|by Tomi Johnson|
|Charlotte O'Neal, former Panther now living in Tanzania, discusses with young woman how to make a difference following the Women of the International Section of the Black Panther Party panel discussion.|
Male Former BPP Member: "It's not what we're going to do. It's all about what you're going to do, building on our sacrifices. I'm in my seventies, and even though I'm a Panther for life, I'm passing the torch to you."
---From Panel Discussion, Seattle Chapter, First Black Panther Party Chapter Outside of California
OpEd/Factoid*, Oakland, Calif...I had to put my big girl, iron-reinforced panties on to journey to the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party Summit entitled "Where Do We Go From Here?" held October 20-23 in Oakland, Calif., birthplace of the original Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The commemorative conference and celebration was sponsored by a Host Committee well versed in event planning, project management, propaganda and police brutality.
I knew strong survivors with missions and
agendas would be there as well as the FBI and CIA, so I dressed for the occasion - wore a
black beret and Muntu pin and entered the most historical and
educational gathering I've ever attended, centered on issues facing us today: racism,
justice, and human survival. Got to get this word out!
|Black Panther Party chalk board outside the Oakland Museum of California|
The conference did not disappoint and was visually and emotionally intense. Although I was only able to attend seven of the thirty-one concurrent workshops as well as Saturday night's Gala event, I got a clear understanding of where the organization came from and where it is headed.
Noticeably absent were some high profile Panthers, like Former Co-Founder Bobby Seale who just turned 80 on October 22, and Angela Davis, recently retired from a university professorship. But I was pleased to learn from a plethora of revolutionary leaders, including Elaine Brown, former chairman of the BPP; Kathleen Cleaver, wife of deceased Panther Eldridge Cleaver; Albert Woodfox, member of the "Angola Three" whose conviction was overturned after serving 44 years as a political prisoner; Jose "Cha Cha" Jimenez of the Puerto Rican Group Young Lords; Lenny Foster, American Indian Movement; Fred Hiestand, legal team member for Panthers and Huey Newton; Hy Thurman of Chicago's Young Patriots; Gwen Woods, mother of slain Mario Woods; and Christopher Muhammad, spokesman and minister from the Nation of Islam.
|Fruits of Islam guarded the Muslim minister.|
|Elaine Brown, 73, said all the women in the original BPP were "packing" and could defend themselves. She's still feisty, intelligent, and bold while having a big heart. She doesn't allow her freedom message to become diluted, however, by side issues.|
According to Summit organizers, Black, Brown, and Poor Whites have endured 180 years of mass incarceration and over 800 years of captivity in our land.
|Members of the Original Rainbow Coalition, including BPP, American Indian Movement, Young Lords, Asian American Political Alliance, Palestinian Liberation Organization, Young Patriots, and Red Guards|
"We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes...young people come first, they have the courage when we fail."
Slideshow messages conveyed that living in America can be brutal. Pictures of Panthers incarcerated for decades flashed by, flags flying, cat-like panthers in the jungle, Panthers behind bars, Panthers with family members, waves of repression, war against the black community, Klan attackers, COINTELPRO missions, survivors.
|Former Panther Jasmine Sutton blames the government and parole boards for incarcerating political prisoners unnecessarily for decades.|
Jasmine Sutton moderated a panel discussion of political prisoners, and she invited the audience to donate money for their families. "There are 70 political prisoners in America, and 14 are members of the BPP. We must get them free," Sutton said.
Often prisoners don't have much support from the outside which is key to their survival. Albert Woodfox, a member of the "Angola Three", said he was incarcerated for 44 years in one of America's worst prisons, Louisiana State Penitentiary, and he spent most of his time in solitary confinement. Seeming very calm now, Woodfox was incarcerated first for armed robbery, and then he allegedly killed a corrections officer while in prison.
"Michael, my brother, visited me every month for 44
years. One of my attorneys from LA got my conviction overturned after working very hard for two weeks on my case which was overturned three times, but I still was not free. The animals who held us in Angola Prison wanted us to give them names to use as bargaining chips, something we wouldn't do. Once a Panther,
always a Panther."
|Political Prisoner Albert Woodfox said he sacrificed for the cause and is glad he can now walk more than a few yards as a freeman.|
Theresa Shoatz, daughter of Russell "Maroon" Shoatz, told of her father's struggle in prison, saying that when they couldn't break him in solitary confinement, they moved him to a lock up with mentally ill inmates.
|Mothers Denika Chatman (l) and Gwen Woods (r), while grieving the deaths of their sons, are fighting for the survival of their remaining children, grandchildren, and other youth brutalized by the police.|
Woods said the officer who shot Mario had two pending investigations of police brutality against him. "I'm so insulted, how can they continue to annihilate us?
|Display inside Museum|
Denika Chatman's 19 year old son, Kenneth Harding, Jr., was killed over a $2 bus transfer. When the bus driver took his transfer because it was about to expire, an argument ensued, and the police arrived. "He ran with his hands up but was cornered by police, shot, and left to bleed out on the street for 28 minutes. It's still happening at a rapid rate. They came at him from three different angles. I still can't watch the video, which is on YouTube. I can stay out here on this battleground and continue to fight so you guys can keep your sons."
community safety program. "I started my work by writing down, witnessing, taking notes and photographing homeless people being mistreated by the police.... look what's happening... it's like two different universes... we are documenting what is happening. I'm an 8th grade teacher, and I
want these cops on video so their children can watch them on YouTube.
