On Wednesday, November 11th, 2015, my husband took me out on a movie date and I was so thrilled to go. It was like going to the movies with my BFF, in this case, my soul mate. Well anyways, this review isn’t about us but in fact something that is very important to us; a time in which “tired of being sick and tired” was at its’ wits end; a time in which talking was being drowned by beatings with the batons and the shooting caused by police brutality and other assaults to our communities; a time where people were willing to take it to the streets by any means necessary to seek justice.
This documentary was very interesting because of those who agreed to be in it. It included those from opposing sides; interestingly enough several members of the BPP (Black Panther Party), members of the Police Department, others who were either admires of the BPP and those who no longer garnered the BPP’s spirit. Overall this particular documentary is enough to give an overview of this brilliant group to those who are not familiar with the BPP.
There are three particular things that stood out to me which I would like to address. The first is the community outreach/alliances established by the BPP, the internal strife in the infrastructure of the BPP and the overt workings of the Cointelpro operation against the BPP by J. Edgar Hoover and his minions. I would like to analyze and compare/contrast these three particular aspects as it relates to our station as black people at this particular time.
In 1966, the BPP started by two young men named Huey Newton and Bobby Seale During its development, BPP focused on challenging the government by exercising the rights afforded to all of its’ citizens, including people of Color, the right to bear arms. The BPP exercised their right to bear arms by policing the police. They would be present whenever the police (they referred to as “pigs”) would pull anybody over. Nowadays, filming police stops by citizens’ cell-phone cameras is the current policing of the police - yet ineffective due to the fact that many officers have been acquitted of any wrong doing. The governmental officials and local police were alarmed back in 1966, “niggers with guns”, that was unheard of; Black people carrying weapons, openly? Oh, Hell no!!! They began to write new legislation designed to take away the right to bear arms and protect oneself from black people. So, the BPP went up to the State Capitol to see what was the problem with carrying weapons in their hands in public. Of course they were made targets. Many had to stop going home to their families in order to keep them safe. The oppressive forces took more action when they noticed that the white college students started chanting along with their black comrades, the following words,
"No more pigs in our community. Off the pigs!"
"No more brothers in jail. Off the pigs!
“The pigs are gonna catch hell. Off the pigs!"
"The revolution has come. Off the pigs!
“Time to pick up the gun. Off the pigs!"
During the hay days of the BPP, these young people were nothing to mess with and so the powers that be knew this so they implemented the Cointelpro (Counter Intelligence Program). The FBI memorandum expanded the program described its goals as:  Prevent a coalition of militant black nationalist groups.  Prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant nationalist movement such as Martin Luther King, Stokley Carmichael and Elijah Muhammad all aspire to this position.  Prevent violence on the part of black nationalist groups.  Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability by discrediting them.  Prevent the long-range growth of militant black nationalist organizations, especially among youth.
So the chants and the presence of the BPP across America continued in like fashion until the night of April 6, 1968, when Bobby Hutton - a BPP member - was killed by Oakland Police officers after Eldridge Cleaver, the Minister of Information led him and twelve other Panthers in an ambush of the Oakland Police. During this ambush two officers were seriously wounded by multiple gunshot wounds. This was the first murder of any kind in the BPP. It was on! In September 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described the Black Panthers as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country".
BPP activity was not limited to guns and militant activity. They were also about preserving the family, the community. They developed different programs referred to as "serve the people programs". In 1971 it was renamed as the “Survival Programs”. One such program in particular was initiated in 1969, the Free Breakfast for School Children Program. The Panthers would cook and serve food to the poor inner city youth of the area at St. Augustine's Church in Oakland, California. The program became so popular that by the end of the year, the Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the nation, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school. Statistic showed that children who ate breakfast in the morning were more likely to succeed. They also had health clinics as well as feeding the general community.
The work that the BPP participated in attracted others who were seeking justice as well from all over the world. They eventually met up and formed alliance with whites and other oppressed people of different nationalities.
The inner makings of the BPP were no different from any other organization, it also had its shortcomings as well. One of these shortcomings which I observed in this documentary was the love of power by Eldridge Cleaver. When that shootout occurred in which Eldridge was shot but another BPP member - Lil Bob Hutton - was unjustifiably killed; Eldridge subsequently escaped into exile to a couple of countries such as Cuba and Algeria. There were strains on the relationship between Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver until one day their alliance fell apart - live on television! February 28, 1971, 'AM San Francisco' had Huey P. Newton on as a guest. Cleaver phoned in from Algeria and began airing private Party business on air. Cleaver dismissed Newton from the Panthers, and then Newton dismissed Cleaver from the Panthers! The Black Panthers split into two factions, a left and right wing. The right wing, which consisted of Newton’s supporters, were focused upon the survival programs and empowering impoverished communities. The left wing, Cleaver’s faction, included the notoriously violent New York 21 faction (The New York 21 was a group of twenty-one Black Panther members who were arrested and accused of planned coordinated bombing and long-range rifle attack on two police stations and an education office in New York City. They were eventually acquitted). These Black Panthers and others like them believed that the emphasis upon the survival programs was a distraction to the true issue which was the inevitable armed revolution. Eldridge’s fiery speeches instigated more dangerous actions. And this jeopardized the Black Panther Party’s safety back at home. The BPP became weak because of this internal division.
Finally I wanted to explore the different ways that J. Edgar Hoover instigated a lot of the division in the Party. They would write phony letters and send them to the different leaders. They also sent in informants such as William O’Neal. In late 1968, the Racial Matters squad of the FBI's Chicago field office brought in an individual named William O'Neal, who had recently been arrested twice for interstate car theft and impersonating a federal officer. In exchange for having his felony charges dropped and a monthly stipend, O'Neal apparently agreed to infiltrate the BPP as a counterintelligence operative. He joined the Party and quickly rose in the organization, becoming Director of Chapter security and Fred Hampton's bodyguard! He informed the FBI of the floor plans where Fred Hampton and others slept.
Fred Hampton was the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), and deputy chairman of the national BPP. His organizing skills, substantial oratorical gifts, and personal charisma allowed him to rise quickly among the Black Panthers. Once he became leader of the Chicago chapter, he organized weekly rallies, worked closely with the BPP's local People's Clinic, taught political education classes every morning at 6am, and launched a project for community supervision of the police. Hampton was also instrumental in the BPP's Free Breakfast Program. When Elaine Brown a BPP member left the Party with Stokley Carmichael in the FBI-fomented SNCC/Panther split, Hampton assumed chairmanship of the Illinois state BPP, automatically making him a national BPP deputy chairman. As the Panther leadership across the country began to be affected by the impact of the FBI's COINTELPRO, Hampton's prominence in the national hierarchy increased rapidly and dramatically. Eventually, Hampton was in line to be appointed to the Party's Central Committee's Chief of Staff. He would have achieved this position had it not been for his assassination on the morning of December 4, 1969. “Prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant nationalist movement”… was accomplished!
Another example of the workings of the Cointelpro program was to "intensify the degree of animosity" between the BPP and the Blackstone Rangers, a Chicago street gang, included sending an anonymous letter to the gang's leader falsely informing him that the Chicago Panthers had "a hit out" on him. The stated intent of the letter was to induce the Ranger leader to "take reprisals against" the Panther leadership. This was to incite more violence.
Overall, this piece of history must be told in order to show where we came from, our capabilities and potential as a community, and where we are going! We must learn from their mistakes so that we can be better. It will also gauge to see who are the talkers and the shakers. I am happy that I got to see this documentary because it made me feel like I was there with the BPP. I felt their spirit, I felt their fire! We need to rekindle that if we want a true change as people.
- Umm Sa’eed