“There is nothing more dangerous than a large segment of people in society that feel that they have no place or stake in it, who feel they have nothing to lose. People who have stake in the society perpetuate that society, when they don’t have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it.”Unknown
As a culture, we are told how to act, think, and speak among other things. We are taught to do what is considered “right” and if we choose not to, we are punished, ridiculed, and considered a menace to society. We are considered thuggish and belittled and put down for living in an alternative way. Don’t get me wrong, there is some good in having a controlled society because it brings some order and stability within our society. However, the questions at hand are, could there be a way for those who do realize that we’re being controlled to free themselves from the power and control that causes them to become oppressed? Could it be that we are bound and constrained and unable to have some type of agency in order to be free? If we can free ourselves, what type of agency is used?
These questions are the basis for my paper. I plan to present examples of control and oppression through the film Panther that shows the struggle of the Black Panther Party of Self-Defense. The film takes place in the 1960’s and it shows the struggles that the members had to go through in order to form some type of agency to free themselves from the control and oppression that the government had over their lives and their community.
Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were two African-American men growing up in the ghetto of California where they saw and experienced racism and police brutality. There voices weren’t heard when it came to their communities and it took three young children to die by car crashes, and a peaceful candlelight vigil that turned into a fight between a neighborhood and the police (In which the police covered up their badges so that no one could report them to the police department) for them to want to make a change, to free themselves from control and oppression.
In my opinion, I think that when it comes to control people accept it, reject it or assimilate without knowing that they are controlled. For instance, there was a black FBI agent that knew he was being controlled and he commented that, “The United States was built on Capitalism and democracy and in democracy, the majority rules”. He didn’t reject the fact that he was being controlled, he accepted it and just decided to deal with it because he felt like he was a part of government that does the controlling.
In the case of the Panthers they first recognized it and rejected it. In one scene Huey states, “They think they don’t have to respect us because they think they can brutalize us and lock us up without a jury of pleas because we’re ignorant to the laws. What we need to do is organize and keep our shit correct. Exercise our constitutional rights as citizens to defend ourselves and arm ourselves (Panther, 1995).” This was the basis of their agency.
In a flyer passed out to prospective members they stated that they “want an end to the robbery by capitalists of our black community.” And they wanted others to think about “how long they were going to cry about their oppression without standing up to do something about it.” A police officer stated that they were “undermining the United States of America.” That comment made it clear that they are controlled and controlling and that anything that isn’t being controlled is considered insubordinate.
After the Panthers recognized that they were being controlled, their main agency to free themselves from oppression was knowledge. They began to study and learn the laws of their state, and that way, they had power. For example, there is a scene in the movie in which they were on Panther Patrol, meaning they were the neighborhood watch for the black citizens in the community. They came across two police officers beating up a black man outside of a nightclub.
The patrons within the club came out to see what was going on and the police officers told them to go back inside. The Panthers knew that it was okay for the patrons to observe the officers doing their duty as long as they were 8-10 feet away which is okay under state of California. They also knew that it was okay for the Panthers themselves and others to walk around with firearms as long as they were in clear view to be seen. Because the Panthers knew this information, they became powerful, they weren’t taken advantaged of and led to believe that everything the police told them to do and say wasn’t always what they were suppose to and wasn’t always correct. They learned that they had Constitutional laws, which protected them from harm and made them powerful.
Another incident that happened was that Huey and another Panther were in a car driving when they were pulled over by two police officers. A police officer was killed and Huey was injured. The police department tried to get Huey convicted of murder until they brought in the other Panther who was a passenger when the altercation happened.
When the witness was questioned about whether Huey had fired the shots, the witness claimed that he was pleading the fifth because he didn’t want to say anything that would infringe his rights. From him saying this, he took evidence away from Huey but at the same time put some of the blame on him however, they couldn’t convict him with anything because he was a surprise witness and they had no evidence. So, by this Panther knowing the law, he was able to save Huey from being convicted of murder.
However, sometimes knowledge can’t be a form of agency if you don’t know the inside of the system or you don’t have enough power to protect yourself. When the FBI got involved in stopping the Panther movement they started having the Panther offices bombed, shot up and raided. They even planted drug users within the Panther’s office meetings so that they could have an excuse to arrest and seize the offices. But the main incident that happened which caused the downfall of The Black Panther Party was when the FBI came up with their plan to plant drugs within the black community.
This was the FBI and the government’s way to gain control over something that they felt wasn’t appropriate. They found blacks within the community that were willing to make a dollar and supplied them with drugs to sell. They figured that the drugs would cause other blacks to steal from one another, kill one another, fight one another and bring down each other instead of working together to better the community. This tactic worked to stop the Panther Party but it backfired because the drug abuse not only affected the black communities but other communities around the world. In 1970 there were 300,000 addicts in the United States and in 1995 there were 3 million, and here it is 6 years later and I know the statistics are now staggering and continuing to rise.
An officer made a comment in the movie and he state, “It’s still the land of opportunity. Without law and order the streets would be total chaos”. I think that the Panthers believed that without law and order the streets would be chaos but, I think that they felt that the way the law and order was set up was affecting and oppressing the black community. The way that the police would beat and kill blacks just because they wanted to, oppressed the community making them scared; because their voices weren’t being heard that also caused them to become oppressed.
Furthermore, I think that order and law which causes us to become controlled does have a place in society because without it, there would be no stability within our society and everything would be chaotic and confusing. However, for those who don’t want to be controlled, and do have a form of agency which they feel will free them really don’t seem to be free anyway. It seems to me that no matter what you do, say, or learn you are always controlled.
I thought that the fact that the Panther Party becoming knowledgeable would have worked very well but soon some laws were changed such as the one concerning being able to carry firearms as long as they were in clear view. After all they went through they still weren’t free. Many of the Panthers were either killed while fighting for the cause or are now political prisoners.
So, from my observation, the only agency available to free oneself from oppression is, to become knowledgeable and that only works to a certain extent. I guess there is no plain yes or no answer to my question about whether we can free ourselves from oppression. It’s as if you think you’ve won when you really haven’t.
Panther. Dir. Mario Van Peebles.
Polygram Video. 1995.