The Black Panther Party (BPP) was founded on October 15, 1966 in Oakland, California by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The party was a political organization that agitated for greater rights for Black people in the United States. Seale and Newton captured the attention of the country (and of law enforcement) through their tactic of openly carrying rifles and shotguns while observing police officers in their community. The Panthers also ran a number of community service programs, known as Community Survival Programs. The most famous of them, the Free Breakfast for Children Program, eventually provided meals to 20,000 children a day in 23 cities.
The Panthers spread nationwide, with chapters from Los Angeles to New York, and had a peak membership of over 5,000. But the party experienced a slow decline from the mid-1970’s onward, torn apart by internal divisions exacerbated by the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO)–then-director J. Edgar Hoover described the Panthers as “the greatest threat to internal security of the country”–and due to the deaths of prominent leaders at the hands of the police. In 1969, leader Fred Hampton was killed by Chicago police officers while he slept in his bed and 17-year-old Bobby Hutton was killed in 1968 while he attempted to surrender following a shootout between Oakland police and Panthers members.
The party celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in October with events in Oakland and throughout the Bay Area, ranging from art shows to concerts to black-tie galas. The centerpiece was a three-day conference at the Oakland Museum of California featuring dozens of speakers including former Panther members and current lawyers and ministers, some of whom worked with the Panthers and others who were inspired by their work. To mark the anniversary, Seale spoke at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Black Panther Party organized itself around a Ten-Point Program, originally handwritten in 1966 by Newton and Seale under the title “What We Believe.” The program, refined and modified in the following years, laid out a list of demands that the party believed formed the foundation of a just and equitable society for Black Americans.
Click at the right of this page for a short introductory audio piece of Seale speaking about the Ten-Point Program on October 19 at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Below is a point-by-point analysis of how the Panthers’ plan has fared, including statistics and commentary from Bay Area community members. The points are accompanied by photographs the original handwritten version of the plan; click each image to enlarge it.
Point One: “We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.”
Bobby Seale believed in his right to say four-letter words.
In an interview with Oakland North, Seale recounted how the Black Panther Party was started following his arrest for using vulgar language on a Berkeley street corner in 1966. “Somebody got me to recite a poem. And it was an anti-war poem written by a young Black man from New York,” Seale said. “That poem I recited caused a fight with undercover cops, who jumped on me and were beating me up … We wound up going to jail, Berkeley jail.”
The issue, Seale said, was that the poem contained what he euphemistically referred to as “the M-F word.” Seale said he was facing a possible punishment of one to 10 years for his language, though the judge instead gave him probation. He and Newton met that very night to draft the original Ten-Point Program. “Number one, we say we wanted the power to determine our own destiny,” Seale said. “That was about me futuristically organizing to get more Black politicians elected to political office. Remember, we called ourselves a political party. People keep forgetting that.”
Seale said when the party was founded, there were only 50 Black elected officials in the country, including local seats like school boards. Today, there are nearly 6,000—not to mention the country’s first Black president, elected in 2008.
“I’d heard some young boys tell me, ‘We want Black power, we want Black power.’ I said, ‘You guys are not going to get any power until you get some political power seats,’” Seale recounted.
The Panthers were also deeply concerned with physical freedom, the right to live without the risk of unjust incarceration. They originally grabbed the country’s attention through the tactic of carrying arms while observing police officers. If they witnessed a Black person being arrested, they would ensure he was informed of his rights and often follow the police to jail and bail him out. They were always careful to stand at least ten feet away from the police so as not to interfere with the arrest.
Just under 200,000 people were in prison in the United States when the Black Panther Party was founded, according to data compiled by the State University of New York at Albany covering the years 1925 to 2012. That worked out to about 102 out of every 100,000 people in the country.
Since then, the prison population has exploded. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that the prison population at the end of 2014 was 1,561,500 people, or 470 out of every 100,000 people in the country.
