Reviews: Books & Film
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Black Against Empire #2 Strategy

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.

This entry was posted in: Reviews: Books & Film

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Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

10 Comments

  1. This being Sunday and all, I’ll share a relevant aspect of my personal testimony. In the early 70s, having dropped out of college, I was backpacking through Morocco with a Canadian guy who was really into revolution and machine guns. We decided we’d head over to Algeria to train with Eldridge Cleaver. Exiled from the US, Cleaver had set up the Black Panthers’ international HQ in Algiers, building armed resistance against imperialist regimes everywhere. As my buddy and I were passing through Tangier en route to the Algerian border, some local kids led us to a place where we could crash indoors for the night for free. It turned out to be a Jesus Freak commune…

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    • You mean Machine Gun Jesus and his twelve Comrades? But yeah, a Jesus revolution, more attuned to the hippies’ peace love and understanding vibe than to the more militant alternatives of the day.

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    • No, but I did stay at the Tangier commune for six months. Right around that same time Eldridge Cleaver was getting born again, so maybe my fate wouldn’t have turned out much different.

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    • Hmm, now things are starting to get personal. But yes, I was born again, and baptized in the Mediterranean Sea. What do you think, JE: once saved always saved?

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      • Once saved, always saved?….That was a major debate back in my own evangelical/fundamentalist (circa Theos Project). As I recall my father was in the once saved, always saved, my grandfather, however, found that perspective problematic. If a man does in the arms of a harlot, he asked, does he get rewarded by going straight to heaven? (Presumably, sex with a “loose woman” was one of the worst things he could come up with…while taking due consideration for sensitive ears, of course…). A good Calvinist might flip it around. Rather than “once saved, always saved,” maybe it’s “if always saved, then once saved” or something like that…But these days I’m more in the Jesus/Buddha camp: Medice, cura te ipsum, “physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23)

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    • Sounds like some great cross-generational theology discussions in the Erdman clan. “Saved” wasn’t much of a topic among us Catholics. If my “once saved always saved” gambit doesn’t play when the time comes, I do have stashed in my back pocket a plenary indulgence — a get out of jail free card so I won’t have to spend any time in Purgatory before heading straight for the Pearly Gates. Of course I’ve still got to worry about any unconfessed mortal sins marring my ledger when I breathe my last…

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      • Our own Captain Ahab had his own approach to the day of death: “‘Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!'”

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