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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In An Earlier Ferguson, in Response to Police Brutality, The Black Panthers' Approach

Today, in the wake of the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo and Staten Island and the shooting of a black child with a toy gun in Cleveland, we have a groundswell or protests over police treatment of people of color. 

In the mid-1960's, the response to similar treatment was different, particularly in the Western part of our country and then spreading through the rest of the Midwest and Northeast: the Black Panther Party, which was founded in Oakland after a series of events of police brutality and probable outright murder. 

The Panther's idea was, in part, to shadow the police and be present as armed witnesses to any potential police brutality. At that time, California had an open carry law, and it was within every citizen's legal right to observe their police officers at work. In uniform, Panthers would follow the police. "If they took out their guns, we took out their guns." White officers describe the experience as chilling and intimidating. 

The Panthers came out of Oakland Direct Action Committee (founded by Mark Comfort, who came out of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Lowndes County, Alabama, the darkest of counties in the darkest of dark states when it came to Civil Rights.) Comfort also brought back the Black Panther symbol, which was there used to represent a branch of the Democratic party. Here's Wikipedia again: "ODAC and the newly founded Black Panther Party worked together to follow police after blacks were arrested, follow them to the police station and often bail them out as well. 

The instigating incident for the Tea Party-like stand-off between the Panthers and the California State Assembly was this: 

"In 1967, a black man, Denzil Dowell, was murdered by a Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy. A grand jury ruled the killing a "justifiable homicide." The police claimed to have shot Dowell three times, but a coroner's report noted that he bled to death after being shot ten times. The family was not allowed to see the body nor to take possession of his clothing to determine how many times he had actually been shot. When Mark contacted Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, they accepted the request for assistance. The media coverage over this gave the Black Panther Party exposure into homes of millions of Americans."

 1]A Republican Congressman, Don Mulford, introduced a bill to repeal the law that permitted citizens to carry loaded weapons in public places so long as they were openly displayed. Mulford, wanted to eliminate the Black Panther Police Patrols. His bill forbade the carrying of loaded weapons within the limits of any California City. 

Like a reverse negative image of today's Tea Party Open Carry Supporters, the Panthers showed up at the California Assembly House, dressed in black leather jackets, shades, and black berets, armed and standing at attention like a paramilitary group. Then Governor Ronald Reagan scurried to his waiting helicopter and spoke to the press: "There's no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons." 

Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which prohibited "the carrying of firearms on your person, in your vehicle, and in any public place or on the street." He also signed off on a 15-day waiting period for firearms purchase.  

Which just goes to show you: when white males show up at a political gathering armed to the teeth, they are assiduously courted by one of our major political parties. When black males show up at a political gathering armed to to the teeth, white America shivers in their boots, the FBI makes them target number one, and Ronald Reagan signs off on gun control laws. 

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