And those numbers aren’t counting people in jails. Since the data available before the 1970’s counted only prison populations, it’s impossible to count the number of people held in county and local jails in 1966. But if you add in the people held in jail in 2014, the total number of incarcerated people rises to 2,224,400, or 690 out of every 100,000 people. According to a report by the National Research Council of the National Academies, a nonprofit organization aimed at influencing national policy, the United States runs well ahead of any other country in the world in the number of people incarcerated. Both in real numbers and as percent of its population, the United States incarcerates more people than Russia, China or North Korea.
The incarceration rate is still lower than the “Total Correctional Population” reported by the BJS, which includes people on probation and parole as well as those in prison and jail. At the end of 2014, this population in the United States was 6,851,000, or 2,140 out of every 100,000 people. That’s roughly one out of every 36 Americans.
Statistics on prison populations didn’t include race in 1966, so it’s not possible to directly compare the incarceration rate for black and white populations at that time. But the Bureau of Prisons reports that today, 37.8 percent of the prison population is Black. According to the most recent Census data, the country is around 13.3 percent Black, meaning Black Americans are overrepresented in prisons by a factor of nearly three.
According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), this is not because Black people are more likely to commit crime. Data collected by the group and available on their website as of November 1, 2016, showed that, for example, white Americans are five times more likely to use “illicit” drugs than Blacks, but Blacks are ten times more likely to be incarcerated for drug crimes.
Minister Christopher Muhammad, the San Francisco Bay Area Minister of the Nation of Islam, shared the stage with former party chairwoman Brown at the party’s 50th anniversary conference. Muhammad said freedom has been denied to Black people in this country since its founding. “True freedom is that which allows the human being to be what he or she is by nature,” he said. “And that’s what has been denied Black people and oppressed people is that we have to fit into a system that’s already rigged to deny us the full expression of our humanity.”
Muhammad said a system based on white supremacy and implemented by the country’s founding fathers, who considered Black people to be only three-fifths of a human being, has had disastrous consequences for the country’s Black population and continues to oppress them today.
“These systems have a root,” he said. “It’s like pulling up a root or a weed, and if you don’t pull it up by the root, then you’ll think the weed is gone. And then you look up two weeks later and there’s that weed again because you never plucked it up. The system of white supremacy which permeates all systems and institutions has to be totally uprooted, and the mind of white supremacy has to be totally destroyed, and you have to be born again.”
Point Two: “We want full employment for our people.”
“We believe the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income,” continues the second of the ten points. In 1966, although the average unemployment rate across the country was fairly low, unemployment and poverty rates for Blacks were double those of whites. Seale and Newton wanted to close the unemployment and income gaps between Blacks and whites by providing equal jobs and wages to everyone.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate for Americans 16 years old or older in 1966 was 3.8 percent. The same report shows 5.3 percent of Americans were unemployed in 2015. In 1963, the unemployment rate for Blacks was more than two times that of whites, 10.9 percent compared to five percent, respectively.
A study by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 1966, 42 percent of Blacks were living below the poverty line, meaning they did not earn the minimum income needed to secure necessities. Only 11 percent of whites fell in that category.
Today, the unemployment rate among Blacks still remains higher than that of white Americans. In 2012, the Economic Policy Institute analyzed unemployment data from between 1972 and 2011, concluding that the unemployment rate among Blacks has consistently been disproportionately higher that unemployment among whites.The population of unemployed Blacks jumped from 10 percent of all Black Americans in 1972, to 15 percent in 1975 and to nearly 20 percent in 1983, before coming back to about 16 percent by 2011. Unemployment among white Americans stayed between five percent and ten percent from 1972 until 2011.
According to a study by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), in 2010, 22 percent of Oakland’s population lived in poverty, compared to an 11 percent poverty rate throughout the East Bay and a 15 percent poverty rate for the entire nation. EBASE is an organization that researches economic injustices and supports low-income workers. In that same year Oakland had a 16.9 percent unemployment rate. Blacks accounted for 19.8 percent of unemployed Oaklanders.
Point Three: “We want an end to the robbery by the CAPITALIST of our Black Community.”
