War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America (1980)

In the days since an ebullient Back 2 School 2 Party, I’ve had the privilege to rest and restore myself from the frenzy of so much organizing. One of the key activities in this “decompressing” process has been getting back to los beloved libros. In an effort to spread the joy of reading then, and to share as I so often enjoy doing with the spirit of Los Angeles, I’m happy to finally publish another brief book review. This time, on a little-known story by another major organizer in American history: Huey P. Newton’s War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America (1980).

I can only imagine how demoralizing it was for Mr. Newton to describe the harrowing experience that led to the publication of this work, which describes how in less than ten (10) years his entire life was uprooted, distorted and destroyed by a branch of government whose authority was never approved by Congressional Hearing (see FBI), but which would nevertheless work “behind the scenes” to eradicate the Black Panther Party’s (BPP) efforts to free Black and other minorities from the second-class citizenship they’d been relegated to over a hundred (100) years after Reconstruction following the US Civil War (1861-1865). As Mr. Newton points out in the opening pages of his analysis:

“By 1966, the United States had experienced a recent series of disruptions in several of its major urban Black population centers—Harlem, Watts, Chicago and Detroit. Numerous organizations and leaders representing groups of Black people—e.g., SCLC (Martin Luther King, Jr.), the Black Muslims (Elijah Muhammed and Malcolm X), CORE (James Farmer), NAACP (Roy Wilkins)—had repeatedly articulated the causes of these riots or urban rebellions: high unemployment, bad housing, police brutality, poor health care, and inferior educational opportunities.”

That same year, the Party would be founded in Oakland, California. It wouldn’t last more than 14 years. But during its lifespan, the BPP served as a “vanguard,” to borrow one of Newton’s terms, which would not only extend the spirit of Black Liberation Theory passed down from the blood and ashes of Malcolm X and MLK Jr., but which would “evolve” that spirit to meet the needs of a new “postmodern” world dawning after the “radical sixties” era in the United States. A world which would nearly leave the Black community and other minorities completely behind, if not for the revolutionary spirit and action of thinkers like Mr. Newton, Bobby Seale, Fred Hampton, Angela Davis, and other major intellectual and social figures of the times.

To be sure, War Against the Panthers is not a “tell-all” expose of the BPP and its legacy, but it’s a close and fact-based look at the methods of infiltration used by institutions such as the FBI, CIA and even the IRS and others, which set out to destroy the party’s Breakfast and other ‘Survival’ programs in Oakland, Chicago, New York and many more major cities across the U.S. For this same reason the dissertation is a very brief read containing a handful of facts, figures, and memorandums obtained through litigation by attorneys for the Panthers in cases against the FBI and its counterparts for violating the Panthers’ rights to privacy, freedom of speech, and other political freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

In 2019, “privacy” and the right to privacy is a word and phrase I read mostly when articles are referring to the internet, and more specifically, when they’re referring to which companies are spying on Americans’s phones and web browsers (virtually all of them, though one might ask: does it still count as spying if we clicked “yes” in the disclosure agreement?).

Yet Newton’s dissertation is an example of just what kind of actions can be taken against any American when the major power players deem them a “threat to national security,” or even just expendable or collateral damage. The analysis is therefore also instructive in the matter about why ‘[the] people’s’ rights are still worth defending; the issues of privacy and the right to organize oneself privately, politically or otherwise are not just legislative or “abstract” issues, but truly personal ones affecting every American today. As Mr. Newton points out, if even just one power player can deploy their leverage against any one group or person to destroy the rights of their citizenship, then it follows that all power players are given permission to misuse their leverage against all [the] people:

“…governmental efforts at destruction of the Party, successful in varying degrees, were only thwarted or held in abeyance when they reached their logical consequence: destruction of the right of dissent for all groups, a right indispensable to the functioning of a democratic society.”

I salute Mr. Newton and his comrades for their invaluable bravery in living, breathing, and exposing this parable. At least for JIMBO TIMES, the people will know: these are legends not far at all removed from our time. The text is free online for any one to read, and has full approval from The L.A. Storyteller.

J.T.

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A 7th Grade Student’s Poem for Black Lives in Los Angeles

Black Potential

by Te’Aunee Turner

We are BLACK, We are BROWN and we are even more than what they make us seem.

They make us seem weak, worthless, and they use us as scapegoats.
But the fact is
We are
Preachers,
Teachers,
Singers,
Fighters, and
Leaders.

Don’t you try to put US down because they already tried,

They insulted us like HARRIET TUBMAN
They abused us like EMMETT TILL
They disenfranchised us like MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
THEY EVEN TRIED TO MAKE US SLAVES,
BUT WE BROKE THEM DAMN CHAINS.

