Black History Month: The Black Panther Party

The Black Panther Party was a revolutionary socialist organization founded in 1966 with the intent of protecting and enriching the lives of the Black community.

The BPP publicized What We Want Now!: A Ten Point Program, demanding the following:

  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 Capitalists 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.

 

The BPP set out to accomplish these things by creating armed patrols within Black communities and neighbourhoods. These patrols would simply walk around and monitor police activity for incidents of brutality. The Black Panthers focused on learning about open carry laws and acting within those laws for self and community protection. When confronted by police, they would cite laws, and threaten to sue should those rights be violated.

They further created social programs, called Survival Programs, including things like clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, first aid and self defense classes, transportation to prisons for family members of inmates, an emergency response ambulance programs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and testing for sickle-cell disease.

The most famous Survival Program, however, was the Free Breakfast for Children Program. This program provided breakfast for nearly 20,000 children a year during its run, making them a target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation.

The FBI, being invested in maintaining white supremacy, engaged in a program dedicated to delegitimize and eradicate the Black Panther Party and their Survival Programs. This involved raiding their breakfast programs, targetting and arresting their rank-and-file members, attempting to start rivalries and wars with various other groups, and infiltrating their organization. The FBI murdered two members, and arrested a third, who remains in prison to this day, despite declassified documents admitting to his framing.

Further reading:

The FBI’s war on the Black Panther’s South California Chapter

Black History Month: Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old Black boy shot in Florida by a white man who liked beating up women.

At 9 years old Trayvon Martin saved his father’s life, by pulling him out of a fire. He was known as a shy, kind, and quiet kid, who could often be found hiding in his hoodie and listening to music. He babysat, cut grass and washed cars to earn money. He showed amazing skill and talent for fixing and riding dirt bikes, and was focused on building a career working with airplanes.

On February 26th, 2012, Trayvon committed a crime against white supremacy by daring to walk home from a convenience store while wearing a hoodie and carrying a can of Arizona iced tea and a package of skittles. His murderer shot him in the chest, twice, claiming self-defense, and was acquitted by a jury, despite overwhelming evidence of his racist intent.

Trayvon’s story catapulted discussions on white supremacy, racial profiling, and police brutality into the media’s eye, and convinced many white Americans to finally acknowledge the problem. While police brutality, and racial injustice within the legal system continue to form a core part of our social structure. Our work is not finished.

Black History Month – Emmett Till

Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy lynched in 1955 after being falsely accused of flirting with 21 year old white Carolyn Bryant while in her family’s grocery store in Money, Mississippi.

A few days after having visited Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market with friends, Carol Bryant’s husband Roy Bryant returned from a hunting trip, at which point his wife informed him that Till had flirted with her. Roy Bryant immediately began attempting to track down Till. A few days later, The Bryants, and Roy’s half brother J.W. Milam climbed into a truck and drove to Till’s uncle’s home in the middle of the night. There, Bryant and Milam forced their way in, dragged Till out of his home, and threatened his family that should they tell anyone, they would be killed. They tied Till up, depositing him in the back of their pick up truck and driving him to a barn in Drew, Mississippi. Witnesses heard crying and the sounds of someone being beaten from the barn, but no one got involved. Till was shot, and driven to Glendora, Mississippi, where his body was thrown over the Black Bayou Bridge.

Three days later, Till’s swollen and bloated body was found by two boys fishing the Tallahatchie river. His face had been badly disfigured, along with evidence of impacts to his back and hips. A fan blade had been attached to his neck with barbed wire to weight down his body.

Roy Bryant and JW Milam were tried for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, but were acquitted by an all-white jury.

A year later, in 1956,  Bryant and Milam were paid $4000 for an interview with Look Magazine, where they admitted to murdering Till, proudly insisting they hadn’t done anything wrong. In 2008, Carolyn Bryant admitted that Till had never flirted with her.

Black History Month: Latasha Harlins

Hey FAM! Every week day this month, we’ll be posting a brief biography on a figure in Black history.

Latasha Harlins was a 15 year old girl Black girl murdered in a convenience store in Los Angeles. Her murder, 13 days after Rodney King’s beating, and the murderer’s subsequent slap on the wrist contributed to tensions leading to the LA Riots.

Soon Ja Du, a 51 year old convenience store clerk assumed Latasha Harlins was attempting to steal a bottle of orange juice, despite Latasha having the money to pay for it in hand. Mrs Du reacted by grabbing Latasha’s sweater and backpack, and assaulting her.

Latasha fought back in an attempt to get away. As she stepped back, Mrs. Du threw a stool at her. Latasha bent over to pick up the orange juice that had fallen to the ground, when Mrs Du snatched it from her hand. As Latasha turned to leave, Mrs Du reached under the counter for her handgun and shot Latasha in the back of the head from three feet away.

Mrs. Du was arrested and claimed self-defense, however her testimony was contradicted by both eye witnesses, and the security camera.

Mrs. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the murder of Latasha Harlins, which carries a maximum sentence of 16 years. While the jury recommended the maximum, Judge Joyce Karlin claimed “mitigating factors” and sentenced Mrs. Du to five years probation, 400 hours community service, and a $500 fine. Judge Karlin is quoted as saying Did Mrs. Du react inappropriately? Absolutely. But was that reaction understandable? I think that it was….this is not a time for revenge…and no matter what sentence this court imposes Mrs. Du will be punished every day for the rest of her life.”

This sent a clear message to Los Angeles’ Black community that to the white justice system, Black lives did not matter.

#sayhername

 

 

Aila Moireach is a social justice writer and educator. You can find her on facebook.