Newton and Seale’s original version of this point focused on demanding monetary repayment as a means of reparations for slavery, economic injustice, and the widespread murder of Black people throughout the history of the United States. In March, 1972, they put forth a revised platform. Point Three was amended to include a wider labeling of who they believed was responsible for the robbery of the black community. A PBS transcription of the point reads:
“Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right. Not everybody ripping off the black community is white, A lot of them are black. We’re not anti-white, we’re anti-wrong. Let’s do a little revision on number three and just say that WE WANT AN END TO THE ROBBERY BY THE CAPITALISTS OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY.”
Overall, the point is often interpreted to include broad economic issues like access to secure jobs and housing, and ending economic discrimination.
In the 1960’s, blue collar jobs created to fuel the Vietnam War economy were a significant source of employment for Black people. But as the war industries began to decline, Black people were the first on the list to be laid off. During the beginning of the 1960’s, a dramatic difference in the cost of suburban land versus land within Oakland city limits— $8,000 per acre compared to $179,000—drove companies to shift their operations to the suburbs. According to Robert O. Self, author of American Babylon: Race and The Struggle for Postwar Oakland, between 1960 and 1966, Oakland lost 10,000 manufacturing jobs. Many of the white and blue collar service jobs that replaced the maritime labor jobs were scarce for Blacks. Meanwhile, jobs within finance, insurance and other industries were inaccessible due to education requirements.
During that same time period, over 7,000 housing units were demolished to make space for the construction of freeways, BART and other projects that did not create equitable economic opportunities for Oakland’s Black residents. The Oakland Redevelopment Agency’s (ORA) first housing project, the Acorn Project, targeted approximately 50 blocks in West Oakland for demolition, including the historically Black 7th Street corridor. ORA continued a series of demolition projects that isolated Black residents and stifled economic growth within Black communities.
Over the decades, a combination of pervasive residential segregation, employment discrimination and conservative public policies created an environment in which Black-owned businesses continue to struggle to remain open because of a lack of capital, to compete with a surge of incoming non-minority owned multi-million dollar companies.
In February 2012, following a December 2011 California Supreme Court decision to eliminate redevelopment agencies statewide, the Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA, formerly known as ORA) was dissolved and decentralized into four different agencies–the Department of Planning, Building & Neighborhood Preservation, the Department of Housing & Community Development, the Office of Economic & Workforce Development and the Office of Neighborhood Investment.
According to City Data, the 2013 median household income for white families in Oakland was $76,479, compared to $35,633 for Black families. In 2010, 22.3 percent of Oakland residents were living in poverty, according to Working East Bay’s 2010 report, The State of Work in the East Bay and Oakland. African-American and Latino youth were 3.5 times for likely to be living in poverty than non-Hispanic whites. In 2010, unemployment rates in parts of West Oakland were roughly 44 to 45 percent and 31 to 35 percent in parts of East Oakland.
Point four. “We want housing, fit for shelter of human beings.”
In 1966, Newton stated in a speech: “It’s a simple human need, to have a roof over your head when the hard rain fall.” Newton’s lawyer, Paul Harris, attended the anniversary conference, and he said housing is one of the Black Panther Party’s most important points, even today.
“I think the more important rights that need to be worked on now for people of color and for working people are the right to a job and the right to housing. And both of those are in the ten-point program,” Harris said.
“That’s not because of discrimination as we know it. That’s not because of covert discrimination,” he continued, referring to the fact that the Black population of Oakland has shrunk since 1966.
He said the housing issue for Blacks living in Oakland today is different than it was in 1966, because people aren’t being pushed out because of the way they look. Now, he said, they’re pushed out according to their income. The cost of living has increased for everyone, but the economic gap between Blacks and whites remains just as high as it was in 1966, with unemployment rates of Blacks double that of whites.
“It’s because of capitalism. It’s because of economics. Economics have made it impossible for families, working families and lower-economic families to live in San Francisco and I think the same thing’s happening in Oakland,” Harris said.
In 1970, Oakland’s Black population was 34.5 percent and 59.1 percent for whites. In nearby San Francisco in that year, the Census reported that 13.4 percent of the city’s population was Black and its white population was 71.4 percent.
According to the U.S. Census collected in 2010, which is the most recent available, Oakland’s Black population was 28 percent and San Francisco’s was 6.1 percent.
