Events like the Uprising inspired the Black Panther Party!


root - Posted on 25 April 2007

The second in the PNN Hunter's Point Uprising series - an interview with Doctor James Garrett

by Rania Ahmed/Race, Poverty and Media Justice Intern -POOR Magazine

"The Panther Party was formed after the 1966 Uprising--the energy of the people formed the party!" Dr. James Garrett proudly exclaimed as he sat straight up in his seat in the Community Newsroom classroom at POOR Magazine. An aura of grandeur filled the room as Dr. Garrett spoke schooled the Newsroom about the Hunters Point uprising and how it in fact it was one of the events that led to the establishment of the Black Panther Party in the Bay Area.

Dr. James Garrett, or Jimmy as he says he used to be called by his buddies, was the second African American elder to be invited into POOR's Race, Poverty and Media Justice Institute to take part in the collaborative "Live Archive" of the Hunter's Point Uprising of 1966 sponsored by POOR Magazine and the San Francisco Bayview. Dr. Garrett's personal and political history was key to the archive as he bore witness and in several instances led the road to the empowerment of the Black community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dr. Garrett grew up in Texas and moved to California in the 1950s. He immediately became involved in social services in Los Angeles however he was more interested in and greatly influenced by the Civil Rights movement.

"The Civil Rights organization drew me in." Dr. Garrett became an activist. In the 1960s Garrett was arrested seven times for his participation in protests and sit-ins. He was even involved in the Watts Riot. In 1966 Garrett moved to San Francisco and began attending San Francisco State University partially to avoid the Vietnam draft. Adamant about organizing a coalition of Black students to be pro-active politically and in the community, Garrett, with the help of other students, founded the Black Student Union. Garrett realized that student organizations were an essential tool in aiding the community. The Black Student Union formed alliances with other multi-ethnic organizations such as the Latino and Asian organizations.

The Black Student Union was inspired by Mao Zedong and China. They extracted ideas of studies and research methods and took to the streets of San Francisco to study the Black communities. Garrett and the rest of the students were engrossed by South of Market. There was a strong union movement going on in the area that interested the group. Hunters Point and Fillmore were both Black communities that were targeted and deemed "dangerous".

Garrett and the rest of the Black Student Union members were asked to give tutorials in the Hunters Point area. They were successful in building relationships between children and their parents. The renewed bonds between the youth of the neighborhood and the elders strengthened the community as a whole and created what seemed to be an acknowledged sense of unity that would become more fervent as time passed.

"People were very linked together." The people in the Hunters Point community were very tight. Everyone knew who everyone else was; the important folks and the leaders in the neighborhood were well-known. Hunters Point residents were drawn to the area because it offered job vacancies created by World War II in the part of the city where the Japanese had been rounded up from and put into concentration camps. The Hunters Point area was home to the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard where the vast majority of the employees were local residents. The war economy was booming and the people of Hunters Point were able to do something they were not able to do before--own property. Because of the maritime jobs, they were financially capable enough to actually begin purchasing property. These somewhat revering times would be followed by the closure of the shipyard which led thousands of people in the community to lose their jobs. Hunters Point became another marginalized neighborhood that was consistently persecuted by the police.

Listening to Dr. Garrett describe the injustice that the people of Hunters Point faced by the police I remember how my close friend told me about what he saw in Palestine when he was visiting family in Gaza. In the occupied Palestinian territories my Arab people, the Palestinians, are subject to maltreatment by the occupying forces. Villages are raided constantly, men are taken from their homes in the middle of the night for no legitimate reason, homes are uprooted and if one are caught without an ID he is hauled off to a jail cell.

"People were talking about the LA riots!" Dr. Garrett projected. The police in San Francisco were brutal. Residents of the community were fed-up with the way the police demonized the neighborhood, and took unwarranted action against its residents whom were people who lived in the neighborhood for generations as a result of housing discrimination. The police would stampede the Hunters Point (as well as Fillmore) community to instigate conflicts between the residents and the police.

"The police had been storming Hunters Point to stir-up trouble," Dr. Garrett vividly recollected. It was this sort of conduct that prompted Hunters Point residents to realize that they were being targeted on absolutely no relevant basis. It was not necessary to dissect the situation. It was as clear as day and it was as lethal as the toxins that linger in the air of the Bayview; these white cops were deliberately targeting this Black community.

It was on the 27th of September 1966 that things were going to take a turn. A turn not particularly for the worse but a turn in the direction of change. Things changed on that day that no one will forget--ever. The San Francisco police turned the streets of Hunters Point into a battle zone complete with National Guard tanks and artillery. The San Francisco neighborhood became a modern day occupied Palestine where the victims are armed with nothing more than a stone yet are aimed at with tank fire. Mayor Shelley was infamous in the Black community for his evident discriminatory policies against Blacks; hiring and housing policies of the city's government were inequitable. On the day of the uprising the mayor declared a state of emergency, called in 1200 National Guard troops, and set a curfew.

