History, Oppression, and How We Stay the Same

October 12, 2017

  1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
  2. We want full employment for our people.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the white man of our Black Community.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
  5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
  6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
  7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.
  8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
  9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
  10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny. (Virginia.edu)

The statements above sound very similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, and to people’s protests and political commentary. It’s actually the 10-point platform of the Black Panther Party from the 1960s. It seems that not much has changed in the past 50 years. 

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is a documentary about the Black Panther Party available on Netflix. As one who was raised in the 80s, and only read about the 60s in tidbits during college, I was quite shocked by it. My only other frame of reference is comments here and there from my parents – needless to say, my tiny tidbits of memory don’t reflect a positive comment about the 60s in general. 

The film is not easy to watch. They certainly don’t try to sugarcoat the militant attitude of the party, nor the arming and violence. That said, they also don’t sugarcoat the reason the party started in the first place – police brutality, racism, and poverty. (Sound familiar?) 

The history and the video footage is comprehensive, shocking, and fascinating. I was both horrified and fascinated me. Watching police raids and listening to interviews of police officers, survivors, etc. was appalling. The Nixon Administration literally labeled them “terrorists” and gave J. Edgar Hoover carte blanche to do as he wished to stop them. That came in the form of unwarranted police raids, police brutality, paid informants, etc. Incredibly, juries found the Panthers not-guilty on quite a number of occasions, when they found that the police literally came in guns-ablazing and simply started shooting at people. In one case, families were awarded millions of dollars in damages. In another, 21 people were arrested on trumped-up terrorism charges and subsequently acquited on all 500+ charges after a nearly 2-year long trial. 

One thing I never knew about the party was their social justice work. They provided free meals to school children, free medical clinics to people in need, and more. It actually blew the party apart at the end. One side insisted that social change came from social services and education and the other faction wanted violence and militantism.  

The personal interviews alone are worth watching. Listening to people tell their stories of social action, protests, police misconduct, civil rights legislation and more will blow you away. It will inform you, shock you, and hopefully lead you to action. 

In the end, we are right where we were in the 60s – people living in poverty, surrounded by violence, with addiction problems everywhere in sight. Perhaps it’s time to start listening, learning, and actually doing something about it rather than continuing to blame people for their poverty and blighted neighborhoods. 

Power to the people. 

Proverbs 14:31 (NRSV): Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.

Serve all with love.

Photo courtesy of: stocksnap.io

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