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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 core.

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 and control.'

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 you're black.'

'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.

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