The SLA went public with their "execution" of Marcus Foster, the first black school superintendant in Oakland, a heavily black city adjacent to both San Francisco and Berkeley.
At about 7 p.m. on November 6, 1973, Foster and his chief aid Robert Blackburn emerged from the school district's administration building after a meeting with the Board of Education. As they reached Blackburn's car in a small, dimly lit parking lot, Blackburn was hit with two shotgun blasts, Foster fell beside him with seven bullets in the back and one in the abdomen. The bullets that hit Foster had been drilled in the tip and packed with potassium cyanide. Three persons dressed in blue knit caps, dark pants and each with a denim jacket with some sort of white patch over the breast were seen running from the scene. The three were described as slight of build, one possibly a woman. Witnesses said the three looked perhaps Chicano or Asian.
The next day, a letter was delivered to radio station KPSA proclaiming that Foster has been executed with cyanide bullets by the Symbionese Liberation Army — specifically by the Western Regional Youth Unit — after being "convicted" by the "Court of the People." The SLA message claimed that Foster had supported a plan to put political police in the schools, institute various other security measures, and maintain a photo identity ID system for the students. The SLA Court had issued a "shoot on sight" order for Oakland school administrators "until such time as all political police are removed from our schools and all photos and other forms of identification are stopped."
The authorities had no idea where it was coming from. Police were investigating a neo-Nazi pamphlet distributed in the area in October warning that "there might be a shotgun blast into the guts of 'mixmaster' principals and superintendents." The Oakland school system had been having a lot of problems with vandals and nonstudent intruders and there had been a proposal in October for bringing in the California Council on Criminal Justice to institute a stricter security system. The Oakland School administration now says that Foster reviewed the CCCJ plan and rejected it because he did not like some of the restrictive recommendations. The school administration also explained that the student ID system was set up with only one student photograph and that on the card carried by the student and none on file, and the system was instituted at the request of students, some of whom merely wanted the card to get student discounts.
But Oakland took the "shoot on sight" threat very seriously. On October 27, the school system discontinued student ID cards until the "feelings of the students and parents can be reassessed." On October 30, another communique was received by the Oakland Tribune rescinding the "shoot on sight" order. "The Fascist Board of Education has made an attempt to heed and respect the rights and wishes of the people by stating that they will not continue to take part in crimes committed against the life of the people," announced the SLA "Court of the People."
Seemingly piqued by the report of their inefficiency, the SLA added, "The people have seen no evidence to indicate that Dep. Supt. Blackburn is in fact still alive." But Blackburn was; severely wounded, but alive. What he saw if anything, is still unknown.