On May 2, 1967, the Black Panthers entered the California State Capitol building, guns at their sides. Theirs was a demonstration, advocacy for their right to defend themselves against racism in policing. They wanted to police their neighborhoods by being present (carrying guns in compliance with CA law), observe arrests and other law enforcement activities. Huey Newton, the Black Panthers’ leader, actually included a law book with his rifle to remind officers of their civilian rights.
This group of people were not encouraging violence. Rather, they meant to be informed eyes, accountability for what history proved to be race-motivated, and excessively punitive action on African-American communities. They were not afraid to assert their rights and encourage others to do the same. Indeed, the Panthers alerted journalists to their plans, so when they entered the CA Capitol building, journalists followed to record the proceedings.
I am absolutely in favor of gun control. The Black Panthers’ strategy in this instance is not one I would promote. At the same time, what they were about was precisely what all humankind ought to be about: that better personhood characterized by kindness, generosity, caring for those who need care, sharing with one who has none of that which I own two. It began as a wholesale resistance against white culture, but shifted to a more class critique of society. Still, the reaction of authorities remained extreme.
In January 1969, the first Panther’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program is initiated at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland. By the end of the year, the Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the nation, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school. In Chicago, Fred Hampton, leads five different breakfast programs on the West Side, helps create a free medical center, and initiates a door to door program of health services which test for sickle cell anemia, and encourage blood drives for the Cook County Hospital. A few months later, police enter his apartment and shoot him in the head as he sleeps.
I only knew of the Black Panthers as a militant and violent group. Nothing was included in my education to explain what they were ultimately about. And there certainly was no outline of the reasons behind why they assembled in the first place. It is important to recall history—especially since it often seems it is repeated while I remain naïve of past efforts to make things right.
So, today, I have a little more information on a movement that frightened a lot of people yet also did an enormous amount of good. I have little physical energy to start or promote programs that do goodness, rightness. I can write and research and try to get others thinking about and motivated to love mercy and to do righteousness in this world. I am at a loss as to how I can get this damn blog to a larger audience, though—the audience that needs encouragement to continue in their efforts, or motivated to begin something they are passionate about. Do you need that? Can I help you? How might I help? Be human. Be kind. Be present. Together.