WE are BLACK
I am BLACK
I AM BLACK
I am BRAVE, COURAGEOUS, and DETERMINED
And let it be known,
I ain’t no BURDEN.

So do not UNDERESTIMATE our potential,
MY POTENTIAL
My BLACK POTENTIAL.

Because Harriet Tubman helped free her people from chains,
So Rosa could sit,
So Martin could march,
And finally, so Obama could lead.

I can be the next Michelle
I can be the next Harriet
I can be the next Maya Angelou,
This is because of African-American leaders who fought for our Rights.

Now, I fight for my Rights.

About the author: Te’Aunee Turner is a 7th grade student in Los Angeles. In Te’Aunee’s own words, she hopes her poem shows others “[that] being equal is not treating someone with an advantage because they’re in a higher class, or taking advantage of others because they don’t have money. This is how our great African American leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nipsey Hussle got killed. The whole point of this is for people to see others for who they really are so we can treat each other more equally.”

Te’Aunee’s sister, Dasia, and Language Arts teacher, Ms. Morales, also provided support for this poem.

J.T.

Bernie Sanders

I know politics are ugly, but there’s no way I can actually avoid talking about politics. In 2016, J.T. will have to, and in fact, I guess it starts here.

Bernie Sanders’s camp is said to have rallied a mass of supporters at the L.A. coliseum earlier tonight, which is great to hear in a city that elected its current mayor with only 12% of its registered voters.

Yet if Bernie Sanders were serious about change, he and his camp would recognize that their campaign will ultimately win and change nothing, and they’d thank the women of Black Lives Matter for honoring his podium with their movement, and join forces with them in lending attention to the failure of both democratic and republican parties to serve in the interests of The People’s History of the United States each time they’ve had the chance to honor (Black) Liberation Theory.

From Lincoln, to FDR, to Obama, ‘progressive leaders’ have never actually cared to institute meaningful policy for the success of ‘the minority’, perhaps figuring it just doesn’t make much political or mathematical sense since their constituents are self-interested and reductive of any policy seeking to build the whole country rather than a select group of it.

Opponents of those BLM members interrupting Bernie cite his ‘civil rights’ record as reason to let him speak, but let’s have the conversation with some integrity: a lot of ‘civil rights’ records look good on paper, but they mean nothing on the ground to the black and brown youth who still occupy openly segregated neighborhoods, classrooms, prison cells, and even segregated graveyards because of the legacy of poverty their parents and grandparents come from.

Until Bernie and his supporters acknowledge this, his campaign is vaguely reminiscent of ‘hope’, ‘change’, and other empty campaign slogans that I recall hearing this one other time I got excited about a presidential candidate.

Ultimately though, regardless of whether Sanders or his supporters acknowledge this, the truth is that the power dynamic in this country will simply never honor the people en masse.

Whether the advertisements don blue or red stripes, only one thing’s for sure: what the power dynamic will do is make great commercials about change, and design and execute great campaign rallies about change.

They will deliver this special effect through awesome stereo and television systems, and as the audience, we will (reluctantly) buy into these ads or illusions. Why? Because it’ll be simpler and maybe even more natural for us to do than to actually work towards change as a society. We’ll also buy the ads because it will just feel good, and because nothing will be able to beat a good feeling.

That is, until another ad comes along, compelling us toward another good feeling. By the time we’re disappointed with that false advertisement (Clinton/Bush/Whatever), it won’t matter, since we’ll have another movie –err– campaign rally to attend. This is the U.S.A after all, and if there’s one thing we do best in this country, it’s buying into illusions of power and grandeur.

I’m even doing it now, as I write this. In publishing this, a part of me believes it will change something, and that it’s going to rally people for some real transformation of the world. A bit farther in, some other part of me even thinks of this ‘piece’ as my own bid for the presidency. In fact –the hell with it– I’m just going to go for it:

This message was brought to you by JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller. Vote for JIMBO TIMES, because it will just feel good, and because unlike the other candidates, J.T. promises to do nothing more than make you feel it.

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Dear Sisters: Black Lives Matter

Your pain, and the bravery in your hearts to share what you feel, are embers of light in a world that insists on living in darkness.

Your endurance through chaos, and your will to survive through its reams, are layers of strength for those who will follow in your footsteps.

You’ve heard before that you have to keep fighting, and that you have to keep pushing,

And you will hear this again.

But tonight, I encourage you to put your arms down, and to lay your heads back.

Tonight, I encourage you to simply find somewhere to rest.

And to reach out to one another, to hold one another, and to assure each other of one thing, if only just one thing:

That you are not alone.

And that your pain will not be in vain.

Your struggle is the world’s struggle, as it is humanity’s struggle, and as it is the struggle of the future.

