By Eldridge Cleaver – Minister of Information, Black Panther Party
(From N. Y. Telephone Interviews with the Minister of Information)
QUESTION [bolding not in original —Transcriber]: Just who and what are the Black Panthers?
CLEAVER ["]: The Black Panther Party is a political party that originated in Oakland, California, and was started by Huey P. Newton, who is the minister of defense of the party, and our chairman, Bobby Seale. The party seeks to organize black people so they can move and take control of the life, the politics, and the destiny of the black community.
What really makes the Black Panther Party stand out from other groups that have originated in that community is the fact that we feel it is necessary to use guns in a defensive manner against aggression, particularly by the Police Department, vigilante groups, etc. Because we have used these guns for our defense, this is what most people have come to associate with the Black Panther Party. But this is only one point on our platform. We have a ten-point platform that outlines the basic grievances and the basic desires and needs of black people as we see them, and we seek to organize the people in the black community who have never been organized before, such as the so-called lower class black people who are not candidates for membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
QUESTION: Since you have written SOUL ON ICE, and the book has been widely hailed in this country, how do you resolve your relationship now as minister of information for the Black Panther Party and as a social critic?
CLEAVER: I think that the two work very handily together. We're dealing with the same thing, you know. There's no conflict in my book between my politics. The book tries to pass on information, and my position in the party sort of passes on information. We're dealing with interpretations of what we're all involved in, and I see that they work out very well together. As a matter of fact, the book itself has helped considerably in getting a lot of the program and activity of the Panther Party across.
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier that the guns of the Black Panthers are to be used for defensive purposes. We've talked about America as being a violent country. Does not this defensive stand add to this violence?
CLEAVER: Any act of defense could be categorized as violence if there is any type of conflict involved, but I think that some violence or conflict is justified. For instance, I think a man who moves to protect himself from an attack, though he used a violent means to dispel that attack, is completely justified in doing so. The right to self-defense has always been recognized in society, and simply because we have a very violent situation on our hands in this country doesn't mean that we have to forego this particular right.
QUESTION: What are your feelings about the new gun control law? Do you feel that this particular law is geared towards the blacks?
CLEAVER: Yes, I do, particularly here in our local area where we see these vicious politicians who are known to be open enemies of the black community. We see them out in the forefront of the forces calling for gun control. At the same time they're calling for gun control, they're escalating the armament and the preparation of the police department, and supplying them with all kinds of new weapons; and we feel that this is aimed directly at the black community.
We live in a time when black people are becoming more and more impatient. The philosophy of non-violence has been murdered along with its prophet Dr. Martin Luther King. The power structure of this country knows that the black liberation struggle is turning to violence as an alternative and so they're moving now to disarm people before anything happens. All of this ballyhoo about gun legislation, we feel, is aimed at disarming the black liberation struggle and the allies of that struggle in the white community.
QUESTION: Would you define the defensive program of the Black Panthers in terms of guns? Do you promote vigilante parties?
CLEAVER: Now, we don't promote vigilante parties, and we don't approve of them. We feel that the primary problem confronting the black people today is the problem of being organized. The chief impediment to organizations of the black community comes from the activities of the police department. The police department functions like an occupying army in the black community, and it intimidates black people. It disturbs meetings, prevents black people from having peaceful assemblies, and the very presence of the police, with the history they have with black people, makes them an undesirable element in our community. We seek to remove them from the community because they are constantly killing and terrorizing our people.
We feel that before much more progress can be made, this particular problem has to be dealt with. So we call for the immediate withdrawal of the white racist policemen from our community, and we call for enactment of the principle that those who police our community must live in our community. We want the community to control the policemen who police our communities. We feel that it's a form of community imperialism to have a police force occupying our community that is controlled by the white suburbs. This is an obnoxious situation, and we want it to end.
QUESTION: Have the police department and the Black Panthers ever sat down at the same table and attempted to negotiate any of the problems?
