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The Black Panthers Revisited.

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  • The Black Panthers Revisited.

    I recently became interested in the Black Panthers and the history of their demise. The US goverment systematically crushed the organization in the late 60's and early 70's, like so many other groups like them before and after. I dont believe that "the Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country" as J. Edgar Hoover had stated. In fact I think that they might be one of the greatest grass roots movements in US history against racism, hatred, and goverment oppression. October 15th marks the anniversary of the formation of the group. There is an excellent documentary called All Power to the People. I highly recommend watching this film as it exposes some ugly truths about the goverment and its tactics.

    So my question is, were the Black Panthers just a misunderstood civil rights group who were unjustly toppled by the US goverment? Or, were they a dangerous revolutionary group that posed an immediate threat to US national security, as they were so often characterized by mainstream goverment, society, and media?

    All Power To The People (1996) Part 1
    All Power To The People (1996) Part 2

    Below is an excerpt from an article several years ago about the group.
    If a single date can be assigned to an historical event that developed over the course of a decade, then October 15, 1966 would be the date given as the day that the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was formed by two young men in Oakland, California. Bobby Seale and Huey Newton--two Black brothers attending community college who were frustrated with the existing rights groups on campus, in large part because they did not speak to the concerns or emotions of African-American on the streets. It's not that they didn't want those groups to exist, it was that they needed to be more radical and address the issues of those black-skinned residents of the United States who lived in situations that not only put them at the mercy of the landlord and the welfare system, but turned their daily existence into a struggle (sometimes armed) with the police force. Of course, the police were (and are) nothing but the most obvious brutality of the system built on the enslavement of a people in the pursuit of profit and power that we know as the American way.

    Contrary to popular myth, the Black Panther Party did not come out of their clubs and homes in the black communities of Oakland, California with their guns a-blazing. In fact, their first actions involved working with church and neighborhood groups to get a traffic light at an intersection near a school in East Oakland after a series of traffic fatalities involving young children and suburban Californians speeding through the neighborhood on their way home from work. The Oakland city government had consistently ignored the requests of these very same church and neighborhood groups for years, telling them that while that intersection was on their list, it would be a while before the city could afford to install a traffic light. The Panthers disagreed with that assessment and took direct action. They began directing traffic, stopping cars so that children and their parents could cross the street. At first the Oakland Police Department (OPD) attempted to shut down the traffic control operation, but when many church members and leaders joined in with the Panthers and their supporters, the OPD backed off. Soon afterwards, the city installed a traffic light at the intersection.

    If one reads the Ten Point Program of the Panthers, they will not see a radical document that calls for the installment of a dictatorship of the proletariat or a program to install a racially designed anti-white regime. No, the demands merely demanded fairness and some reparations for the historic enslavement of African-Americans by the white-skinned rulers of the American colonies and the early United States. Sure, the Panthers saw the situation of black people in the US as comparable to that of a colony, but that perception is still not that much of a stretch even today, thirty-four years after the founding of the Party. One can argue the various theoretical inadequacies of this perception, but the general truth of the economic status of most African-Americans in today's world is this: they own little property; they are subject to the whims of the major capitalist and political powers that work hand in hand to keep power among the rich who are also mostly white skinned; in those arenas where they do produce goods or services, the control remains with the colonial (or neocolonial) power; and in terms of the culture of the colonized, it is expropriated, manipulated, and exploited.

    The Panthers were the targets of the most concerted governmental internal counterinsurgency effort while they existed, if not in the entire history of the United States. After they began observing Oakland police by following them around as they performed their duties the Party began to incur the cops' wrath. It was because the Panthers carried loaded guns during their observations that the California State Legislature outlawed that practice in California. The sight of Black men with loaded guns was too much for the fearful white culture. In April 1968, one of the first members of the Panthers was killed by Oakland police. Sixteen year old Bobby Hutton was shot down in a confrontation that also saw the arrest of Eldridge Cleaver, who had joined the party after his release from prison in 1967. Cleaver then went into exile after being released on bail. His theoretical differences with some of the original party members, especially Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, would be exploited by FBI agents and others involved in the counterinsurgency campaign waged against the Panthers. This campaign was a major part of the COINTELPRO program and involved everything from infiltration to murder. Bobby Hutton's death was but the first of many.

