In the 1960s the Black Panthers sparked a movement and one the of the theme songs of the movement was “Off The Pigs.” The lyrics were: “The revolution has come. Chrous: Off the pigs! It time to pick up the gun. Chrous: Off the pigs!” The pigs can mean the police or it can mean the people in power.
Huey P. Newton, one of the founders and the Minister of Defense for the Black Panthers gave a speech in which he said the police were an occupying force in the Black community.
He argued that they are not there to protect property because at that time most Black people owned no significant property. He argued they are not there to defend our due process rights because they deny us due process. He also argued that they are not there to protect our lives because they take our lives.
It was the Panther’s philosophy, and other nationalist’s philosophy to not take police killings lightly, but to avenge every life the police took.
In the context of the recent assassination of two New York Officers in Brooklyn yesterday, that was Black Panther philosophy and rhetoric in the 1960s. However, that rhetoric was mostly propaganda. Rarely, did any Black people take the lives of police in a tit for tat fashion. Usually, if a police officer lost his life it was in an exchange of bullets wherein the police had the upper hand.
Yesterday was different. This young man who was apparently troubled by many things, including the deaths of Brown and Garner at the hands of what some would call rogue cops, supposedly decided to execute two officers before taking his own life. His theme… pigs can die too.
Until I studied books on the slave patrols, and slave breeding, I had always wondered how police could be so callous and have such little regard for the lives of Black people, particularly young Black men.
I also wondered what took so long before young Black men would strike back, became hit men, assassins, and martyrs. They have had access to firearms, knives, bats, clubs and other weapons. Some are strong. According to officer Wilson, as strong as the fictional character, Godzilla. Some are even trained in pugilism and martial arts. There were movies, like “Sweet Sweetback’s Bad Ass Song,” “Enter The Dragon,” and “The Spook Who Sat By the Door” where Black men retaliated for police misconduct.
Moreover, the police are easy targets for anyone who wants to retaliate for perceived injustice. They do not walk around the their guns drawn, and they do not have eyes in the backs of their heads. Moreover, so long as they have substantial numbers of disenfranchised and unemployed people with nothing to do, those individuals will feel the need to retaliate.
I have never been an advocate of protest, violent or otherwise. I’ve always viewed white men policing Black neighborhoods as an assault on the Black community or a form of occupation. Even as a child, I remember just being stopped and harassed by white cops for no reason.
Even if we were into mischief, the police had no way of knowing, and neither did they care. They just stopped us for no legal reason and tried to bully us and intimidate us. When we rode our bicycles out of the neighborhood, they would detain us and check to see if our bikes were stolen. If we walked out of the Black neighborhood, they might ask us where we were going and why we were in certain neighborhoods, or as the cop did in the movie “Rambo” escort us out of that area. Once in a while we might encounter a polite police officer, but that was an exception rather than the rule. There was one time I was glad to see them though. We had crossed a newly constructed freeway to get to a frog pond. A CHP officer spotted us and gave us a ride back to the safety of a park and explained to us, as if we had not realized it, how dangerous it was for us to make that trek. However, most of the time, our encounters were unreasonable.
I even heard stories about police taking Black youth into custody, placing phone books on the heads of the Black youth, so there would be no visible marks, and striking the phone books with batons.
I recall listening to an Eddie Kendricks, of the famed Temptations, interview wherein he described his less than stellar interaction with the police where he grew up. He said as children they distrusted and hated the police so much for the mistreatment that they bestowed upon them that they would wait until nightfall, throw rocks at them, and when the police gave chase on foot, they would lead the police at full speed through a backyard with a clothesline just so the police would injure themselves.
As children, we yelled “off the pigs” and ran before they could catch us.
It seemed somebody was always being harassed or beaten up or killed by the police, even if he or she was the complaining person who called the police for assistance. We viewed them as a corrupt organization of racists, thugs, and brutes.
Comedian Richard Pryor told a joke about police making Black men lay face down in the mud after being detained for no legal reason. The police disregarded the law in their encounters with Black folks, and searched them without warrants, took money from them, and planted contraband on them. As a Black man, you were just as likely to be brutalized by the police as you were to be brutalized by other criminals. As far as the average Black person in the “hood” was concerned being a police officer was synonymous with being a gangster. We did not call them to report crimes and we did not cooperate with them in investigations. Even if we were not doing anything wrong we tried to avoid them.
I recall one incident when the bank asked me to report the larceny by trick of a check from my account, and the police officer who arrived refused to take a report. He told me it was a private matter that had to be handled in civil court. Needless to say, when the bank called to report it, the police took a report without incident.
I remember as a young attorney wearing a business suit hurrying back from the copier so I could file a document by court closing, and being detained by the police and made to wait until a white woman could verify I was not the guy who snatched her purse. Needless to say, the clothing I was wearing in no way matched the description of the clothing supposedly worn by the guy who supposedly snatched the purse. That is how some police officers treat Black men.
A book “Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party” By Joshua Bloom, Waldo E. Martin provides and account claiming two Black Police officers, Gwynne Peirson and Eugene Jennings, provided statements that the Oakland police outright assassinated Bobby Hutton, the Black Panther Party National Treasure, as he was attempting to surrender. The book claims that both of the officer’s accounts were suppressed and that Gwynne Peirson’s grand jury testimony was suppressed for over thirty years.
Now we are apparently in a new era. Protesters are shutting down major thoroughfares, damaging public and private property, and now, even shooting back at police for perceived violence on the part of the police.
Ironically, the police have placed the responsibility for the deaths of the New York officers on two men, one of whom some would declare to be an “Uncle Tom, ” the Reverend Al Sharpton, and the other many would call pro-police, the Mayor of New York. The police blamed both of them for allowing the anti-police rhetoric to simmer and they claim this led to the violent deaths of the officers.
First, that is ridiculous. The poor relationship between the white men and Black men dates way back to before the slave patrols, to the kidnapping of Africans from Africa. One might argue that the two cops were not white; however, they represented the white power structure.
Besides, white people have always used Black people and representatives from other groups as agents of oppression against Blacks and others. As I understand it, the two white men accused of murdering Emmett Til were assisted by at least one Black male. The United States used Native American scouts and Buffalo Soldiers to defeat other Native Americans. According to Malcolm X, the government enlisted the “so-called Big Six,” men Malcolm X called “House Niggers” and “Toms,” to control and neutralize the masses of Blacks fighting for change.
Second, placing the blame on these two individuals is not fair given the protests were going to take place regardless. If anything, the Mayor and Revered Al Sharpton probably toned down the protesters making a strong demand on them for non-violent protest.
If the police want the rhetoric toned down maybe they should issue a nationwide apology, and promise with some reasonable assurances that the racial profiling will cease and desist. That may be too much to ask given the nature of policing, and the profit that is made from incarcerating Black people, and the political clout one might gain from causing the populace to fear Black men. A lot of people would be out of work if they did not have Black men to use as pawns in the criminal justice system.
Besides, it is an oxymoron for police officers to demand peaceful and democratic protest. Police Departments by nature are paramilitary organizations with hierarchical command structures. They take orders from superiors without question and they resort to violence or the use of force almost instinctively. Even if one of them observes misconduct he or she is unlikely to report it for fear of retaliation from other officers. If they want the violence to end, they should disarm themselves and teach by example. There has got to be a different way to protect and serve.
As long as police behave like the slave patrols of the 1800s, the violence and disruption is not going to cease. I suppose some of the police do not mind, so long as they are able to collect substantial overtime for quelling these disturbances.