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Everyone has a level by which they’re going to deal for self. But in dealing for self you can or cannot be considerate of your fellow human being next to you or near you or around you or in your neighborhood. It was the 60s protest movement that captured the imagination of a lot of young people, including myself. For me to go and hear Martin Luther King speak in 1962 when I was first introduced to, beginning to understand, what that 60s protest movement was about, I was a young college man, I was an engineering/design major, and at night I worked a full time job in an engineering department. I was working on the Gemini Missile project, a government-financed framework putting the satellites up around the earth. I placed myself in the high tech world I loved. So that’s where I was; but I became sensitive, was made sensitive by people like Martin Luther King, by the plight of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. They made me understand, made me take the time to research and know the history—not only the colonization of Africa but the history of African Americans in this country. And I had already identified with the history of peoples—when I was 16, before I knew any African American history, I knew Native American history and their plight. It was easy, I guess, that the civil rights protest movement should get to me and cause me to be concerned a young man—not married, to get involved in the protest movement, to the point of literally quitting my engineering job to go to work in the grassroots community and not even make the kind of money I was making.

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Now the Constitution of the United States of America and the First Amendment that Huey Newton had pointed out before we started the Black Panther Party gave the people the right to peacefully assemble and peacefully address their grievances. That’s important to understand—morally, correctly so—but more importantly from a legal standpoint. The people had a right to peacefully redress their grievances and peacefully protest. Before the Black Panther Party came along, peaceful protesters were getting murdered shot, killed, brutalized. Peaceful protesters who declared that they were holding peaceful protests. It happened to a lot of protest efforts around the country because they gained momentum, because they were saying, “Let’s make a change.” Violence was getting heaped upon peaceful protesters.

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It’s important to understand what we said in our Ten Point Program, when we called for full employment, decent housing, an end to exploitation and robbery of our communities, free preventative medial care for our communities—these were basic civil rights issues that peaceful protesters were about across the board. But politicians would order their police, order their National Guard, order their state police to literally beat the heads of and brutalize the peaceful protesters. So by the time we came along, Huey and I, creating the Black Panther Party, we took the position that if anyone attacks the people of the United States, if any racist or others attack the people of the United States, it’s wrong. Because we would take arrest, that was always our policy: if the police say we’re under arrest, we take the arrest. We were never afraid of the courtroom, but if they come in shooting and not recognizing our human right to live, as a means to try to terrorize us, we will defend ourselves—and that’s what we did. By 1969 every Black Panther Party office across the United States of America was attacked and half of those attacks resulted in shootouts—because the police came in shooting. They didn’t come in saying you were under arrest, they just came in shooting and we defended ourselves. And in that heavy period of 1969, twenty-eight of my Black Panther Party members ended up dead, a couple of them killed by provocateur agents working for the FBI inside our organization. And then they attempted to blame party members for doing it. Now this is why I was heating up, but we defended ourselves. And we had many a rally that was basically peaceful; we had many a gathering that was basically peaceful; we had many a free breakfast for children in churches or in other halls that were basically peaceful efforts. The point is they heaped the violence upon the United States and we defended ourselves from it.

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Now people forget how and why all those attacks and all those shootouts—shootouts with the police were largely the police attacking the United States—now why did those police and those attacks stop? People have to remember that by 1970, going into 1971, the United States Senate, Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator Church headed up an investigation hearing on the FBI because they found out the FBI was going to police departments and setting up and laying plans months in advance to attack the Black Panther Party offices. Now with this hearing the FBI was in the hot seat and the United States Senate asked—it was right on live television—“Why are you running around here attacking these Black Panther Party members?” Now if you take note of history, those investigations were caused by the last two attacks in December 1969. December 4 in Chicago, a predawn raid where the police busted into a house and came in shooting, shot up everybody, and killed and murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. We later proved and showed, and as the Freedom of Information Act documents, that in fact the FBI had an infiltrator who got the plans for the layout of the house. Those plans were given to the State Attorney’s Special Police Force. Six to eight years later, a suit was filed and the families of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark eventually won millions from the FBI and the State Attorney.

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Two days after that shootout they attacked the Los Angeles office, and a month or two after that they laid out plans to attack the national headquarters, the central headquarters of the Black Panther Party here in Berkeley California. I was in jail at the time, but a young white policeman in the Berkeley Police Department had overheard the plans. This young white police officer, hearing them laugh and carry on about how “We’ll kill 10 or 20 of these Black Panther Party when we come in shooting from the downstairs up to the second story through the ceilings,” all this kind of crap—this young white policeman stole the plans and gave them to our lawyer and we called a press conference and put them in the press.

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I am trying to show you that there’s smoking gun evidence of how the politicians and others had agreed that they needed to wipe out and terrorize the Black Panther Party. Further, the mayor of Seattle, Washington, a young white liberal mayor, got on television after he discovered the FBI had planned attacks on the Seattle chapters. He said, “We want the FBI out of our department. We will not have the FBI try to spearhead and cause an attack on the Black Panther Party here in Seattle.” Now notice something: after the investigations there were never any more shootouts between the Black Panther Party members and the police in the United States again—ever. That’s the evidence.

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This is what people forget or don’t know or don’t understand about our position. The difference is between taking the right of self-defense and at the same time having all kinds of programs around the country. Party members went to do breakfast programs without guns. It’s what we did when we started that Free Breakfast for Children program—it’s one thing to say the racist pig power structure is brutal, it’s murderous; it’s another thing to articulate and specify all the hysterical particulars of how racist discrimination has affected the United States; but it’s another thing to say we’re not only observing the police, we’re going to organize political, electoral campaigns and we’re going to run for political office and we’re going to try to win some of these localized seats where we have these large African American groups.

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We were ready to write legislation that deleted the racist discrimination, policies, and institutionalized racism. Because the city council is nothing but a local legislative body—just as a county seat is a local legislative body, as states are local legislative bodies, as the federal government is a local legislative body—it can make laws and policies that make human sense. This is what our revolution was about. Not only had the Black Panther Party spread out in 49 chapters with branches in cities across the United States of America but we had working coalitions with all ethnic groups, including our white, left radical friends, so we had another ten thousand working in our framework called the United Front Against Fascism: The National Committee to Combat Fascism. So to the power structure we were on the proper move to make a change.

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What people have to take time to understand was that we, as young college students, injected something into the movement that was relevant, and that legacy is about uniting people and creating greater political electoral empowerment. You have to remember we ran for political office with our names on the ballot: a critique of and opposition to institutionalized racism in the United States. Trying to unite people with electoral and community empowerment and to change legislative bodies as a means to fight against institutionalized racism here in the United States of America: that is what we were about, that is what I stood for, that is what I organized.

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—Bobby Seale
As told to Miss Rosen
Oakland 2006

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America Was Built on Revolution

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