Legal Injustices: Oscar Julius Grant III, Eric Gardner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Freddy Gray, and Little Bobby Hutton


Terri Mae Owens

“You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress…

No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me,

as far as I am concerned, as long as it is not shown to everyone of our people in this country, it doesn’t exist for me.”   

Malcolm X

President Barack Obama Responds to Baltimore Riots

What is it about black boys and black men that causes so many white men to fear them?  The fact that they are feared continues to be a major problem in this country.

During the institution of slavery the fear white men had for black men was expressed through the the lack of respect showed to him in front of black women.

They could break a black man’s spirit by raping black women and his little girls, and selling off his children.

During reconstruction it was evident that white men feared black men because mobs of white men not only lynched black men largely on charges that they raped a white woman, but as they hung from the tree, white men castrated them and often set their bodies on fire.

Today black men continued to be feared by white men to the extreme that they are killed in what officers cite as self defense, even when the black man is not armed.

In light of protest taking place in states around the country over the mass shooting of black men and boys, the activism of Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party came to mind.

The Black Panther Party, first named the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, set out to change politics as usual in America.  They pushed back on police officers who patrolled black neighborhoods intimidating and harrassing those who lived in poor impoverished areas.

The fact that they were young college students is something to be proud of.

They were educated and knew of the history of race relations in America during that time, and of the grave injustices against blacks by the government.

The Panthers knew that if the government was sincere in affording equal rights to all citizens, that blacks would not have been relegated to having to live in neighborhoods that were infested with poverty and lack.

As an organization they pushed back against the injustices blacks were confronted with. They were serious about liberating themselves and black people from conforming to laws established by a Constitution that had excluded blacks.

They armed themselves with knowledge of the law, concerning their rights, and with guns for their protection.

As a result, “they were “targeted for extermination, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover.”

Race relations in this country has not improved very much since the 1960’s, when blacks staged protest in the streets, especially in southern states, for equal rights.

On March 13, 2012, an article written by Sophia Kerby reported: “This month the United States celebrated the Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965 to commemorate our shared history of the civil rights movement and our nations continued progress towards racial equality.”

Sophia Kerby,  “The Top Ten Most Startling Facts About People Of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States: A Look At The Racial Disparities Inherent in Our Nations Criminal Justice System,”  Center For American Progress, 3/13/2012.

“Today people of color continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, policed, and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. Further, racial disparities in the criminal-justice system threaten communities of color—disenfranchising thousands by limiting voting rights and denying equal access to employment, housing, public benefits, and education to millions more.

“It is imperative that criminal-justice reform evolves as the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”  Sophia Kerby.  “The Top Ten Most Startling Facts About People Of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States: A Look At The Racial Disparities Inherent in Our Nations Criminal Justice System,” Center For American Progress, 3/13/2012.

She outlined some very important facts in her article.

1. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned.

2. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.

3. Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated.

4. According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates.

5. African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.

6. As the number of women incarcerated has increased by 800 percent over the last three decades, women of color have been disproportionately represented.

7. The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses.

8. Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders.

9. Voter laws that prohibit people with felony convictions to vote disproportionately impact men of color.

10. Studies have shown that people of color face disparities in wage trajectory following release from prison.

While at a conference on economic opportunity and inequality sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chairwoman made this statement. “The extent and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me   I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.” 12/9/14.

“Let America Be America Again”

Langston Hughes

Many fought to evoke change to the systematic manner in which blacks have been disenfranchised and denied equal protection under the law.  Men like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evans, James Chaney, Michael Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and Fred Hampton, to name a few.. Each worked to evoke change in federal and state laws  that were menacing and disenfranchised black.

D. L. Hughley posed the question, “Should Black Men Openly Carry Guns?”

D. L.  Hughley asked the question on his radio show this past Friday, 12/5/14, which I listened to on 107.3 in Charleston S. C., “If black men openly carried firearms would that help or hurt their plight?” He noted that “It is legal in some states to take guns into a church and into restaurants.”  He also commented on the fact that “Black Panther Party members had carried guns exposed until laws were changed making it illegal for them to do so.”  Whites can walk around with guns on them in public places, but when blacks arm themselves, laws are changed.

One man who called in responded by saying: “If police officers are killing black men who are unarmed, and who they just suspect that he had a gun, they would shoot black men more readily if they actually did have an exposed gun on them.

It was sad and shocking news to read that twelve year old Tamir Rice, had been shot and killed by a police officer who had mistaken his toy gun for a real gun.  Apparently he was shot and killed without any mediation by the officer before shooting him. “My baby was scared more than anything.” His mother, Samaria Rice said. 12/9/14.

Lil’ Bobby Hutton

Not giving our youth a chance to explain before fatally shooting them is not news.  Members of the black community have protested for years to deaf ears.  I am reminded of seventeen year old Bobby Hutton who had surrendered to police in California.  When he cane out in the open and turned himself in to police officers, he was still shot by officers more than twelve times.

