[sixties-l] Fwd: Surviving Black Panthers Tell Their Own Story

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Date: Fri Aug 11 2000 - 22:21:43 CUT

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    >Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2000 21:30:18 -0500 (CDT)
    >From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
    >Subject: FILM-US: Surviving Black Panthers Tell Their Own Story
    >Title: Surviving Black Panthers Tell Their Own Story
    >By Eliza Wagner
    >NEW YORK, Aug 12 (IPS) - Ruthlessly crushed by the police and
    >maligned by the white press, the Black Panthers remain one of the
    >most misunderstood groups to emerge from the 1960s' civil rights
    >struggles in the United States.
    >Now, a new documentary by Jens Meurer tells the Panthers' story in
    >the words of four of its original members, who talk about the
    >group's often-overlooked positive impact on the civil rights
    >movement and its empowering effect on the black community.
    >''Public Enemy'' is framed by interviews with Bobby Seale,
    >founding chairman of the Black Panthers, and three of the group's
    >early organisers, Kathleen Cleaver, Jamal Joseph and Nile Rodgers.
    >The film interweaves interviews with these Black Panther leaders
    >with archival footage of 1960s' protests, sit-ins, riots and
    >police brutally beating protesters.
    >A radical Black Power and civil rights group founded in Oakland,
    >California in 1966, the Black Panther Party was widely feared and
    >criticised by whites for the aggressive tactics they used in an
    >attempt to bring an end to the systematic oppression and
    >degradation of African Americans.
    >With a slight grin on his face, Jamal Joseph described raids in
    >which Black Panther members broke into the houses of known drug
    >dealers, held them at gunpoint while flushing all of their drugs
    >down the toilet and stole cash, which they would later distribute
    >to needy local community centres.
    >Joseph served a total of nine and a half years in prison for his
    >involvement with the Black Panther Party.
    >According to Seale, the Black Panthers armed themselves with guns,
    >tape-recorders and legal textbooks and set out simply to observe
    >the Oakland police doing their job. California state law stated
    >that any civilian was allowed to watch a police officer perform
    >his or her duties provided they stayed a respectable distance
    >away, defined by the law as eight to 10 feet.
    >Seale vividly described Black Panther members patrolling their
    >neighbourhood streets, effectively becoming a watchdog group to
    >their local police forces, hoping to send a message that they
    >would not tolerate police racism and brutality in their
    >The archival footage used in ''Public Enemy'' pointedly contrasted
    >shots of Martin Luther King Jr.'s peaceful followers being
    >brutally beaten by police in riot gear with images of the Black
    >Panthers, guns in one hand, the other hand a clenched fist raised
    >in the air, marching in organised lines and chanting songs
    >such as, ''No more brothers in jail. All pigs (cops) gonna catch
    >Black Panther members were shown wearing their characteristic
    >black berets and black leather jackets, their faces staring
    >directly into the camera with intensely angry looks.
    >''It was good marketing,'' said Jamal Joseph about the effect the
    >images of the Black Panthers had on him at the time. ''They looked
    >cool. It made me want to join.''
    >The Panthers never opposed peaceful protests as a vehicle for
    >social change, according to Seale, but after seeing too many
    >peaceful protestors getting injured or killed, and after Martin
    >Luther King Jr.'s murder by white supremacists, Seale says there
    >was a natural progression into the fiercely defensive approach for
    >which the Black Panthers became famous.
    >''We had to defend ourselves. Fear was not going to run us. Nobody
    >was going to keep us down,'' says Seale.
    >Joseph recalled how greatly the group differed from his
    >expectations. Anticipating the rumoured initiation ritual of
    >having to kill a cop and bring back the gun as proof, Joseph said
    >he was simply asked if he would be willing to kill a cop, if
    >necessary, and if he was willing to die for the cause. After
    >Joseph responded yes, he assumed that he was to be given a gun
    >Instead, a Black Panther Party member pulled a pile of books out
    >of a desk drawer and handed them to the young Joseph. ''I thought
    >that he was going to pull out a gun to give me,'' says Joseph,
    >''So I said 'Excuse me, but I thought that you were going to arm
    >me,' to which he replied, 'Excuse me, sir, but I just
    >Over the years, many confrontations with police did erupt into
    >gunfights. During the decade-long Black Panther movement, a total
    >of 14 police officers and 29 Black Panther Party members died.
    >Countless Black Panthers were jailed for their affiliation with
    >the group, and the difficulty of their work had so great an impact
    >that many were later diagnosed with post traumatic stress
    >''Public Enemy'' documents how the FBI, directed at the time by J.
    >Edgar Hoover, relentlessly investigated the Black Panthers,
    >convinced that they were ''the biggest threat to internal security
    >in the US,'' according to a speech of Hoover's.
    >The ultimate disintegration of the Black Panther Party was due
    >primarily to the FBI's infiltration and deliberate disruption of
    >the group's activities and leadership, known by the acronym
    >COINTELPRO, says Seale.
    >According to a former FBI agent interviewed for the film, the
    >agents who infiltrated the Black Panthers were surprised to find
    >the Panthers were not involved in the illegal activities the FBI
    >had presumed were occurring. The agency was forced to plant
    >evidence in order to further their mission to break up the Black
    >Panthers, says the former agent.
    >Kathleen Cleaver, one of the most prominent female members of the
    >Black Panther Party, says that one of the strengths of the Black
    >Panthers was the empowering effect they had on the black
    >''There was nothing more exhilarating, nothing more dangerous. We
    >were fighting to reclaim democracy and you knew that you were
    >making a difference,'' said Cleaver in a question and answer
    >period at the first screening here of the film.
    >The Black Panthers also initiated local community services in each
    >city in which they had an organised chapter, including a
    >nationwide breakfast programme which fed more than 250,000
    >children every morning.
    >Attracting mostly teenaged and young adult black males, the Black
    >Panther Party had, at its peak, more than 5,000 members nationally
    >and internationally, 45 different chapters, and its newsletter
    >reached a circulation of 250,000. According to Seale, 90 percent
    >of the black community at the time fully supported the Black
    >Panther Party.
    >The film is being distributed by Archipel 33, based in Paris,
    >France. Requests can be e-mailed to archip33@imaginet.fr.
    > ----
    > [c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
    > All rights reserved

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