A 2015 study by Oakland’s City Administrator found that Blacks make up 69 percent of the city’s homeless population, although Blacks make up less than a third of the city’s total population.
The lack of housing opportunities, according to Harris, makes it difficult for Blacks to raise generations of families in the Bay Area. “If you can’t even live in the city you were born in, if you can’t bring up your kids in the city that you were born in, then don’t talk to me about free-speech rights and other things,” he said. Housing, according to Harris, is still the most important necessity Blacks Oaklanders need.
Point Five: “We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want an education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.”
When Newton graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1959, he had been suspended over 30 times and could barely read.
In 1977, 8-year-old Kellita Smith interviewed Newton about what his education had been like.
“We were taught mostly about white people and we didn’t have any books of our own. We didn’t feel the school was teaching us anything about ourselves,” Newton told Smith in the interview, which was featured on the TV show Rebop.
It was only later after Newton taught himself to read that he developed a different understanding of what education could be for Black students like him. “As I grew older and learned about our true history–that Africa before its conquest was a beautiful cultured country, and we had great universities in Timbuktu–I started to look at myself and get a new interest in education,” said Newton in the interview, who went on to obtain multiple degrees from UC Santa Cruz.
Today, Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Antwan Wilson believes Oakland schools have changed significantly since when Newton attended them. At his State of the Schools speech at Oakland High School on October 18, Wilson focused on improvements in graduation rates and suspension rates for Black students.
The way graduation rates are measured has changed since 1966, so the rates from a decade ago provide a more useful reference point. According to Wilson, in 2005, Oakland had the worst graduation rate of any district in the state, with 23.4 percent of Blacks graduating on time. Today that figure is 60.7 percent. However, it still lags behind the 75.5 percent of whites in Oakland who graduate on time.
According to data collected by the California Department of Education, out-of-school suspension rates for Black students in Oakland has fallen by nearly half over the last four years. However, Black students still receive 58 percent of all out of school suspensions, while white students receive 2 percent. Black students make up approximately 30 percent of the total public school population in Oakland, while white students make up about 12 percent, meaning Black students are disproportionately suspended by nearly a factor of two.
For the Panthers, today’s low graduation rates and high suspension rates would be a symptom of the continued need for Point Five. And Wilson acknowledges that Oakland has not yet achieved the Panthers’ vision of teaching students about their own role in history. “We’re not there yet, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been,” he said after his speech.
Wilson pointed to Oakland’s new Ethnic Studies program as one way the district is getting closer to actualizing Point Five. In Ethnic Studies, students learn about their own ethnic identities and contributions to history. Last fall, the school board approved the course for all high schools; it is designed to supplement traditional social studies courses. This September, Governor Jerry Brown, Oakland’s former mayor, signed a bill into law that will require all high schools in California to do the same.
Romeo Pittman, a sophomore at Castlemont High School, spoke enthusiastically about his Ethnic Studies class on a recent Thursday after football practice. “She teaches us about the genocides, and police brutality,” he said of his teacher, Leona Kwon. Because of the discussions he had with his classmates in ethnic studies, he said, he was able to conclude that recent police killings of people of color fit the definition of genocide.
But Black Panther Ericka Huggins is not so sure significant progress has been made. Huggins was one of the founders of the Oakland Community School, which the Black Panther Party ran from 1970 to 1982. Kellita Smith attended the same school when she interviewed Newton.
“Our children are suffering in the old paradigm schools,” Huggins told an audience at the conference on October 20. “Cultural competence is not a fad. It’s not a box to check,” she added to applause from the crowd.
Huggins believes children of color suffer because of a lack of teachers who share their identity and are best suited to teach them about it. “The reality is the majority of teachers are still European descent women,” Huggins said.
In Oakland, white teachers make up 52 percent of the teaching force, followed by 22 percent for Black teachers and 13 percent for both Latino and Asian teachers. By contrast, the majority of students are Latino (39 percent), followed by Black (30 percent), Asian (14 percent), and white (12 percent).
Kesha Hackett also attended the Oakland Community School that Huggins founded in the 1970s. Hackett grew emotional at the conference as she recounted what it meant to learn her own history from “enthusiastic Black men and women teachers.”