    By 1971, the Party had seen its leaders imprisoned on charges that were at best questionable and often completely bogus. It had seen the assassination by government death squads of some of its members, most notably Illinois Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Government agents and informers facilitated rumors about members sexuality and infidelities that caused jealousies and mistrust. Furthermore, they hung snitch jackets on members in an attempt to destroy the credibility of the organization within the party and in the greater community. With the leadership in prison or constantly in court, membership continued to increase. Unlike earlier days, the political education was not broad enough to keep up with the increase in membership. This created a situation where street toughs that joined the party for their personal gain were provided a political motivation or kicked out if they refused to change their ways. On top of all this government murder and mayhem, there were always the drugs--the government's perennial counterinsurgency tactic against the poor and disenfranchised. Full article.
    Last edited by mp40x; 10-02-2009, 04:37 PM.
    |TG-X| mp40x

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  • #2
    Re: The Black Panthers Revisited.

    Some brief thoughts. This is not to try to attempt an answer, it's simply thoughts on a journey:

    I remember seeing them in Lewisham in the early 1980's.

    Lewisham is in the south east of London and known like other places to be 'rough'. The Brixton riot in 1981 was alot to do with what you say about racism and inhuman treatment.

    In London then the National Front had a stronghold in places such as Millwall (south east) and the Isle of Dogs (the famous London Docklands; demolished and rebuilt in the 90's. Yep it had another past), which is situated over the river to Greenwich, where I was born in 1970. Places like Peckham and Brixton are a direct result of disfranchising and disempowerment, as much as the history of Brixton was to develop a place for 'immigrants'. I guess you could say the east end swinging south right over to the south west, has been the centre for The Clash.

    Back in those days I would meet alot of racists, to my shock. I was young and Paul or Ben had no colour. Only later I found to my discomfort people looked at skin and found I was being tarnished. It is a sad fact I felt guilty for thinking that person has a different skin colour. I felt the vehemence so profound kind of self paranoia that I was a racist whilst absorbing the rabidity of others. I would look at people almost incredulous in both places whilst trying to work out what they were saying.

    I remember when I used to hang out in Lewisham, around the coin-op Arcades, I would see guys and girls wearing the Black Panther uniform. I remember watching TV and fervent people saying this group was bad. I never felt that when stood besides them or walking by. But I do remember seeing a dangerous glint in some eys, just as much as I saw a dangerous glint in others'. I guess even then I understood that dangerous people need an outlet. Indeed, one story is of a murder of a girl/young woman by a psychotic Black Panther - it was not about just the 'man' being a psychotic, they had to add the other element and label and work with that, not the other way round.

    This a couple of years after the rise of Sca and Rudeboys from true Skins, who celebrated and glorified reggae and funk, and other elements of British culture. It has never lost me the ultimate paradox that a ‘Skin’ nowadays is an evil racist. I call them Scum. The BNP still go on with enclaves in the East End especially, and would guess this shifts still along the same lines to the west. Europe is filled with it on many levels. I was in living Prague when the riot between NF members from Europe who had come to do a rally and students fought, about October 2 years ago. The Praguers and myself enjoyed the students and others giving the NF a right kicking and telling them exactly what we thought. The Czechs were proud to represent the people. Don't get me wrong, there is alot of animosity to 'foreigners' there, especially the Vietnamese and Romany; and there is alot of throwback to being dominated by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, and the Soviet Union. But alot of people think otherwise. And on that day we were pleased.

    What is scum? Even a film came out in the early 1980's called Scum. A sign of the times. I can't remember it well, though I always remember a picture of some guys looking 'hard' in that London way and the south-eastern accent, which I still carry, though I have lost it alot too.

    I don't blame people thinking that the Black Panthers were a good thing, keeping the streets safe. I felt safer by one with a knowing look than alot of people. What scares me were the bigots or twisted minds in all directions. Like some friends when I realised they were spouting racist comments, or the kid on the street mugging me with a knife and a chip on his shoulder. I have met twisted people in all forms, for reasons such as this or not.

    Of course many of these Black Panther guys were big. Some skinny, some with a knowing look, a cold face, or some simply mad looking. I see that in Lewisham when I pass through there anyway not matter what 'colour'. A trip into London can soon turn nowadays, and I would not want to be sat in Peckham or Lewisham on my own waiting to meet a person with a chip on their shoulder. Nowadays guns are more prevalent. A knife is more likely to be used than threatened. Dangerous minds are prevalent. Or at least it seems to me compared to back then when a kid walked about the streets of Lewisham. In a way they were more innocent days with evil around every corner. That evil still lives.

    I wrote last night but did not post it. There are some Alumni you may be interested in. Put in Black Panthers Alumni (include London in one search). The Brixton riots are online of course and talks about the social issues. Many of our best poets and writers live in Brixton, close to the roots. They have hope. So do I. Sometimes it's all you can have and sometimes it glows like the sun flowering.
    Last edited by Taip3n; 10-03-2009, 07:01 AM.




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