Black Power, then and now - Page 2

How political struggles and concepts from the '60s are animating a new generation

Angela Davis has drawn connections between the Black Power and Occupy Wall Street movements.

Occupy the Hood showed up March 16, when a group known as the Foreclosure Fighters- organized and supported Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Homes Not Jails, and related groups—occupied their latest foreclosed home. "We're liberating this house. We're taking it out of the hands of the oppressor," said Archbishop Franzo King of the African Orthodox Church.

"Jesus Christ was an uncompromising revolutionary. He spoke truth to power. Then they killed him for it," added King in a nod to the radical religious leaders who have influenced liberation movements throughout the years.

Black Power was concerned with self-determination, with organizing within community. That legacy is still strong as San Francisco's African American communities experience an out-migration and continuing police harassment and violence.

"Black sailors and black army personnel built the shipyard," said Jameel Patterson, a founder of the Bayview-Hunters Point-based community organization Black Star Liner Incorporated. "Hunters Point, West Point, Harbor Road—they're all military names. The soldiers stayed there with their families. The area has a rich African American legacy going back to the '40s. Now it's fading...we want to make sure that community's still here 20 years from now."

Patterson remembers being a child in the '70s when, on the tail of an era brimming with black liberation efforts. "There were more community events," he said, but now, "People don't have connections with each other. That's what we're building."

The group does regular events where they serve free home-cooked meals to residents, reminiscent of the Black Panther Party's free breakfast program. "With every plate, you get information," often Know Your Rights reminders for encounters with police, said Tracey Bell-Borden of Black Star Liner.

They have also spent countless hours in City Hall meetings advocating for their community and reporting back on city policies that affect it. "We occupy the Police Commission meeting," said Bell-Borden.

Police are a central and tricky question for the Black Power movement of the '60s, as well as organizing efforts today. Black Panther Party members spent years serving free breakfast to children, writing and selling newspapers, and even running election campaigns, but they are often remembered for carrying guns and efforts to "police the police." So many leaders were arrested that energy that could have gone into feeding or education was often channeled into freeing prisoners.

"I was in the second chapter of the Black Panther Party," Nyasha said at the March 14 event, "which basically existed to get the first chapter out of jail."

Recent police crackdowns have fed indignation not just about policing protesters, but about the role police play in poor communities of color. "One thing Occupy has done is address the issue of policing in communities of color, to the extent that some aftermath of what we're seeing at Occupy is shedding light on how police can sometimes treat people," said Kimberley Thomas Rapp, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area.

"In black neighborhoods, police should be community partners, not come in and exert more force than necessary. And at protests, they should be there to ensure safety, not just to arrest people unnecessarily or use excessive force," Rapp said.

Police crackdowns on Occupy are the first exposure many white protesters of the younger generation have had to excessive police force, an issue that was central to the story of the Black Power. Sadly, for many black and other protesters of color, excessive police force is nothing new.

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