For those of you not familiar with the Black Panther Party they were responsible for popularizing the slogan “all power to the people” and creating armed African-American police-watch squads to monitor police brutality throughout the Oakland area. Huey P. Newton along with Bobby Seale were its founding members and the group was active until it dwindled out in the early 1980s.
Now one early October morning in 1967 there arrived Newton, bloodied and bullet ridden, to Kaiser hospital in North Oakland. A white cop was injured and another lay dead in the scene that he had left behind him. The media and police department had coaxed many to believe that just another ghetto-dweller had shot an upstanding enforcer of the laws. This was the main injustice, nothing more should be questioned.
This of course is an easy sell because it’s a simple narrative: another criminal had crawled out from his ghetto to arrogantly flaunt the laws of a just and moral society. The ghetto itself and its dark inhabitants’ existence needn’t be questioned but assumed as normal, simply because, in fact, it is very normal to have ghettoes and many dark people in them in America.
This belief is comfortable one. It doesn’t require too much context, history, or reflection. It doesn’t require us to challenge authority moreover it doesn’t challenge us to question the places and positions that we stand in today or let alone ask how we have come to stand where we stand or acquire what we’ve acquired…
In the letter below, Dr. Aguilar eloquently presents her disgust and rejection of most of white society’s faith and contentment in the law enforcement’s inhumane dealings with blacks, a letter that is lamentably very relevant today.
Written in the midst of a time when black men, women, and children were sprayed, beaten, and mauled on a mass scale on open streets by both “citizens” and state law enforcers, this letter serves as a good reminder to those suffering that although many people in society may look down upon your or your people’s suffering and sit back content, there will always be those, little in number as they may be, who will not accept the official narrative and will not accept silence, and just when it seems like all others are willing to pass over the concrete realities of your inequality, it is these rare people who will refuse, it is these rare people who will see you as a human.
I can remember nothing in my medical training which suggested that, in the care of an acute abdominal injury, severe pain and hemorrhage are best treated by manacling the patient to the examining table in such a way that the back is arched and the belly tensed. Yet this is precisely the picture of current emergency-room procedure which appeared on the front page of a local newspaper last weekend. Looming large in the foreground of the same picture, so large as to suggest a caricature, was a police officer. Could it have been he who distracted the doctor in charge of the case to position the patient in this curious way?
Unusual as it was, this picture probably did not disrupt very much the pleasant weekend enjoyed by my neighbors nor disturb more than momentarily the consciences of my medical colleagues. To me, upon whose mind’s eye it is permanently engraved, this photograph is a portentous document of modern history: it represents an end and a beginning. Further, for me, there has been enough of listening, of reading, of pondering. The time has now come to speak, to act, to fight back.
I have read essays written by the patient, Huey P. Newton; I have heard him patiently and painstakingly articulating his ideas and his hopes to a parade of questioners: hour after hour he continues to address the convinced and the unconvinced alike without malice. I have listened to him paraphrasing the concepts set forth in Dr. Fanon’s books in a dozen brilliantly succinct sentences. I have listened to him and marveled that a young man of twenty-five years can interpret in such scholarly fashion the historic, socioeconomic, and political implications of the trend of modern society, while I, on the other hand, after forty-five years – seventeen of them spent in study at college and in postdoctoral education – discover I learned little of human value and must begin again.
The beginning again for me dates from the last time I saw the patient, several weeks ago, in a discussion with a group of people, many of whom came by, listened awhile, and left. One such young man called later in the evening to say that he was in jail. He had been detained by the police for what they suspected might be a minor infraction of the Motor Vehicle Code, mistakenly, as it turned out, for they quickly determined that no law had been broken. Not content, the police undertook lengthy investigation which ultimately revealed that the young man had not satisfactorily replied to a charge of driving with an invalid license one year ago. For this reason he was now jailed with bail set at $550. It took three hours to fill out the requisition form, pay the requisite fees, and see the requisite people in order to extricate this Black boy from his cell.
Two days later I was driving with a friend on the highway when she was apprehended because of four concurrent infractions of the Motor Vehicle Code, including driving without a valid permit for the trailer we were pulling. Nothing happened in spite of the fact that we were detained momentarily some miles farther on for still another infraction – this time a moving violation we still arrived home in time for dinner, two white ladies in their comfortable white neighborhood. My friend told me later her total bail for all of this lawlessness came to $15! So please do not waste my time, my white brothers and sisters, in telling me that justice is dispensed equally under the law to all Americans. I will not believe you.
I apologize, Mr. Newton, for any aggravation of suffering inflicted upon you during the course of treatment of your injuries. I apologize for the subhuman conditions and horrors of the ghetto in which an immoral political and social system…. Makes it inevitable that men like you are gunned down in the streets of your own town.
Mary Jane Aguilar, M.D.