On April 6, 1968 the Oakland Police Department shot 17 year-old Robert “Lil’ Bobby” Hutton 12 times while he was attempting to surrender following a confrontation between police and members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Hutton’s murder took place just two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee and riots were consuming Black neighborhoods throughout the US. The story of Bobby Hutton’s murder has taken on nearly mythic proportions and different versions abound. But the image of Bobby Hutton–the brave first recruit of the Black Panthers, his meteoric rise as the Party’s treasurer and his tragic death– continues to resonate as an audacious style of Black resistance. The Black Panther Party took an openly hostile stance toward police and advanced alternate styles of community safety, including armed neighborhood patrols.
On March 9, 2013 the New York Police Department shot 16 year-old Kimani “Kiki” Gray seven times during an encounter in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Like the Hutton case, there are conflicting reports about what happened that night. According to police, when Gray was halted by officers, he pulled a gun and was shot multiple times. Witnesses and community members refute this version of events and outrage over the killing sparked protests. But the social climate could not be more different from 1968. Under the tutelage of its first Black president, the US is not embroiled in racial upheaval. “Law and order” and “homeland security” are buzz words of the time, with the NYPD manning the 7th largest armed force in the world.
Despite this vastly different social climate, some community groups and activists are calling for a return to older styles of resistance, many of which draw from tactics of the Black Panther Party. Organizations like the Peoples’ Survival Program provide free meals and political education classes, while also conducting community patrols and police surveillance. Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is another organization which has taken a hardline stance against police brutality and corruption in the NYPD. CPR is leading the campaign to have New York City’s infamous “Stop and Frisk” policy repealed. The work of these groups is a reminder that the legacies of the Black Panther Party and Bobby Hutton live on. And perhaps the families of Kimani Gray and the countless others struck down by police violence will find some solace knowing the fight for justice continues.
by Brittany Duck