Huey Newton and Bobby Seale wanted to organize, locally, to resist police brutality in their Oakland communities. But they needed a method and means. They needed a strategy, something that would work in the Black ghettoes, something that would be effective to combat the all-out racist onslaught of police forces like in Watts where officers on the force called their nightsticks “nigger-knockers.” They needed to catalyze locals, particularly those who ran the streets, the “brothers on the block, the unemployed black men seen on every street of the ghetto, the black underclass. These were the people who faced the brutality of the expanding urban police departments.” It proved challenging. Meanwhile there was police brutality. And more police brutality. Their frustrations mounted. Then, after a riot, new possibilities began to emerge.
The riot was a response to the shooting of Matthew Johnson. Johnson was shot in the back by police and was left bleeding on the ground for more than an hour. Rebellion followed.
“The situation was unbearable. Newton and Seale would tolerate no more police brutality and were fed up with the disorganized and impotent attempts of the black community to resist. They were determined to find a solution. Newton soon experienced an epiphany sparked by an article he read in the August 1966 edition of the West Coast SNCC newspaper, the Movement, about the Community Alert Patrol (CAP) in Watts. “Brother Lennie” and “Brother Crook,” two activists from Watts, organized CAP after the rebellion in 1965 to prevent further police brutality. CAP members monitored the police, driving around the black neighborhoods of Watts with notepads and pencils, documenting police activities. In August 1966, CAP began displaying a Black Panther logo on its patrol vehicles—inspired by SNCC’s use of the Panther symbol when helping to organize an independent black political party in Lowndes County, Alabama. CAP was not left alone to carry out its activities, however; it was vulnerable to harassment and abuse by the police. One frustrated CAP member commented on the police harassment to a Movement reporter: “There’s only one way to stop all this,” he said, “and that’s to get out our guns and start shooting.”….
“Newton had been studying law at Merritt College and San Francisco State College, and he also read on his own at the North Oakland Service Center law library. He discovered that California law permitted people to carry loaded guns in public as long as the weapons were not concealed. He studied California gun law inside and out, finding that it was illegal to keep rifles loaded in a moving vehicle and that parolees could carry a rifle but not a handgun. In California, he learned, citizens had the right to observe an officer carrying out his or her duty as long as they stood a reasonable distance away. Newton had finally hit upon a way to stand up to the police and organize the “brothers on the block.” He would organize patrols like the CAP in Watts. But he and his comrades would carry loaded guns.”
Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party is a 2013 book focusing on the history of the Black Panthers, written by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin, University of California Press, 562 pages.