“I carry it with me throughout my life,” she said.
Point Six: “We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.”
The original, handwritten Ten Points featured a full-throated denunciation of America’s war in Vietnam. “We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like Black people, are being victimized by the white racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military by whatever means necessary,” Seale and Newton wrote.
The Panthers objected to the Vietnam War not only because they saw Black Americans dying overseas, but also because they felt the war was an attack on the Vietnamese people by white oppressors. Seale referred to the Vietnam War as “the racist imperialistic power structure’s war in Vietnam.” In a 1968 interview, Newton said the people of Vietnam, along with the people of Africa and Latin America and Blacks in the US, are “the people who are really fighting for freedom” and “the people who are really standing for justice and equality and peace throughout the world.”
The American war against Vietnam left between 1.8 and three million people dead, while simultaneous illegal and undeclared wars in Laos and Cambodia killed an additional 1.6 to 1.8 million people in both countries combined. In one version of the Ten Points, Newton declared “How can you have a black man going over there to fight a yellow man for the white man who stole his land from the red man? That makes a nice rhyme but no political sense whatsoever.”
The political backdrop of the Panthers’ movement included not only the Vietnam War, which ran from 1955 to 1975, but also the draft, which required all military-aged males to enter a conscription lottery system. The draft began in 1970 and continued until the end of the war.
According to the Selective Service System, which administers the draft, 1,857,304 Americans were inducted into the military through the draft system during the war.
Paul Harris, Newton’s lawyer from 1977 to 1979, credited the Panthers with helping end the draft. “One reason they abolished the draft is people like the Panthers refused to go, refused to be drafted, refused to fight in a white man’s war,” he said.
US military statistics indicate that during the Vietnam War, 7,243 Black soldiers were killed, or about 12.4 percent of the total American death toll of 58,220. There were 49,830 white soldiers killed, or roughly 85.5 percent of deaths. In 1970, as the war was in full swing, about 11.1 percent of the country was Black, and about 87.6 percent white.
While the Vietnam War is long over, Black Americans are still somewhat disproportionately represented in the US military. Overall, about 16.8 percent of the military is Black and 71.0 percent is white, according to the Department of Defense (DOD). The most recent Census figures report that 13.3 percent of the country is Black and 77.1 percent is white. The DOD does not offer statistical breakdowns of race and gender together, but a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center estimated that 31 percent of female service members are Black.
One possible reason for overrepresentation of Blacks in the military is economic disparities between Blacks and whites. The average household wealth for a white family in the United States is roughly 16 times higher than the average household wealth for an Black family.
According to a 2008 study by Syracuse University researcher Amy Lutz, “An important predictor to military service in the general population is family income.”
“Those with lower family income are more likely to join the military than those with higher family income. Thus the military may indeed be a career option for those for whom there are few better opportunities,” she concluded in the study.
A 2007 analysis by the Associated Press found that almost three-fourths of Americans killed in Iraq came from towns with a per-capita income below the national average. A 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health, a research organization run by the federal government, similarly found a correlation between states’ per-capita income and the number of residents per 100,000 killed in Iraq.
The United States government counts 6,902 American deaths among military service members in the Middle East between October 7, 2001 (the date the US invaded Afghanistan) and November 1, 2016. When most American combat troops pulled out of Iraq, on Dec. 18, 2011, the casualty rate among Black troops was around nine percent.
A widely-reported independent study estimates that the United States killed 500,000 Iraqis between the start of the Iraq war in 2003 and the withdrawal of most US troops in 2011.
Point Seven: “We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.”
With their seventh point, the Panthers were referring specifically to deaths caused by police officers. One of their main goals was to oversee police interactions with Black people and make sure Black people were not killed by law enforcement officials.
Police violence against Black people today is still as much of an issue as it was during and right after the Civil Rights Movement. According to a project by The Guardian, which has been counting the number of Black people who have been killed by law enforcement in the United States since 2015, the total number of people killed by the police for that year was 1,146, of whom 306 were Black.
