Sunday, April 4, 2010


Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God’s grace, I shall come and bring with me countless black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.

Excerpt from a letter written by The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey writing from Atlanta Prison, February 10, 1925

In a pre-dawn raid on April 2, 1969, the police arrested 21 members of the Black Panther Party of New York. The New York 21 were charged with conspiracy to bomb police stations, department stores, the New York City subway and the New York Botanical Garden.

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP) was founded in Oakland, California in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale who were students at Merritt College, Oakland, California. One of its most famous members was Dr. Angela Davis. The BPP was founded in the wake of the assassination of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965). The younger generation of African Americans was not satisfied with the previous decade’s leadership advocating non-violence. They had experienced violence at the hands of white Americans, witnessed or seen images on television of nonviolent African American men, women and children demonstrators being water hosed, beaten and jailed by white police, spat on and brutalized by white Americans merely for protesting social injustices.

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin who became a member of the BPP in 1968 wrote in his 1969 published autobiography: “I had been born in "america, the land of the free." To insure my country's freedom, my father was somewhere fighting, for this was a year of the second war to end all wars — World War II. This was October 4, 1943, and victory was in the air. The world would now be safe for democracy. But who would insure my freedom? Who would make democracy safe for Black people? America recognized long ago what negroes now examine in disbelief: every Black birth in america is political. With each new birth comes a potential challenge to the existing order. Each new generation brings forth untested militancy.”

Even before the founding of the BPP young urban African Americans rejected non¬violence as a tactic to gain their Civil Rights. This was evident in protests like the Watts Uprising in Watts (Los Angeles), California (August 11th – 17th 1965) in reaction to police brutality. The Watts Uprising triggered similar responses to oppression and by 1967; there had been more than 100 major African American urban uprisings in cities across the USA. The two largest occurred in July 1967 in Newark, N.J., (July 14th - July 17th) and Detroit, Michigan (July 23rd – July27th.) The first African American mass uprising in Detroit took place on June 17, 1833 during the rescue from re-enslavement of Thornton Blackburn who with his wife Lucie became Toronto’s first taxi cab owners in 1837.

The BPP did more than physically defend African Americans against state violence, organized (Ku Klux Klan, White League, Red Shirts etc.,) and individual white violence. Their ten point plan outlined their demands including employment, decent housing, relevant education and an immediate end to police brutality. These demands, the rights of any American citizen were met with hostile reaction from the government and many white Americans including the media.

Then Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) J. Edgar Hoover described the Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” In the attempt to destroy the BPP, the FBI unleashed a smear campaign of misinformation, ably assisted by the white media. Hoover had been attempting since his early days at the FBI to prevent the rise of what he called “a Black Messiah” to ensure that the masses of African Americans would not rise above the state of third class citizens in the country where their ancestors’ blood sweat and tears had contributed to the wealth that white people in America could take for granted. In the 1980s Susan McIntosh, a white professor documented the privileges that white Americans enjoy based on the colour of their skin

Hoover focused on destroying anyone who he thought could be the “Black Messiah.” Beginning with the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey in 1919, Hoover focused on destroying the lives, credibility and reputation of Africans who were leaders or potential leaders of the masses including El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many members of the BPP.

The members of the BPP recognizing that their role as defenders of the people entailed more than protection against police brutality established Survival Programs which included free breakfast programs, free medical clinics with Sickle Cell Anemia Testing, grocery giveaways, the manufacture and distribution of free shoes, school and other education programs, senior transport and service programs, free bussing to prisons and prisoner support and legal aid programs.

The BPP received international support from Pan Africanists including Guyanese historian Walter Rodney who wrote about the killing of a BPP member in November 1971: “To most readers in this continent, starved of authentic information by the imperialist news agencies, the name of George Jackson is either unfamiliar or just a name. George Jackson was jailed ostensibly for stealing 70 dollars. He was given a sentence of one year to life because he was black, and he was kept incarcerated for years under the most dehumanizing conditions because he discovered that blackness need not be a badge of servility but rather could be a banner for uncompromising revolutionary struggle. He was murdered because he was doing too much to pass this attitude on to fellow prisoners. George Jackson was a political prisoner and a black freedom fighter. He died at the hands of the enemy.”

The defendants presented a statement dated March 1, 1970 to the presiding judge which read in part:
We the defendants named by the state in the proceeding now pending before “Justice” John M. Murtagh say: That the history of this nation has most definitely developed a dual set of social, economic, and political realities, as well as dynamics. One white, and the other black.

Let us not conveniently forget how the system of “American justice” systematically upheld the bizarre reasoning about black people in order to retain a system of slave labor. And when this became economically unnecessary, how “the great American system of justice” helped to establish and maintain social degradation and deprivation of all who were not white, and most certainly, those who were black. To be sure the entire country had to share in this denial; to justify the inhuman treatment of other human beings, the American had to conceal from himself and others his oppression of blacks, but again but again the white dominant society has long had absolute power, especially over black people – so it was no difficult matter to ignore them, define them, forget them, and if they persisted, pacify or punish them.

We as a people do not exist except as victims, and to this and much more, we say, No more. For 350 years we said this in various ways. But running deep in the American psyche is the fear of the ex-slave. Those of the other reality, the dominant white culture, its institutions, had no ears to truly hear. The wax of centuries of master-slave relationship had stopped up their ears, your ears. For if our reality, the black experience in America, is invalid, then so are the institutions and social structure that contributed to its creation invalid. If you then concede it is valid (which it most definitely is), then it must be of consequence in determining what is “justice” compared to us (black people).

African Americans had suffered a unique form of “justice” at the hands of white people in America especially after the abolition of slavery when whites in America felt that Africans had to be kept in their place through terrorism.

On May 13, 1971, after the longest political trial in New York's history, the New York Panthers were acquitted of all charges after 90 minutes of jury deliberation. The New York 21 included Tupac Shakur’s mother Afeni Shakur who gave birth to her son one month (June 16, 1971) after her acquittal. In the collective autobiography of the New York 21 Look for me in the Whirlwind (title taken from Garvey’s letter written while he was imprisoned in Atlanta, February 10, 1925) the members document their ordeal. The American government was ruthlessly and brutally efficient in its quest to destroy the Black Power Movement which included the Black Panther Party.

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