflict] from seeing each other as human beings,” she said during her talk, titled “From Guerilla to Grandmother,” at First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist. “The endpoint of the politics of rage is, somebody’s father dies.”

That father was Boston Police Officer Walter Schroeder, who was shot in the back by a member of Power’s gang of revolutionaries during a bank robbery in Brighton on Sept. 23, 1970. Boston Police headquarters is now named in honor of Schroeder and his brother John, a police officer who also was killed in a robbery three years later.

Power was a Brandeis University student at the time and became involved in violent protests against the Vietnam War. Her group burglarized and burned a National Guard armory before committing the bank robbery. Power became a fugitive on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, but successfully created a new life in Oregon by using a fake identity.

In 1993, Power said, she realized that her teenage son was growing angry and starting to follow in her militant footsteps, she turned herself in. She returned to Boston and pled guilty to charges of armed robbery and manslaughter. She served six years in prison.

While imprisoned, Power said, she realized that dehumanizing the people with whom she disagreed was her crucial mistake.

“We must engage with people who do monstrous things or we become the monsters,” she said.

The politics of rage, she said, lead normal people to commit “the kind of action that is filled with frustration and anger at not being able to fix something wrong.”

Ultimately, Power said, she is sorry for what she did and that what she would most like to see is change.

“I am profoundly sorry. I was wrong. I say that with nothing held back in my heart. The only thing I can offer [to Schroeder’s family] is to say, ‘I see you. I see your suffering,’” she said.

Responding to audience questions, Power talked about other forms of political protest. She said she wished something like the largely nonviolent Occupy Wall Street movement had existed at the time, because that is a better model.

Powers’ release from prison in 1999 was controversial, but there were no protestors at the JP event. The Boston Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

John Ruch contributed to this article.

Katherine Power. (Courtesy Photo)