‘ Black Panthers in San Diego’ -Jazz Thompson

Although many events have occurred throughout history that continue to alter the trajectory of Black life, there is a single organization that remains a significant piece of Black American identity, and its existence altered the trajectory of American culture: The Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party was established in Oakland California in 1966 by two Black American cis-males, Bobby Séale and Huey Newton. At its inception, The Black Panther Party was formed as a revolutionary political organization with the purpose to ‘advocate self-defense and the restructuring of American society’ As segregation amplified and discrimination became the prevalent social norm, it became apparent to Black Americans that we could not stop, give up, or surrender to the inhumane, unjust legislation and institutions that proliferated vast inequity and inequality to the detriment of Black people. In particular with the Black Panther Party, we see a two-sided, but unequal fight. One to support and uphold the policies of the BPP and the other to demolish and further suppress the voice of Black people into the 1970’s and continuing in the present.

Throughout America history,  Black people have endured vile oppression and marginalization from racist ideologies that have shaped American society. Different geographical areas dive deeper into their enforcement of Black erasure with Jim Crow laws and false promises. For southern states, the whole idea of the Black American as actual person, people and community, beyond a production commodity, took a very long time to materialize in ‘white’ minds; racism remained visually overt with signage declaring “white only” proudly displayed in public places to make the point of clear race and class distinction. While northern states appeared more liberated, Black people endured covert racism with the establishment of red-lining, creating ghettos, and policing practices. As time went on and radical and moderate Civil Rights proponents were becoming more outspoken, some regulations were modified to be more inclusive of Black Americans.  Politically, there were a larger number of Black People holding political positions and representing Black communities, but it was not enough because those same Black communities continued to suffer. The youth were not getting fed, jobs and housing was scarce, the elderly were not being cared for, Black health was deteriorating and Black people were being killed at alarmingly disproportionate rates. These conditions ignited agitation and angst that drove Black people to organize revolutionary political organizations like the BPP to advocate equality, freedom, safety, health, and take immediate action for a change in Black people’s collective experience and possibilities

The mere existence of The Black Panther Party is testament to the organizing power of people who are committed to standing for what they believe is right in terms of self determination and caring for community. The fact that an organization like the BPP was needed in the late 1960’s into the early 70’s, and frankly still needed today, highlights the fact that Black people continue to be faced with targeting, oppression, and erasure of Black existence.  The Black Panther Party was grounded in a ten-point program focus that addressed Black erasure, and each established chapter vowed to follow. Though the BPP only lasted for a 16 year period from 1966-1982, its programs have sustained and grown, in addition to, laying the foundation for current Black nationalist ideologies like that of the Movement for Black Lives and Black Youth Project. The BPP came into existence at the end of the Civil Rights Movement and marked the beginning of the Black Power Movement. The BPP stood in protection of the Black community and opposition to Black erasure in many chapters across a number of cities throughout the United States, including the Southern California chapter of the BPP which stretched from San Bernardino to San Diego. The SoCal chapter of the BPP was was finalized in 1968 by then Deputy Minister of Defense, Bunchy Carter, two years after the founding of the organization and numerous run ins with the State. Those run ins, that continued to be inflamed by President J Edgar Hoover’s criminalization of the BPP, resulted in the loss of many more Black lives. Hoover went as far as to create a counterintelligence program to dismantle the BPP from gaining more traction within and across Black American communities. This was a time and movement when “African Americans took up many different strategies in their struggle for political and social equality.”  In line with Hoover’s directive, “San Diego has aggressively pursued a policy of disrupting and neutralizing the local chapter of the BPP in San Diego through Bureau-approved counterintelligence maneuvers,” an agency memo reported in March 1969.” Increasingly negative encounters with the State meant that BPP members “carried guns and conducted patrols of black communities to monitor police brutality.” The BPP combined elements of socialism and black nationalism. Influenced by Malcolm X, it wanted blacks to unite, work together, and control their own economic and social destiny.” Falsely, mainstream media, at the insistence of the highest offices in government, portrayed the BPP as a violent political protest organization because the BPP exercised its Second Amendment right to bear arms as a safety measure against police brutality plaguing Black communities. The BPP wanted a safe space to peacefully protest in the most effective way, without the disruption of racist police who put Black lives at risk.

Beyond providing a safe haven for the Black community to strategically organize and plan, the Black Panther Party also “initiated programs that served as models for social programs of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1968, it started the first free breakfast program for children in Oakland. This program was duplicated by the San Diego chapter but could not sustain because food was stolen out of the center and most of the leaders were ultimately murdered; murdered for trying to establish self-determination in their own communities. By the 1970’s, the BPP initiated its survival program which provided free health clinics, free sickle-cell-anemia screening, a free shoe program, escorts for the elderly, and free ambulance service.” In San Diego, ‘the local Black Panthers provided meals for the elderly, opened health clinics and served food to the homeless. They also started a breakfast program for schoolchildren.’ Black Americans all over the U.S wanted some community establishment solely there for their benefit and the BPP, along with other revolutionary organizations, created that opportunity while also fighting and advocating for our rights.

As the constant battle between the Police force and Panther members worsened, people on both sides of the color spectrum saw the urgent need for a change, and the majority began to demand police reform. “In July 1969, there was a riot at Mountain View Park. Panther party chairman Henry Wallace blamed police for the chaos. They knew that most of the black people in Southeast San Diego would go to that park on Sundays, Wallace said. They came in there like National Guards and stuff and started firing tear gas at people and god knows what else. They had pulled out those long bats, those billy bats and were beating on people. Wallace said it was symptomatic of the department’s disrespect for the black community.” The Black Panther Party did not let events like this get the best of them, instead they “instilled an enduring sense of pride in San Diego’s African-American community. They were walking around with their chests in the air, said Patrick Germany, Wallace’s half-brother. And they had told the police they were not going to take their brutality any more. Fardan agreed. To me, he said, the number one thing I observed is how it helped transform brothers who were invisible to brothers who had a positive purpose. It had an impact on me that I will never, ever forget.” From a past of misfortunes and unimaginable pains and sorrows, Black Americans have persevered through it all in our continuous fight for equality and change. Starting with the  journey of the middle passage to the revolt of the Civil War, the trajectory of black life, history and culture has been shaped from our experiences. How Black people have chosen to respond to our past, present and future, shows the power, strength, values and resilience in the kind of people we are. Through constant constraint, we’ve managed to create things that further improve the human race and ease the current sting of our realities. Organizations like the BPP are vital to our history and culture because it shows how much we are willing to fight for. No matter how hard they try to erase Black existence, we refuse to submit. The establishment of the BPP San Diego chapter, reiterates Black refusal to submit to white supremacy and demonstrates advocacy for our voice to be heard as we have had to demand change throughout American history.

Bibliography:

Gallow, Lauren. “Civil Rights Reignites, 1965-1968.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed April 7, 2019. https://africanamerican2-abc-clio-com.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/Topics/Display/30

Sharma, Annita. “History of San Diego’s Black Panther Party Marked by Social work and Police Clashes.” KPBS, March 22, 2017. https://www.kpbs.org/news/2017/mar/22/history-san-diego-black-panther-party-marked-socia/

Robertson, Naomi. “Black Panther Party.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed April 7, 2019. https://africanamerican2-abc-clio-com.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/Topics/Display/1401026?cid=41&sid=1401026

. Rowe, Peter. “ When Black Panthers roamed San Diego” The San Diego Union Tribune. February 27, 2016. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/lifestyle/people/sdut-black-panthers-san-diego-2016feb27-story.html  

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