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Like Michael Brown, Hutton had surrendered with his hands up. Often when such incidents occur, the community at large has mixed feelings about what occurred.  For instance, while many saw the shooting of Brown as unjust, some like Michael Reagan disagreed that what had happened was an injustice.   He wrote: “Hands up don’t shoot” doesn’t accurately describe what really happened when Ferguson police Darren Wilson shot Brown to death last summer.”

In spite of personal opinions, one fact remains.  All lives are valuable, and the fact that someone might break a law or a series of laws does not change that.

The fact that Michael Brown allegedly robbed a store should have been dealt with in a court of law, not through a public execution.  No one’s life should be considered less valuable because he allegedly “stole cigars”,  Michael Brown never experienced “Due Process of the law.”

And while those who break the law should be punished, in many cases, the length of time that African Americans are sentenced to prison for breaking non-violent crimes are seen as unjust   Case and point, sentencing centered around the “Three Strikes Law.” 12/12/14.  It often appears that there is no justice for blacks in our country’s justice system.  It was good to hear that Eric Holder and the Justice Department is doing an investigation into the Ferguson incident.

As argued earlier, news of black youth being killed by white police officers is not unfamiliar news.   “Bobby Hutton, a teenager, was the Party’s first Treasurer,  and “the first to fall,” the first to be killed by the State, the Oakland Police, on April 6, 1968.”  David Hilliard.

Edited by, David Hilliard, The Black Panther Party:Inter-communal News Service 1967-1980.” vii.  PBS did a great documentary on the Panthers that can be viewed at the link below.

Also in California, 22 year old Oscar Julius Grant III was murdered by a police officer on 1/1/2009.

Acts of Terrorism On America’s Soil

In 2005, I took a class at Rutgers University taught by Professor Nathan Yungher, Ph.D., on Terrorism.  The name of the course was “Terrorism in International Relations” 790:369 Section:01.   As our main text, the class was taught from a packet of readings compiled by Professor Yungher.  Among the readings were essays and test written by Fouad Ajami, Brian M. Jenkins, James S. Robbins, and Martha Crenshaw.

Topics discussed were “Home Grown Terrorism in the United States,” “State Sponsored Terrorism,” and “The Causes Of Terrorism.” I learned a lot in that class about how governments set up to serve and protect the people, can also be menacing.

As I learned from Dr. Yunger, I developed an entirely new perspective on just how powerful the government can be in creating their own evidence to use against individuals and groups of people whose religious allegiance, or political power they fear and seek to destroy.

Also, while taking a Civil Rights class taught by professor Minkah Makalani, I learned about injustices endured by Paul Robeson at the hands of the United Stated Government.

The mental state that Huey P. Newton ended up in was of course a part of the plan to disrupt the organization. When I hear criticisms of how sad it was that he ended up on crack and was killed by a drug dealer, I understand that he went off in a direction that was not a part of the ideology of the panthers, his death was a set up.

When I signed up for the course on terrorism, I did not realize that The Black Panther Party would be a part of the discussions. I remember being a little upset that they were being discussed in a class on terrorism.  I would have described them as “Freedom Fighters.”

While I did not view the Panthers as terrorist, it was apparent that there were people who did.  I later argued in an honors thesis that they were not terrorists, but victims of terrorism by agents of the United States Government.

I never finished that thesis, however this Blog is an extension of that research.  I decided that I would finish the essay as well as Blog to voice my objections to the recent killings of black men across this nation.

I was particularly distraught over the fatal shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice who was killed while on a park playing with a toy gun.

I Blog to express my grief, to show historical relevance, and to express condolence to the parents of young men like Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, and the families of Mr. Eric Gardner of New York, and Rumain Brisbon of Phoenix, Arizona. Blogging is my choice of protest.

In 2005, I conducted research in California, at Stanford University’s Green Library, which holds the Papers of The Huey P. Newton Foundation.  In researching the Black Panther Party, I viewed many F. B. I. confidential documents.  Those documents revealed how the Black Panther organization had been infiltrated by members of the F.B.I.

I know that books have been written on the subject, but it was a valued experience to touch documents that were a part of the Party’s papers they used while fighting for the liberation of blacks.

To actually read F.B.I. correspondence that confirmed that their agents joined the Panther Party as inside informants was mind blowing.  In reading those documents I gained a deeper sense of respect for the work of the Party.  I was especially impressed with their ability to endure the mental abuse inflicted upon them which caused them to be shaken at times, but remained strong for the cause.

It is important that history documents the Panther’s as “Freedom Fighters, ” as they were not terrorists.  Of course, I am not the first person to feel this way, others have defended the same argument, and while I consider myself an advocate of the Panther Party, there were aspects of the organization’s tactics in fighting a revolution that I did not agree with.

One tactic was that of calling police officers “Pigs.” And while I did not agree with them verbally disrespecting police officers by calling them swine, I did understand why they chose to do so.  Police officers targeted their organizations, often destroying the place in unnecessary searches, and they had no respected for them as black men.The word  “boy,” or “Nigger” is just as offensive as pig.

Members of the Black Panther Party were targeted for arrests, they were harassed, assassinated and beaten by police officers, but they fought back when treated unjustly.