The statistics collected by The Guardian show that Blacks are nine times more likely to be killed by the police during an arrest than people of any other race in United States. According to the US Census Bureau data for 2015, Blacks make up only about 13.3 percent of the total population, not including people who identify as mixed-race.
In late October, 2016, the number of Black people killed by the police was 213, compared with a total of 306 in 2015. June had the highest number of Black people killed by the police; 29 of the 98 people killed that month were Black.
Police brutality is an issue in California as well. The statistics from The Guardian show that 20 Blacks have been killed by the police so far this year in California alone.
The issue of police violence against Black people has surfaced due in part to the advancement of phone cameras. Many of these deaths have been captured on video and posted on the Internet for the whole world to see, fueling public outrage.
Black drivers are also more likely to be pulled over by the police in a traffic stop than white drivers, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report from 2011.
“Police won’t say ‘I stopped you because you’re Black.’ It’s ‘I stopped you because of your tags,’ or ‘I stopped you because you were speeding,’” said Minister Christopher Muhammad, speaking with Oakland North reporters after the conference at the Oakland Museum. “So I twist the language, but my mind is the same old mind,” he continued, referring to the bias of previous eras.
Muhammad believes that changing the system is difficult. “If you want to change the system, you can’t change the system. You have to abolish” it, he said. “That’s what was said in the Declaration of Independence. They said ‘Look, when it reaches a certain point, after a long train of abuses, this is not something that we can work with, and we have the power and the essential duty to abolish it and start all over again.’ That’s what has to happen.”
Point Eight: “We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.”
Point Nine: “We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in a court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.”
As is explained in Point One, nationwide statistics show that the percentage of Blacks in prison is overwhelmingly disproportionate to their percentage in the US population. Some of this disparity is related to discriminatory arrest rates, but it might also be the result of discrimination in the jury selection process, as the Black community has been arguing for years. So for this analysis, Oakland North will take Points Eight and Nine together, building on the analysis used for Point One.
Point Nine initially emphasized the need for equitable jury representation so that Blacks could receive the right to a fair trial in practice, rather than just in theory, as it’s outlined within the 14th Amendment. The 1972 revised point included wider demands: “We want freedom for all Black and poor oppressed people now held in U.S. federal, state, county, city and military prisons and jails. We want trials by a jury of peers for all persons charged with so-called crimes under the laws of this country.”
Jury selection is a multi-step process. It typically starts with calling potential jurors to come before the judge to learn about the case. They communicate whether or not they believe they’re fit to serve, followed by questioning by lawyers to determine if they have any biases that might interfere with their ability to render an impartial decision. Lawyers can request the dismissal of jurors by providing a cause, but also have the ability to dismiss jurors without stating a cause other than “a belief that the juror will not serve the best interests of the client.” This is called a “peremptory challenge,” and according to the American Bar Association, it “can’t be used to discriminate on the basis of race or sex.”
Many critics say the lack of a uniform procedure creates space for discrimination, prejudice and racism to persist, and that biases potentially held by lawyers and judges can go unchecked. It also allows for the creation of juries that are not racially representative of a city’s demographics, or do not include members with the same race as the defendant.
After the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 extended the “basic rights” of Black people under the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Yet this did not necessarily mean a Black defendant would see anyone from his or her community sitting in the jury box. In Virginia v. Rives (1879), the court denied an appeal from a Black defendant who asked that Black jurors make up at least one third of his jury, noting that an all-white jury was not in itself proof that a defendant’s rights had been violated.
Yet according to mock-jury studies in 1985 by Cornell law professor Sheri Lynn Johnson, the “race of the defendant significantly and directly affects the determination of guilt.” In these studies, identical trials showed that white jurors were more likely to find a Black defendant guilty than a white defendant, even though the mock trials were based on the same crime and the same evidence.
In 1985, in the case of Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court took another step to protect fairness in jury selection by ruling that if the defense could show a racial pattern in the prosecution’s peremptory challenges, the prosecutor would have to justify each one by demonstrating a non-racial reason for eliminating each juror.
But even today, courts seldom confirm a racial bias in jury selection, even in traditionally liberal states. According to an article in 2015 by National Public Radio, in the 114 appeals similar to Batson since 1993 to 2015, the California Supreme Court only found one out of the 114 that had evidence of racial discrimination.