And in your fight to bring light to our society, you reflect the orbit of a world fighting to survive in a galaxy full of darkness.

Thank you for shining so brightly in this journey, and for your resilience through its tremors.

And know that you are seen.

That you are heard,

And that you will always be acknowledged and appreciated.

From the center of the earth,

To the edges of the universe,

Through time and space,

And even beyond,

Thank you once again, dear sisters; indefinitely.

My Mysterious Son

Before I move on with the rest of Quartz, I’d like to take a moment to ‘officially’ review a book for the month. A little while ago, I had the pleasure to learn about My Mysterious Son after meeting the author, Dick Russell, at a writing workshop with the Inside Out Writers. When ‘D.R.’ gave me his book, I thanked him for the journey, without knowing just how challenging its contents would actually be to grapple with. From the opening, D.R. leaves no doubt for readers about just how much of his life he’s sharing with others:

“This is a book about a different interpretation of schizophrenia, based upon almost twenty years of one father’s experience with his son’s struggle against mental illness. Experiences fraught with desperation, confusion, incomprehension, and pain. Experiences also filled with surprise, humor, adventure, and hope. Experiences that ultimately go beyond (but do not discard) the Western “medical model” for treating mental illness.”

Perhaps no moment in the book speaks more to the doubled-edged nature of these experiences than the poetic turning point of the journey, when one morning, the author’s then-seventeen year old son, Franklin, hands him a mysterious note recounting a ‘dream-like’ journey he found himself in the night before.

Russell shares this note in the book, but so as to let readers encounter it for themselves, I’ll leave the note unquoted. What I can say about its contents, however, is that I found myself immediately struck by Franklin’s ability to capture the brilliant images of his journey so vividly.

The note is sharp and enigmatic, taking readers from one edge of a galactic field to another, and right away, it’s clear that Franklin is dealing with a multitude of worlds beyond his own, and that what he’s able to ‘bring back’ from this intersection of realities is something to be treasured.

At the same time, it’s also clear that even if Franklin brings back treasures, there’s only so much understanding one can reach with them, as ultimately, the note leaves readers with more questions than answers.

As fate would have it, Franklin’s note was just the beginning of a tragic divorce from a rather ordinary teenage life up to that point, since what follows next is a harrowing ten years in hospitals, intensive medication, bitter identity crises, effective and ineffective therapy, and so much more for him and his mother and father due to a form of schizophrenia which he’s diagnosed with.

The experience for Franklin is magnified by his status as an only child, as well as the fact that his parents separated when he was still just a newborn. Perhaps most of all, however, Franklin and his family’s journey is complicated by his struggle to come to terms with his biracial identity.

D.R

Franklin is dark-skinned, and like most people of color — and black people in America in particular — Franklin struggles with a world that seems to place little to no value on his life. This proves difficult for his white father to grasp, and leads to more than a number of searing confrontations between them on the difference of their skin colors.

At times, Franklin blatantly calls his father an impostor, or implies that someone else is his true ‘ole man’. This is tough to read through, but I can only imagine how much tougher it is to breathe through for the author. Still, D.R. manages to hang on to every sharp-edged word uttered by his son, determined to learn from and use the words as building blocks rather than not.

Moreover, as Russell states at the outset, in contrast to the bitter words between him and his son, there is also a world’s worth of beautiful ‘gems’ the author hears from Franklin’s voice on things. Along with a magnetic vision, Franklin commands a charming knowledge of esoteric facts on language, people, and geography, which on more than a few occasions leaves readers in pleasant awe.

This is the journey through My Mysterious Son, characterized as much by ‘progress’ as ‘regression’ like the life of any ‘normal’ human being. However, things take another major turning point towards the end of the book, when Franklin and his father meet the famed West African writer and teacher Malidoma, who practices ancestral indigenous healing techniques for illness.

Franklin takes well to the West African, and alongside his father, he develops a significant relation with the world renowned spiritual leader, which each of them express gratitude for, and which the author movingly describes.

This alone makes My Mysterious Son a worthy read, but there’s more, considering the cross-roads at which our country remains stuck at on the subject of race. After all, Malidoma, like Franklin, is ultimately a black man, with spiritual and divine knowledge of the world around him that’s more precious than diamonds or gold can ever be.

This knowledge — like that of the alternative forms of healing to Western medicine which the author encounters in his effort to help his son — is indigenous and ancestral information, which — were it not for the author’s open heart and mind — he might never have found for himself.

By extension then, it’s fair to say that  My Mysterious Son shows how in looking past the differences of their skin colors and the different worlds they contain, and in listening for the value of Franklin and later the West African Malidoma’s voices –coupled with Franklin’s willingness to work with his father on dealing with his condition — both men save each other from certain destruction and loss of one another.