"We need to get organized and not focus on who got killed, but who killed him, put spotlight on cops themselves, use footage to put them behind bars and shame them in front of their children. If their daughter wants to Google daddy, she sees him killing someone on video. That's a potent tool in suppressing the freedom they think they have to hunt, kill, and destroy."
CopWatch is not waiting for police investigations to be finished before they gather their own evidence. She talked about how Kayla Moore, a transgender woman in Berkeley with mental health issues, was killed by police when they smothered her on her couch. "They had a spit hood, but didn't run to get an oxygen mask... We can get dispatch records and have our own people's investigation because cops wait too long and then don't tell the truth. We can do this...we have control of our own justice."
Elder BPP member: Know your rights. It takes heart to do what we did. We knew it was very dangerous. We gave up everything because that's what it took. It was our job, our life. Police on the street today are better armed than troops in Vietnam and Iraq. They have been militarized. Move our money - the only message America understands is money. Cowards run. You can't do anything if you're afraid . We lived through terrifying experiences... all of us have got to do this... you've got to stand up for each other and show kids your love. Revolution is the only solution. Build coalitions with other people. Don't be pacified and internalize colonialism. Once you reject fear, then you earn respect and become a role model."
Where do we go from here? Prophetic preachers have some ideas.
|Rev. Dr. Martha C. Taylor|
Liberation justice movements should be undertaken simultaneously with churches under-girded by liberation theology. God has always been on the side of the oppressed.
Rev. Kamal Hassan, Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church:
Light a freedom spark and let it continuously burn in the darkness. What God wants is consistent with what the BPP espouses. Read Luke 4:26-31 and be guided by it. The biblical narrative has
been hijacked by empires to use the bible against the people. Don't fall for that.
|Rev. Kamal Hassan|
Pastor Michael McBride, The Way Christian Center:
Jesus said he came to start a fire on earth. As a church, we must engage with the community and not become an isolated club, disconnected from the people on the margins of society.
|Pastor Michael McBride|
Fred Hiestand, Esq., Former Attorney for Huey Newton:
"There are some weird things going on in every branch of government. We have a good government in theory but a lot to be desired. I don't know how any woman could vote for Donald Trump."
---Fred Hiestand, 2016
"When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence without realizing that the real content of any kind of revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and goals that you're striving for, not in the way you reach them."
---Angela Davis, 1972
WW: I understand that you met Bobby Seale.
BB: Yeah, it was a couple years ago at "A Night of Resistance" at UC Berkeley.
WW: What kind of impression did you have of him?
BB: Actually, there are a lot of brothers out there, but those talks were kinda private.
WW: What did you learn about him?
BB: Community work comes from the heart. It takes a lot of soul, spirit, and commitment to really be part of and stay within the community and not to give up on your folks or your people. It's not all about the bravado or guns. It's actually about feeding the kids, really being there, and offering opportunities for young ones to grow.
|From Museum exhibit|
BB: It's because of the militarization kind of aspect of it, but that was just to get attention. It got co-opted, and people were trying to create race wars and kind of say things that were not necessarily part of the movement. You had some people who said, "We're Black Panthers" but they weren't real Black Panthers because they were infiltrators.
WW: Yesterday, somebody asked one of the older Black Panthers, "What are you going to do now?" And he turned to them and said, "My time is about up. We want to know what the young people are gonna do." So, if you were given that challenge, what would you say?
BB: I would say, the first thing, stop gentrification, city development in Oakland to a certain extent. That it is harming the Black and Brown youth out there. The killings and everything is all apart of dehumanizing the people who already live there and making our home a trendy place to sell and up for auction to anybody who has the money.
|Display inside Museum|
WW: One last question. I just met Elaine Brown for the first time and I understand from the booklet that I got from the conference that she is going to be starting or be heavily involved with a high rise apartment and business complex that is going to be for formerly incarcerated people. I don't know how that's going to go over because people really don't like to have poor people around. Why do you think it is important to have decent, affordable housing for the community?
BB: It's good for the development of the city, even all those people that have their logistics set. But the thing is, there's a side of life that you learn from having to live, when your pillow is a stone. And these types of people, they teach you. They give you an idea of how to make it through the bad, even when you have it all. This element of driving us out and pushing us to the corners of nothing, that is a true problem, and I don't think that people see that. They are drowning in their own poison.
WW: Thank you so much for talking to me about that.
BB: You're welcome.
|Mural featuring police on University Avenue in nearby Berkeley, Calif.|
Corrections made re: Theresa Shoatz and Russell "Maroon" Shoatz on 10/27/2016.
*OpEd/Factoid* - Opinions based on facts
Photos by Kurk Johnson and Tomi Johnson. All rights reserved. ©2016