Monday, July 19, 2010

Pour Some Gasoline On It

In the documentary 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers, one of the Black Panthers in the L.A. chapter describes himself as a field negro, who, if the master's house was  on fire would pour gasoline on it rather than water.  That pretty much sums up the Panthers in the 1960s, who, while Dr. King was promoting non-violence, were advocating their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment and protect themselves against what was essentially a rogue police force under Chief William Parker who recruited racist officers from the South.  If you ever wondered why African-Americans tend  not to  trust  the police, then you need to see this film.  [Then you might also understand the outrage surrounding the recent verdict in the Oscar Grant case.]  The filmmaker, who is the son of one of the Panthers, showed footage of unarmed women who were told to vacate their car and then shot down in cold blood by police.  That was the 1960s and I am sure there was no justice for them.  The movie basically tracks the rise and demise of the L.A. chapter of the Black Panthers which was run by the charismatic Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter from roughly 1968 to 1969.  While the party did advocate a militant philosophy, they also provided community programs like a free breakfast program for elementary children.  The film also tracks the demise of the party via the distrust of other black political group US Organization led by Ron Karenga and the infiltration and manipulation by the Hoover led FBI, culminating in the police attack on the Panther headquarters at 41st and Central and resulting 5 hour shoot out.  Can you tell I learned a lot?  By far the best part of the movie for me though was sitting next to Kathleen Cleaver, who was the Communications Secretary for the Panthers, through the whole film and listening to the parts that made her laugh and gave her pause.  Be on the lookout for this film when it is released.


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