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THE RHETORIC of the Black Panther Party from its inception has been out of synch with the consciousness of the rest of the movement. However ready white radicals are to talk about imperialism or monopoly capital, many are more or less perturbed by the Panthers' perception of America as a "fascist" state. Even veterans in the movement have trouble associating the faces of fascism, the midnight storm-troopers and monocled thought-police, with the realities of American life.
The gap in communications is more than semantical. It reveals the egocentricity and, in a sense, the racism of the white movement. White political action has known harassment and police brutality, and whites come to define the state in those terms. But black political action has given rise to an apparatus of repression that is as fascistic, if not as pervasive, as the S. S. of pre-war Germany. (The term's accuracy depends on the distinction that a state that is not technically fascist can use fascistic tactics.) Julian Bond's discovery of four years ago-that an American can be black and an American can dissent, but no American had better compound these two crimes-has become exiomatic today.
The Panther Party, as the spearhead of black liberation, has absorbed the brunt of America's fascist police operations. The party's history is a chronicle of the state's failure to silence black revolutionism. Ever since the national headquarters were moved from Lowndes County, Alabama to Oakland, California in 1966. Panther meeting-places have been targets of legal terrorism. Offices in at least twenty cities (including Philadelphia earlier this month) have been ransacked, fire-bombed, or riddled with gunfire in episodes involving police.
These periodic attacks never get the news coverage afforded to the major military campaigns launched against the Chicago and Los Angeles Panther chapters. The Chicago "gunbattle" last December 6 that killed Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark was murderously one-sided. It seems clear to everyone but the Cook County coroner's office that Hampton was shot to death while sleeping, and it is improbable that the Panthers even got off a shot in self-defense.
Two days later, 300 police, fortified with bazookas, flamethrowers, machine guns, dynamite, a tank, and an armed helicopter, visited the Panther center in Los Angeles at 4:30 a. m. to issue an 18-page "search-warrant." The warrant gave the party's general "agitational functions" as probable cause. The police returned from the area (which was blocked off and closed to the press) with the prisoners now known as the "L. A. 18." charged with conspiracy to murder and various other felonies. The police department's initial lie as to when the raid took place (they pushed the time up to 5:30 a. m., which is after daybreak) and their reported six-week preparation for the "search" make even the details of the raid conform to the connotations of fascism.
THE STATE'S desire to think of the Panthers as an isolated clique of crazed anarchists gave rise to another repressive tactic. If the party can be severed from its dynamic leadership, the logic seemed to go, it would eventually wither and die. And so the party's four most charismatic leaders, its organizers and spiritual guardians, are all indisposed. Party co-founder Huey P. Newton, discovered on October 28, 1967, with four bullets in his stomach and a dead cop at his side, has been put away indefinitely for "involuntary manslaughter," a crime be couldn't possibly have committed. Other than Huey, no one, including the Alameda County courts, can ever know what happened that night. But the victims of fascism have never been innocent until proven guilty.
On April 6, 1968, Minister of Information Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Sutton were crouched in the cellar of the Panther's meeting house while a surrounding ring of police pelted them with tear-gas cannisters. After deciding that they should surrender. Cleaver took off all his clothes and told Sutton to do the same, so that no one could accuse them of carrying weapons. Sutton, who was only 16, removed his shirt but was too embarrassed to take off his pants. As the two approached the police with their hands on their heads, a barrage of rifle fire killed Sutton ("suspected of concealing a weapon") and wounded Cleaver. Healed and out on bail, Cleaver left the country rather than face the violent death he understandably expects in jail.
But the most massive thought-crime prosecution ever mounted against a Panther (which probably means the most intense personal inquisition in American history) is the serialized lynching of Chairman Bobby Seale. There has been a heated competition among several states for the honor of permanently disposing of him, with Connecticut holding the current lead. Fresh from a four-year jail sentence stemming from his constitutional insistence to wait for his own lawyer in Chicago, still out on $125,000 bail from California felony charges, Seale has been extradited to New Haven to stand trial, with thirteen other part members, for the murder of Alex Rackley, a Panther who had been in good standing. Given the peculiar brand of justice that has been custom-made for the Panthers (another current example of which is Judge John Murtagh's wholly illegal detention of the New York 21), one suspects that the New Haven 14 are in big trouble regardless of the evidence. Seale and his co-defendants might have to irrefutably prove their belief that police agents killed Rackley to be acquitted.
The Panthers believe that the state of Connecticut is going to try to execute Bobby Seale. An execution would be consistent with the Panther's experience with fascism. No white can pit anything against this prediction but a naive residue of faith in the government. Seale's death in the electric chair would have a significance that is hardly imaginable. David Hilliard told a crowd in Storrs, Connecticut last week that it would spark an armed black revolution, and there is little reason to doubt him.
But the importance of the Panther's expectation of Seale's death is already manifest. The time has come for whites who support the black liberation struggle to substantiate their sympathy, or in the words of New Haven Panther Doug Miranda, to "shit or get off the pot." To treat the Panther struggle as just another priority to be shuffled in somewhere with strike-support or anti-ROTC programs is to blind oneself to the concrete reality that men and women whose names we know are facing death for their political thought. It is not entirely clear what the course of action should be for the white radical movement, whether it should follow the Panthers' lead or work out a resistance program of its own. It is clear, however, that the current course of inaction cannot be justified.
Eldridge Cleaver's latest letter from his exile in Algeria discusses the movement's silence on the subject of Bobby Seale. Cleaver claims that the Panther Party has been instrumental in opposing racial schisms in American radicalism. Anyone with past contact with the Panthers would probably agree, particularly if a comparison is drawn to other factions of the black community such as the militantly nationalist Muslims or Ron Karenga's US. Cleaver continues:
We will not sacrifice Chairman Bobby Seale on the altar of inter-racial harmony if white people continue to sit back and allow this ghastly plot to go forward. So if the so-called freedom-loving white people of America do not stand up now... this will mean the end of our dreams for the class war which America needs and the beginning of the race war which America cannot endure.
IF THIS line sounds threatening, it is only because it reflects the legitimate anger of the black community. As white radicals begin to understand the infuriating bankruptcy of their "moral support," they will naturally become more and more frightened. And white people should act from fear if they are unable to act out of conviction. But fear becomes a secondary factor if we ask ourselves a single question. Would we let Bobby Seale die, in this most overt instance of fascistic repression, if he were white? At this point, we are damned whichever way we answer.
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