It was mind blowing for me, Bobby Seale, to see the images of a tear-gassed, smoky night in Ferguson, Missouri where the people were protesting the murder of an 18-year-old African American male, Michael Brown, murdered by the Ferguson police with his hands up in surrender. Im taken back to another tear-gassed, smoky night in Oakland, California in 1968 after the death of Martin Luther King. That night another young African American youth, Bobby Hutton, was murdered by the Oakland police. Bobby Hutton, like Michael Brown, was murdered with his hands up. He was kicked in the back by the police and told, run, nigger, run, and when he stumbled forward, several policemen riddled his body with bullets.
Everything was hidden about the shooting of Bobby Hutton in one way or another until six to eight weeks later when an Inquest into the shooting of Bobby Hutton began. Prior to the Inquest, Marlon Brando, my friend at the time, and I had done a television show together where Marlon had stated that Little Bobby Hutton had been murdered by the Oakland police. In response to this accusation, five or six policemen filed a lawsuit against Marlon Brando. At the Inquest, after two or three policemen had sworn and testified attempting to distort the facts of the murder, a young, black female officer, fresh on the force, testified that those police officers who had just testified had murdered Bobby Hutton. The Inquest was immediately shut down and Bobby Huttons family was awarded $250,000 and, of course, the lawsuit against Marlon Brando was dropped.
With Michael Brown, we are still in the situation where the police are not forthcoming on the details of his killing, holding off on releasing the Officers name and trying to assassinate Michaels character and, like Bobby Huttons murder, stalling for time. Recent examples of Oscar Grant, in Oakland, California, who was murdered while laying on the ground with his hands behind his back in a subway station when an officer pulled out his weapon and shot him in the back, or Eric Garner who was strangled in an illegal choke hold by police while struggling to breathe and asking for help, these incidents seem to me endemic of a fascist mind-set in police and law enforcement agencies.
Of course not all policemen are like this, but many departments get out of hand. With the Black Panther Party in 1969, I put together a campaign for greater community control of police. The Party and our coalition partners actually put a Community Control Of Police referendum on the ballot in Berkeley, California. Before the actual voting took place, they had falsely arrested me. My peoples control of police concept was set up in four different cities in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area: San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond and Berkeley. The Black Panther Party, working with different organizations and groups, crossing all racial and ethnic lines, was able to get enough signatures to place the referendum on the ballot in Berkeley, California only.
This was basically community control of the police. The referendum called for, rather than the appointment of a police chief, a tri-level body of police commissioners to be duly elected by the people of the community. It called for three community review boards with not less than five members duly elected to each of the three community board members. These review boards had the investigative power to review questionable police shootings, undue, unnecessary force and community complaints. If the board found in their investigation unnecessary force was used or complaints more than credible, then the peoples voice would be heard. With this method, in the community control of police, we add a broader framework above and beyond the police internal affairs, i.e., police investigating police. By having duly elected members as a peoples investigative body, from there they can recommend legal action to be taken against any specific policeman violating the law, such as Eric Garner being strangled in an illegal choke hold in New York. While I was in jail, the coalition committee with my Black Panther Party put this referendum on the ballot in Berkeley, California. We lost only by one percentage point. Besides the need to get all police operations to recognize peoples constitutional democratic civil-human rights, these are the things that we must realize and the people must do to change the relations with the police.
Ferguson, Missouri has become another example of the militarization of police departments across America which is being used to repress the First Amendment rights for people to redress their grievances. Those people in Ferguson, demanding information on the killing of one of the members of their community, found themselves surrounded by police in military vehicles armed with officers pointing guns into the crowd, and being bombarded by tear gas and smoke canisters. For them it is nothing more than an example of the avaricious, rich, corporate machine controlling our politicians, police and law enforcement agencies. Whats needed is greater democratic community control of the police.
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for any one people to dissolve the political bondage which has connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the co-operational and equal station to which the laws of nature and natures god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of humankind dictates that we the people should declare the causes which impel us to dissolve that oppressive bondage. Implement a greater peoples community control of police.
We, the people, can organize and structure things to defend our human rights. What I was doing in the late sixties was in the spirit of and in line with Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and other progressive human rights activists. What my Berkeley referendum to the ballot meant in those times is what needs to take place today in cities across America.
All Power To All The People!
Bobby Seale, Founding Chairman and National Organizer of the Black Panther Party (1962-1974) SPEAKING Across America.