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Free Them All – Background and History of the Black Panthers

17 Feb

Watched the film discussed here last night on PBS. It was by far the most level headed and fair treatment of the Black Panther Party I have ever seen. Here is an interview of the producer of the film…

At the end of the film, they discuss the mass incarceration of the Panther members in an attempt by the Government to destroy them…It didn’t. 50 years later some of those surviving Panthers are still incarcerated. BLM can learn a lot of lessons from the experiences of the BPP.

Had this poster hanging on the wall. It is a classic of Huey Newton.

Free Em All: 50 Years Later, Black Panthers Are Still Fighting for Freedom

It’s early on the Monday morning, post-snowmaggedon 2016, and I have an unexpected 10 minutes to spare. I know I should close my eyes, center myself for the day ahead, but instead I FaceTime Baba Sekou Odinga. I don’t really have anything to say. Mostly I just pick on him, tell bad jokes, make faces, sing off-key. “Why you do that to that man,” the homie Everton who has been navigating me through the storm all weekend, asks, laughing.

And as soon he asks, it’s like I slip through a wrinkle in time, back 14 months to November 25th, 2014 when, after near 34 years in prison, more than half of which was spent in solitary confinement, former Black Panther, Sekou Odinga, walked out of a New York State prison into the loving arms his children and his wife, Dequi. Nine hours later, he would be greeted in Harlem at the National Black Theater by over 200 people who had found out 48 hours before that a day we had worked for but did not know we would ever see, was here: Sekou, one of nearly 100 American political prisoners, activists from 1960s through the 1980s, was free.

Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association, former deputy director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School (HLS), and one of the attorneys who has worked diligently for years on political prisoner cases, including the Herculean effort to secure parole for Sekou Odinga, wrote:

Political prisoners are men and women who have been incarcerated for their political views and actions. They have consciously fought against social injustice, colonialism and/or imperialism and have been incarcerated as a result of their political commitments. Even while in prison, these men and women continue to adhere to their principles.

This, Elijah writes, is the internationally accepted definition of political prisoners, and most of us rightly associate it with people like Nelson Mandela. What we don’t generally jump to, is that apartheid was the progeny of Jim Crow, and the struggle against apartheid was deeply informed by the struggle against Jim Crow and for human rights for Black people living in America. In short, what we believe is deserved for people living in other countries, we don’t always appreciate should apply to us. We should.

From the Black Panther Newspaper, the art of Emory Douglass is classic.

Indeed, as I write this, many of metrics that quantify what makes a life quality–fair employment, decent education, affordable housing and meaningful health care–are as disrupted today as they were for Black South Africans during apartheid and African Americans pre-Civil Rights Movement. In other words, the name-calling leveled against the Black Panthers, resurrected recently because of imagery in Queen Bey’s Formation, was ahistorical (read: a outright fucking lie). The Panthers were a human rights organization and as we know given the history of the slave patrols, the three branches of the US government, the KKK and today’s police forces from Ferguson to Baltimore, from LA to New York, any organization or person calling for the full human rights of Black people has been met with, um, resistance.

Which is why it’s infuriating to hear some people argue that the Rapture or some shit has come because the Obamas look mighty fine and Oprah has a network where you can experience Tyler Perry’s imagination to your heart’s content, no disrespect. I mean, rock on and whatnot but let’s understand at least this: elevating the exception to the rule to the level of the rule itself doesn’t make for sound reasoning–anymore than toxic water poured down the throats of Black people by a governor who probably washes his ass with bottles of Voss or Black people getting dead every 28 hours by police, is progress just because we can hashtag it.

Two generations ago, the man who was born under a Gemini sun in 1944 and raised up in Queens, New York in a world where poverty in Black communities left children hungry and hurting, and where killer cops regularly cut #BlackLivesShort with impunity, Sekou Odinga was inspired to revolution by Minister Malcolm X. He would hang around Malcolm’s organization, the OAAU (the Organization of African American Unity) but didn’t officially become a member until after Minister Malcolm was assassinated. Roughly 18 months later, on October 15, 1966, two young men who were also inspired by Minister Malcolm, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, would stand on the steps of the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, California and announce the birth of The Black Panther Party and its 10-point program that demanded human rights for all Black people. Two years after that, Seale traveled to New York to get things kicked off in the City that Stays Woke, and talked that good Let’s Get Free talk to group of young brothers and sisters who’d gathered in an apartment in the East Village where Sekou Odinga was in the mix.

When I tell Sekou I am writing this piece he says, “Tell them how we just wanted our people to be safe. Tell them how we fed our children. Tell them how we opened the first-ever free health clinic in America and that it was in the Bronx. Tell them we stood with mothers who were being harassed at welfare offices. And yes, tell them we fought police, but tell them we did it to defend ourselves because what we, a bunch of 20-year-old kids did, exposed what the government with billions of dollars refused to do. And they couldn’t take that. Ultimately, that’s what made us political prisoners. That’s why we were targeted. That’s why we were killed.”

In fact, in FBI documents on the Party, the government noted that far more dangerous than any gun brandished by a Panther, was the fact that they fed children.

But in the Black Panther Party, Sekou, like thousands of young people across the country, found a place where he could lean in–elbows, shoulders and back–on the question of how we were going to finally demand and realize our human rights. It was a seminal moment in the long Black history of Black people giving no more fucks because then, like now, our lives were at risk simply by walking outside and say, not having taken a dog to the vet in 1967 or buying a bag of skittles for our little brother in 2012. And despite all the variance in stories I’ve heard about the Panthers since I was an undergrad in the late 80s and early 90s majoring in political science and Black studies, in the more than quarter century I’ve known Sekou, it seems that to a person, everyone agreed that he was kind of stand-up, straight-backed soldier you’d want on your side.

Which is why, I suppose the decision was made that he be the one to walk into Clinton Prison in New Jersey on November 2nd, 1979. And six years and six months to the day that unarmed/hands up Assata Shakur, was shot and arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike, Sekou would enter that dungeon, take his friend and comrade by her hand, and walk her the fuck out that joint….Read the Rest Here

The catcall “Pig” as a slang description of the Police was initiated by the BPP and co-opted by virtually every protest group in the 60’s.

 

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2016 in Black History, BlackLivesMatter

 

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