>Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2000 21:30:18 -0500 (CDT)
>From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
>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
>The film is being distributed by Archipel 33, based in Paris,
>France. Requests can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
> [c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
> All rights reserved
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