In 1968, while representing Huey Newton, who had been charged with first-degree murder, assault and kidnapping, Chief Defense Lawyer Charles R. Garry argued in a pre-trial motion that the Alameda grand jury system was “unconstitutional, secretive, and prejudiced against minorities and the poor.” According to Garry, Blacks were disproportionately underrepresented in the source of jury rolls: county voter registration lists. Historically, Blacks were either intimidated or prevented from voting through literacy tests, poll taxes, the grandfather clause (if the person’s grandfather did not vote, neither could they), mob violence, lynching threats, and intimidation tactics. He sought to prove that Newton’s right to a fair trial by his peers was impossible because of this lack of representation, but he was unsuccessful. The jury for Newton’s trial was made of 11 white people and one black person.
Today, Alameda County’s jury pools draws from a list of people who are registered to vote or have a driver’s license or identification card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Alameda County is 11.8 percent Black, compared to 22.6 percent Hispanic or Latino, 29.5 percent Asian, and 51.3 percent White, according to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data.
Point 10: “We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of Black people as to their national destiny.”
Most of the demands expressed in the Black Panther’s Ten Point Program remain unmet. On Points One, Two and Four, conditions have actually gotten worse in Oakland: since 1966, incarceration and unemployment are higher, and housing is so expensive that the Black population of Oakland has shrunk substantially.
While some progress may be cited on Point Five (graduation rates have increased for Blacks and there is a new Ethnic Studies program in the Oakland school district); Point Six (there is no longer a draft); and Point Nine (jury pools are now drawn from DMV registration rather than voter rolls), other points seem frozen stubbornly in time. There has never been a United Nations vote to determine “the will of Black people as to their national destiny.”
According to Elaine Brown, who served as the chairwoman of the party from 1970 to 1974, the lack of progress on some of these points is because police and politicians today do not face any consequences for their actions. “We represented a consequence,” said Brown, who received 30 percent of the vote when she ran for Oakland City Council in 1973 and 44 percent in 1975.
The Black Panther Party had largely dissolved by 1980 due in part to both COINTELPRO, an FBI program designed to prevent the unification and success of various black power coalitions, and a schism within the party between Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. While Newton wanted to keep the focus of the party on domestic self-help programs, Cleaver thought the party should take a more pan-African position and be involved with other international revolutions. COINTELPRO operatives took full advantage of this division by infiltrating the party. At the same time, Newton’s behavior had become increasingly erratic and authoritarian, prompting Seale, Brown and other members of the party to eventually resign. In 1980, the last Panther paper was sold, and in 1982, the doors of the Oakland Community School were shuttered for good.
During their fiftieth anniversary conference, former Black Panthers and other affiliated groups reflected on their shared past, and the future of the revolution. Most agreed that while their demands expressed in the Ten-Point Platform remain the same, today’s generation does not relate to them in the same way.
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, “the revolution seemed around the corner,” said Marilyn Katz, who spoke on a panel at the conference about white groups allied with the Panthers. “My children are in their twenties and they’re very politically active. But they don’t have that same sense of the revolution coming tomorrow.”
Brown expressed her distaste for today’s political activists, saying that this generation of youth seem to live more on social media than in the real world. “I’d be ashamed to say I got a video,” said Brown as she wondered why no one had jumped in to intervene when Oscar Grant was detained and ultimately shot dead by a BART police officer in 2009.
A reporter asked her where the movement lives on today.
“What movement?” Brown asked turning to her comrades.
“I do not see a movement,” she said.
Introduction, Point One and Point Six by Andrew Beale. Points Two and Four by Rachel Loyd. Point Three by Ryan Lindsay. Points Five and Ten by Cassady Rosenblum. Point Seven by Khaled Sayed. Points Eight and Nine by Tian Chenwei and Ryan Lindsay. Audio by Andrew Beale, Tian Chenwei, Rachel Loyd and Ryan Lindsay. Song Credit: “Maruken” from the album Octagon, by Polyrhythmics, used under an Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 International License.