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Panther by Melvin Van Peebles on Payback Press
If your only going to read one book on the history
of the Black Panther Party, this should be it. In the form of a
novel, Panther explores the background and character of those who
formed the black rights movement of the 1960's through a central
character called Judge. Judge is acting as a double-agent; employed
by the FBI to spy on his community but all the while passing information
onto the local BPP. This characterisation allows Peebles to give
an overview to the events as they unfold.
Considering what and who they were up against it's amazing the
Panthers lasted as long as they did. The Law, ironically, was on
their side, at least initially. The US constitution trumpets freedom
of speech. Couple this with California's particularly lax gun laws
and there you have it openly armed Black rebels approaching
police and referring to them, loudly and proudly, as pigs .The Establishment
couldn't believe it.
Once the BPP had grasped the implications of the US Constitution,
it was all stations go. Mixing militant community defence with sound,
practical health initiatives. Cars of armed BPP members began following
cop cars in their neighbourhoods, ensuring they stayed within the
law. A free breakfast for school kids programme was organised in
poverty-stricken black areas. The BPP injected a resurgence of pride
and self-esteem in their communities and earned massive respect
from their peers and rattled the White Power establishment to the
The Man struck back, and hard.
Peebles book ends with the two protagonists burning down an FBI
drugs lab, sparing their communities the ravages of hard drug addiction.
The truth is somewhat different. Those of you who are familiar with
the likes of Ward Churchill will know of the existence of the COINTELPRO
operation. Led by the FBI, the operation (standing for COunter INTELleggence
PROgramme) involved assassination, intimidation, infiltration and
demonisation of, among others, the BPP. After a number of brutal
killings of Black Panther activists, the FBI probably felt something
more decisive was needed, and began swamping ghetto's with cheap
but highly addictive crack cocaine. The States way of dealing with
the concerns of the Black community was to annihilate that community
through the internalising of conflict. Of the two young men who
set up the first Black Panther Chapter, one (Huey Newton) got shot
during a botched drug deal in 1989, while the other (Bobby Seale)
still speaks on behalf of the Black community in the US.
Peebles has also produced a movie of the same name.
...Bobby is down to earth yet eloquent, gesturing as he speaks.'Plain
and simple we want a government that serves black people and we
want to be rid of the thousands of enemy troops occupying our communities.
What troops? you say- This isn't Vietnam'. Bobby jabs a finger towards
the world just beyond the store front window. 'The police, that's
who!They are not hear to serve and protect, they are hear to patrol
Judge finds himself applauding along with the rest. Huey joins
Bobby on the platform as Bobby winds up his talk.
'Whether a brother is in a dashiki or a pimp suit, whether a sister's
hooking or teaching kids to read, the police will murder you because
'The police are pigs,' Alma calls.
'Yes they are, sister! Pigs,' Huey says. 'The sister is telling
it like it is. That's a good idea...that's what we are gonna call
them from now on. Pigs!'
The community folks grin, but they squirm, and it is plain to see
they are afraid to stand up to the police. Huey tries to reassure
them. 'Look, it's all right to call a cop a pig, dig! Not just because
that's what they are, but because it's legal. If you call him a
dirty motherwhatever or something like that he can have you arrested
for cursing him. But pig is not a curse word, so there isn't anything
he can do.