For this, the book is not just a great read and journey, but a reading and journey which all Americans should take part in, and I thank both D.R. and Franklin for the knowledge they share in their unforgettable story together.

How Footage of Sandra Bland’s Death Desensitizes America

As more footage of the late Sandra Bland’s final hours of life spiral further onto the desks of talking heads and other media outlets, I think it’s important to acknowledge the ability of a film to desensitize and distort the abuse of a human being.

We live in an age and culture where we’ve seen so much abuse on screens in film and television that at certain points it’s merely a spectacle to observe, regardless of whether it’s ‘real’ abuse or not. For this, the comfort provided by the distance and space encapsulated on a screen provides us with a sense of detachment, which is empowering to a degree, but also dangerous.

It’s empowering because we can see and analyze an abuse taking place in a film, but dangerous because we cannot feel the physical and cognitive abuse experienced by the people being filmed. Thus, while some of us might be considerably horrified at seeing a fellow human being treated like an animal on the screen, the feeling of horror provides us with a false or minuscule understanding of the lived experience of having one’s body violated by the hands of an attack in such a way.

The lived experience of having one’s body violated by anyone is a harrowing sequence of traumatization in and of itself, but in the case of police violence, this horror is exacerbated by the fact that the inflictor of that trauma is sanctioned by an institution that literally surrounds and leaves no way out for your escape.

To name just one such instance: When police take you into custody, they attack you not just with their own imposing bodies in uniform, but with the bodies of concrete walls that limit your eyesight, and with the bodies of voyeuristic police cameras watching your every move, and with the bodies of cold steel handcuffs that weigh down your wrists, as well as other instruments that enclose themselves upon YOUR BODY.

We can’t and will never understand such abuse by watching a film or reading a description of it; we can only feel it to understand it, and even that understanding will be limited by the frequency at which we experience such abuse.

Here, it should noted that Black people in America have faced more of this type of psychological, political, and ultimately physical violence than any other group of people since – to quote the great Angela Davis – “the time the first Black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.”

At the same time, while it’s fundamental to acknowledge how the color of our skin is extremely important in determining our treatment at the hands of our government, it’s my opinion that racial makeup is still second to the size of our pockets and the wealth controlled by our heritage. To paraphrase Chicago’s Alvin Lau on the success of Tiger Woods: If you’re rich, you don’t have to worry about stupid shit like this.

This is where it gets complicated: as an increasing number of white middle class Americans continue to fall into the cracks of poverty with people of color they once presumed they were ‘above’, the current trends of police and state violence suggest that the rights afforded to such white Americans will also suffer impoverishment.

In California, the vast majority of people victimized by the power dynamic of this country over the last few decades have been black and brown skinned bodies, but there are myriads of poor white bodies in the state and across the country that have been imprisoned as well, and it’s not because of the color of their skin, but because of the scarcity of resources with which they’re able to defend themselves as poor people standing in the way of a government that feasts on poor people.

In turn, at the same time that we become increasingly tolerant of the violent defense of this dynamic when it’s captured and viewed on screen, our country is witnessing the concentration of wealth into fewer and more vicious hands than before.

And in the humble opinion of yours truly, unless we recognize and support the Americans fighting for a better way for our country now – those Black and Brown people organizing – this power dynamic is just the tip of the iceberg in the land of the free and the home of the brave of the future, one piece of violent footage at a time.

Dealing With Our News Cycle

It’s been difficult to write; more difficult than usual.

The news has been especially disturbing as of late, and I can still recall the days when I’d criticize mom for paying attention to the news on television, back when we still had it running in our home. Years later, I find myself clenched to my seat, unable to look away; scared, angered, and disheveled by the scene on the screen of my laptop all at once.

To make matters more difficult, I don’t know what else I can really say to anyone else at this point. For a long time, my writing’s operated on the premise that I could appeal to reason within others the way others have appealed to the reason within me, but now, I’m not so sure anymore.

Now, I don’t know who’s listening, or if anyone is listening. At the very least, I tell myself, the writing will go on some kind of record, for whatever that might count, except that there are so many records, and they’re all just so obsolete. They all just describe a moment of helplessness before the act of a great crime or tragedy against humanity, but they never really contest or fight back against the act of injustice itself; they just merely recount it.

The idea, then, that I can at least write to educate others about injustice in hopes of raising a general awareness to prevent more of the same offers little respite from the great sense of disappointment that my efforts at this have produced so far. Toni Morrison once said “the purpose of freedom is to free someone else,” but what’s the point of freeing one person’s mind if three times as many will still remain enchained at the end of the day?

Continue reading “Dealing With Our News Cycle”