Was the murder of 16-year-old Matthew Johnson by that policeman the straw that broke the camel's back? Was the reaction of the Hunters Point community inevitable given the events that predeceased the murder? Either way, a boiling point was reached and residents of the ill-treated community were going to take action. The people took action for six days straight as policemen aimed their weapons at the unarmed community. The reaction spread beyond the Hunters Point community and poured out into other neighborhoods. People in the Fillmore District, Mission District and Haight were reacting. Yes, the people were reacting to the murder but they were also reacting to everything else that had been happening. The people were reacting to the racism, they were reacting to the inequality, they were reacting to the victimization, they were reacting to the isolation. There was nothing to lose since nothing was gained by not responding; this made the reaction loud--powerful, even. The police rounded-up random people and took them away. They shot at buildings with defenseless youth and considered anyone who was not a white police officer suspect.

Despite the immediate outcome of the Hunters Point uprising one thing was for sure, waiting around for change was not the road traveled anymore. There was a group of Black intellectuals in the Bay Area that were paving a new path. These individuals were not going to sacrifice their bodies anymore, they were going to retaliate against authority--stand up for themselves! They were no longer going to be that kid on the playground who got picked on and beat up everyday and quietly walked away with a swollen lip. This group of intellectuals formed the first chapter of the Black Panther Party (formally known as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense).

The Black Panther Party became iconic to the Black communities. Black people were being taught how to take action and defend themselves in the racist society they were born into. The Black Panther Party provided Black youth with a sense of leadership that was void in their communities. This was a new generation that succeeded the Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights era and they were looking for something new; something new that echoed what they were living through and how they were feeling about this unabashed racism and inequality. The Black Panthers took action and demanded their right to equality. They called for equal housing opportunities and education about the history of African Americans in schools. They believed that education was the key to uplifting the Black community. The Black Panthers linked the low status of the Black communities to the poor degree of education that people in the community received. This made the Black Panther Party resolute about making education a principal objective in bettering the community.

Dr. Garrett was one of the first members of the newly formed Black Panthers Party in the Bay Area. There were two factions in Northern California: the Oakland section and the San Francisco section. Garrett recalls the Oakland section as being more militant. The new ideology that the Panthers initially banded on was the notion of no longer sacrificing oneself but to defend oneself. This was groundbreaking considering the abuses previous Civil Rights activists withstood to protest the racism and inequality they were living under.

Dr. Garrett concluded the session by answering questions posed to him by POOR Magazine's multi-cultural and multi-generational poverty and race scholars, many of whom are fighting several forms of police abuse today as low and no-income residents of the Bayview, Mission, East Oakland and beyond in 2006. The questions covered the uprising, the Black Panther Party, and the state of the community at the time, and the contributions Latino immigrants, Xicanos, Asians and other groups made at the time. Dr. Garrett said that during the uprising, Latinos played a big role in supporting the Black community. All walks of life in the area got involved to a certain degree during the uprising. Dr Garrett said with a hint of surprise that, "even the hippies" were out on the streets.

By the end of Dr. Garrett's presentation POOR's Community Newsroom was in rapt attention. Doctor Garrett's message was clear, powerful resistance organizations like The Black Panther Party in the Bay Area were formed because of events like the Hunters Point uprising. The uprising made a difference. The people made it clear that they were no longer going to lay down on the ground and be trampled; it was time to get up and stand their ground.

As Doctor Garrett spoke on the Uprising which is now facing its 40th year anniversary I was reminded of my people's struggle; the Palestinian Intifada (or uprising) that stemmed from the ongoing Israeli occupation. Palestinians were (and still are) enduring the most humiliating and dehumanizing circumstances by the occupying forces as well as watching their homes be bulldozed to make room for settlers. It was with the first Intifada that Palestinians broke a forty-year silence and put forth efforts to end this military occupation. It took forty years for the Palestinians to realize that not taking action was detrimental and was losing whatever land they had left. It was time for action. This first Intifada lasted six years. For six years Palestinians fought for their right to live on their land. This was not the last Intifada, the Palestinians continue to struggle to get back what was taken from them: their land, their dignity, their rights to live as human beings. In the end, it is a question of how much a human being can tolerate before reaching that boiling point. It is that moment that brings about reformation in the most profound way.

Doctor James Garrett's story is the second in the Live Archive series of The Hunter's Point Uprising of 1966 sponsored by POOR's Race, Poverty and Media Justice Institute at POOR Magazine and The San Francisco Bayview Newspaper. Raniaa Ahmed is a Race, Media and Poverty Studies intern at POOR Magazine. If you were in the Bayview at the time of the uprising please call POOR Magazine at ( 415) 863-6306. To hear the Live archive by Doctor Garrett and CAti-Okorie Hawkins on the Uprising listen to PoorNewsNetwork's radio show, Monday, October 2nd @7:30 am on Kpfa's Morning Show 94.1 fm or listen on-line at www.kpfa.org and click on the Morning Show

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