With the ongoing air of protest across the nation due to excessive use of deadly force by local law enforcement authorities against unarmed African American males comes a sad history lesson that is being played out on the streets of America. History shows that these happenings are pretty much business as usual when it comes to policing tactics in urban areas over the past 50 years. The old cliché of “people who forget history are doomed to repeat it” becomes sickening to the palate of people who are stewards of history, yet are powerless to impart the historical lessons in a modern context to a society that is unwilling or unable to heed them. The recent deaths of Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John H. Crawford, Jr. and Michael Brown at the hands of law enforcement under suspicious circumstances ironically transpired prior to the 25th anniversary of the death Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Newton grew up in Oakland, California during the 1950s and 60s. While Jim Crow and institutionalized racism were the signature societal ill for African Americans in the south, police brutality and intimidation was a daily ill for Black people who lived in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In the Black Panthers’ 10 Point Platform and Program, the Magna Carta of the activist group, ending police brutality is the seventh tenet.
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 white man of our black community.
4. We want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this 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 the black communities, as defined by the constitution of the United States.
10. We want bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which any black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny.
The overall purpose of the BPP’s program was to illustrate the desire for Black Americans to control their own fate. However, one could argue that this is still not the case more than 50 years after the group’s creation. The riots in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the killing of Michael Brown and the recent non-violent protest in Staten Island, New York over the death of Eric Garner, bear witness to a startling revelation, one that is reminiscent of another well-worn cliché, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” On August 22, 1989, Huey P. Newton was shot and killed by 24-year-old Black Guerrilla Family member Tyrone Robinson as he exited a crack house in West Oakland. He was 47-years-old at the time of his death. He was not a perfect man, having admitted to multiple acts of senseless violence that had nothing to do with the BPP in the 1978 Time magazine article "The Odyssey of Huey Newton,"
While his death came at the hands of violence, his legacy as an activist and organizer remains prominent in the annals of history.