FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

New York’s Black Panthers, a Legacy

Photo by joey zanotti | CC BY 2.0

The indictment and trial of the New York “Panther 21” was an attempt by several elements of the US police state apparatus to destroy the Black Panther Party.  Despite the fact that none of the charges stuck, one could argue that the attempt was successful.  By the time the trials were over, there was no Black Panther chapter in New York City and the national organization was in a downward spiral.  Of course, the New York 21 trial was only one aspect of the attack on the Party; others included police murders of party members, numerous other trials on fabricated charges, police infiltration of the party, and other forms of activity too numerous to recall.  All of this law enforcement action was part of the national operation coordinated by the FBI known as COINTELPRO.  The original indictments were handed down on April 2, 1969.  Police raids took place across Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Most of those on the indictments were arrested that day and the next.  Some members were able to disappear underground.  The trial ended on May 12, 1971.  All of those charged were acquitted on all 156 charges.  The jury only took a few hours to reject the prosecution’s charges.

A collective biography of the defendants in the case titled Look for Me in the Whirlwind was published in 1971.  Borrowing its title from a speech by the Pan-African nationalist Marcus Garvey, it was available for a short time during that period.  I recall seeing it for the first time in a bookstore in downtown Frankfurt am Main.  A friend who was recently discharged from the Army and in the Panthers lent me his copy so we could discuss it in the “study” sessions we had in a city park.  Read together with Huey Newton’s Revolutonary Suicide and Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time, the text rounded out a reading list that took books like Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land and Richard Wright’s Native Son and moved them into a hyperpolitical space.

Recently, PM Press took the original text of Look for Me in the Whirlwind and added some more recent articles, poems and reflections written by a few of the original defendants and their supporters.  Titled Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions, this book is both an essential piece of history and a call to reinvigorate the movement for Black liberation and free those still imprisoned as part of the COINTELPRO operation four decades ago.  Perhaps the most striking (and distressing) aspect of the additions to the original text is the fact that the struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s are so similar to the struggles of today.  Then again, given the history of the United States, maybe it isn’t so striking after all.

Essentially an oral history, the original text tells the story of a group of Black women and men in the United States and their struggle for freedom and justice for themselves and their people. As the stories progress, the reader is presented with police brutality, urban poverty, the life of struggle and the hustler’s life.  More importantly, though, is the stream of an expanding political consciousness experienced by all the Panthers involved.  This tale is testimony to the times, the work of the Black Panther Party and other revolutionaries and the audacious determination of the individuals to free themselves from their ecnomic and political oppression.

While I was reading this edition of Look For Me in the Whirlwind, a friend and I had a discussion about Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and the question that some historians consider to be what placed them at odds.  This question revolved around whether the Constitution was a slaver document and therefore needed to be replaced, since the end of slavery was not possible as long as the Constitution was written the way it was.  In a rather synchronistic manner, Look For Me in the Whirlwind ends with a letter to the judge who presided over the trial of the 21 deatiling how the Constitution was not just a document that upheld slavery but that is designed to uphold the racist reality of the United States.

Graced with a cover that features the artwork of Black Panther artist Emory Douglas and a design by the modern day graphic artist Josh McPhee, this book is nicely edited by political activists déqui kioni-sadiki and Matt Meyer.  It includes writings by several Panther members and is by its very existence a reminder of the Black Panther Party’s continued relevance in a world where white supremacists still control much more than just the conversation.  It is also a call to work for the freedom of those Panthers and allied political prisoners still in prison.  Look for Me in the Whirlwind reminds the reader that in a racist nation, political action fighting that racism is often criminalized. Reading this book is one of the better written efforts in pointing out that it’s the system of white supremacy that is criminal, not the people fighting it.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail