Trump Presidency Inspires Reactivation Of San Diego Black Panther Party
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Credit: SDSU Library
Amita Sharma, KPBS Investigative Reporter
“All power to the people,” said San Diego Black Panther party chairman Henry Wallace.
That old but familiar political chant reverberated through Bonnie Jean’s Soul Food Restaurant on a recent Saturday morning.
The audience consisted of the elderly and young alike, some in black berets. And many, part of the San Diego Black Panther Party’s resurgence.
The old timers like Wallace recited the Panther Party’s hallmark 10-point platform, albeit in less formal language.
“We want land,” Wallace said. “We want bread. We want housing, education and justice and peace.”
The message may not have changed much over time, but the means to rally the people are different.
“We have to organize everywhere,” said Panther education minister Trunnell Price. “On the playground. The boys club. The girls club. The YMCA. The school. Friend’s house. Twitter. Snapshot. Facebook. Your book. My book. That’s what life is all about — moving forward in a positive way.”
Price is one of the original founding members of the local party launched by the Black Student Union in 1967 at San Diego State University. The San Diego chapter of the Black Panther Party disintegrated in the early 1970s, wounded by an FBI program known as COINTELPRO which sought to negate the group’s influence through raids and encouraging animosity with rival groups.
Price said revival of the party is more vital now than ever.
“The elephant in the room is the new president of the United States of America,” he said.
Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both been accused of espousing racism. Their presence in the White House has left African-Americans on edge.
“They’re scared to death,” Price said. “They’re literally scared to death.”
Their biggest fear?
“They have no power, that the Constitution doesn’t pertain to them, that their liberties can be taken away from them, that they have no voice,” Price said.
The relationship with the San Diego Police Department also remains painful.
A San Diego State analysis from 2016 showed that officers are more likely to search black and Latino drivers. Price acknowledged there’s been progress since he first became a Black Panther 50 years ago. He said back then, some officers would detain black teens if they had veered outside of their neighborhood and rough them up.
“There are good police officers and there are bad police officers,” Price said. “They need to and I’m sure they’re trying to take a deeper look into their interactions with inner cities, with minorities and the oppressed.”
Since the report came out, the department has announced plans to step up training and revamp traffic stop rules.
Price said Panthers also want “constructive dialogue” with police in making changes. KPBS reached out to the police department for comment, but they did not respond to interview requests.
Price said the Panthers are also worried about Trump’s executive order banning immigrants temporarily from six Muslim countries, his disbelief in climate change, the replacement of Obamacare and the deportations of undocumented immigrants.
“The history of San Diego is greatly related and intertwined with the brown community in San Diego,” Price said. “We went to school together. We played together. We fought together. So we are affected by what’s happening to our brothers across the border and what’s happening to their families here in the United States without a doubt.”
To 26-year-old former Marine and home builder Will Haynes, hearing that message is what might prompt him to join the Black Panthers.
“They’re advocating for the people, for everybody,” Haynes said. “That’s what I’m for. I’m for everybody.”
Andre Branch, head of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, welcomed the reformation of the Panthers in San Diego.
“This is a most appropriate time for people to engage with any civil rights organization: the NAACP, the ACLU, the Black Panther Party, if it is in fact committed to assisting people and being peaceful,” Branch said.
Party members said they plan to re-introduce their breakfast program for children and checks for diabetes and sickle cell anemia.
As for peace?
Panther chairman Henry Wallace has encouraged people to exercise their Second Amendment right to self-defense. That’s in case, Wallace said, Trump declares martial law.
“I don’t think it’s going to get to that point,” Wallace said. “But then again, people didn’t think Mussolini would become a fascist dictator either.”
Panther party member Robert Williams said he is unworried by Trump.
He said his focus is for people to unite to help kids remain in school and assist the needy. Ultimately, he wants the community to hold itself accountable.
“Our problems are heavier than Trump,” Williams said.
To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.