President Barack Obama

Today, December 9, 2014, as I read the current events I was saddened to learn that  “The report from the Senate Intelligence Committee will be the first public accounting of the CIA’s use of what critics call torture on al-Qaida detainees held at “black” sites in Europe and Asia.”

I was proud however to read President Barack Obama’s comments on the matter.  He said “We tortured some folk.” An important aspect of greatness is humility. It does not make us less powerful.  White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “Regardless of whether the U.S. gleaned important intelligence through the interrogations, “the president believes that the use of those tactics was unwarranted, that they were inconsistent with our values and did not make us safer.”  When an injustice has been committed, the most honorable thing that can happen to help bring closure to the experience is to admit that a wrong was committed. That should have happened in the case of Eric Gardner.–politics.html 12/9/14

The video taken by Ramsey Orta of Eric Gardner, who pleaded that” he could not breathe” and died after he was restrained in a  headlock by an officer proves that fact.  But instead, after his death, negative comments about Mr. Gardner were discussed.  Those comments however did not justify the way he was handled while in police custody.

“Rank-and-file New York City police officers and their supporters made such claims even before the Grand Jury decided against charges in Gardner’s death.”   “He was overweight.”  He was in poor health”  “He was a nuisance to shop owners who complained about him selling untaxed cigarettes in front of their shop.”  None of those complaints warranted how he was treated in the custody of police officer Daniel Pantaleo.  “Tom Hayes and Colleen Long, Huffington Post 2014/12/05.”

As a result of capturing what happened to Gardner, Mr. Orta has alleged that he and his family has been targeted and harassed by New York City Police Officers. In spite of the rap sheet of Ramsey Orta, which has been mentioned, filming the video was within his Constitutional rights.  “Everything was on video”said Mrs. Gamer.  He did not make up a story.  He only captured what was taking place.  The world could judge for themselves if an injustice had occurred.

Ramsey and Gardner were friends.  How ironic it is that the video he shot of his friend asking officers to please leave him alone would be the video that recorded the death of his friend.

When a Police Officer is killed, especially while doing his job it is a sad and tragic loss for the family and for our country.  This country needs well trained police officers to protect our citizens and our communities. Many officers are respected and loved by members of the communities they serve.  The research reveals this fact.  Police officers are people first, and not all people are the same. 12/9/14.

It is unfortunate that historically it has been the case that relationships in poor black communities between blacks and police officers have been one of distrust and abuse of power, as is exampled in the harassment of police officers in Oakland California against the Black Panther Party.

The Panther Party was a serious organization.  They bravely pushed back against police brutality and they used and advocated for armed resistance.

On the flip side however, they instilled pride, dignity, and a sense of self determination into blacks in communities that were poverty stricken and where many felt a sense of powerlessness in defending themselves against police aggression.

They were business leaders.  They created jobs in their communities through the publishing of their newspaper, they held food and clothes drives to feed and clothe the poor.  They built schools to educate black children and “The National Advisory Cabinet to the Black Panther Party worked with the St. Augustine Episcopal Church to provide all children in grammar school and growing young adults in Jr. High School a free full breakfast before they went to school in the morning. “How can our children learn anything when most of their stomachs are hungry” They asked? What they were able to accomplish in the 1960’s was phenomenal. The Black Panther Party is a great topic to research.   “The Black Panther: Black Community News Service, Breakfast for School Children, Jan. 4, 1969, Vol. 2 #19,  p.16.”

Because they carried guns openly, gun laws in California were changed by then Governor Ronald Reagan.

While the discussion has been mainly about men, women were members of the Black Panther Party as well.  And as far as current events are concerned, an officer used excessive force in restraining a homeless black woman and his actions were caught on video. Had the video not been taken, it may have been unlikely that Marlene Pinnock, who was beaten by Officer Daniel Andrew, while in his custody, he might still be working on that police fore, and she might not have been compensated for her injuries.

Recorded videos have allowed the world to see the manner in which blacks are victims of police brutality.  In witnessing those acts it is easy to understand the emotions of Michael Brown’s father after hearing the Grand Jury’s decision concerning his son’s death.  Black folks are not by virtue violent people, but it is easy to loose hope when you have no power to do anything to legally avenge your son’s death.

Both Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown’s family were hit with negative comments about about their sons as they grieved and sought justice.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. preached love and peace and non-violence and he was assassinated.

“Many of the insurgent movements in the United States, such as the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers and the Puerto Rican Nationalists (FLAN) which were well known during the 1960’s and 1970’s have been inactive since the 1980’s.  “Leftist terrorists,” (as they were labeled), “identified with class struggles and Marxist or Maoist communist ideologies.  Many of them were involved with universities and were brought together because of antiwar and civil rights issues that were highly publicized during that decade. “Homegrown Terrorism in the United States,” 87.  I hope the contents of this Blog offers good sources for research for those who do not know much about the Black Panther Party, other than what “you heard,” and I hope that many young people of all races will study the group as a topic in history.

Please take time to check out the videos below.

The Black Panthers


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