CLEAVER: There have been very minimal direct contacts, such as when we've staged benefits and rallies at auditoriums where security has to be discussed; but they prefer to do that behind closed doors; and they want to meet with us behind closed doors as they've done with a lot of other groups in the black communities.
One of the main programs that we should have today is their coming into the communities and putting different groups of black people on these poverty programs and buying them out if they agree to perform in a certain manner.
We've been approached by some of the flunkies of the power structure to see if we would be willing to accept some of their Uncle Tom money, but public
ally they try to pretend that the last thing would do would be to condescend to talk with the Black Panthers. This creates a situation exposing them to a lot of people who feel that public officials and public servants should be open to all elements of the public, and they have an image of being very opposed to everything in the black community, particularly the militants, that speak out.
QUESTION: In a recent issue of RAMPARTS (June 29, 1968), the article about the Black Panthers (THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF THE BLACK PANTHERS AS PERFORMED BY THE OAKLAND POLICE UNDER THE DIRECTION OF CHIEF CHARLES R. GAIN, MAYOR JOHN READING, ET AL.) ends with the sentence: "And the chances are, too, that the cops will go on, steadily and inexorably, trying to bust, and if necessary kill, every Panther in Oakland." Mr. Cleaver, what is going to be done to stop police brutality and killing?
CLEAVER: I think that if the people who are standing on the sidelines don't move to harness the police departments of this country (not just in Oakland, because this is something that's going on all over this country), there will be no alternative to the black community but to wage a defensive war against the police, I think this is a very likely possibility.
I know that people are psychologically and materially prepared to do this because it's becoming a matter of life and death. For instance, Bobby Hutton was murdered in Oakland on April 6. Here in a big area there have been about four other shootings and killings of young black men by police and so the last straw has already been placed on the camel's back. Unless these police departments are brought down to a level where they are acceptable to a community, there can be nothing but a reply to them, in time; and it seems that that's the way it's going to be.
QUESTION: Tell me a little about the Peace and Freedom Party with which the Black Panther Party is working.
CLEAVER: The Peace and Freedom Party is composed primarily of white people who were disgusted by the two party system -- the so-called Republican and Democratic parties. They've broken away from those two parties, and the type of corrupt policies that they've been practicing since they've come into existence, and formed a new third party that seeks to align itself with the legitimate aspirations of the black community and with the anti-war movement in this country. It seems to chart a new direction in national politics.
We felt that this was a positive sign coming out of the white community and we saw no reason not to work with them, because we share some of the same goals and attitudes.
QUESTION: Who do you think black people should support for president?
CLEAVER: I think you should support me for president. I am running against Dick Gregory on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. Gregory, Dr. Benjamin Spock and Mrs. Coretta King has been proposed as possible nominees. I think I have it sewed up.
QUESTION: Do you think you'll get rid of Reagan in California?
CLEAVER: If we can't get rid of Reagan, we can't survive. Our survival depends upon getting rid of racist politicians like him.
QUESTION: Why did Dick Gregory call off the boycott of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago?
CLEAVER: Richard Gregory issued a public statement regarding that decision. He didn't want to be involved in any provocative situation that might lead to violence because a few things had happened about that time, I don't know if it was an uprising, or a shooting, or some event with overtones of violence. This was during the time when the racist pig, Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, issued the orders to shoot and kill the black people if they were thought to be looting. Dick Gregory said he would cooperate in that effort; he didn't want to have anything to do with any trouble or uprising. This is a good example of the wishy-washy way Dick has always moved in those matters. This is one of the reasons I oppose his nomination for the Peace and Freedom Party. I wouldn't want to see his politics institutionalized.
QUESTION: Do you have any particular message for the Black college students as to what they could do to help benefit the whole of Black America?
I say to black students and potential students that they should return with their hearts and their minds and their souls to the black community to relate to the brothers and sisters who have not had the opportunity that they've had. They should use their intelligence and their skills to help organize the black community for it[s] survival. We are faced now with the prospects of oppression on an international level by a very racist and inhuman power structure which, as it winds up the war in Vietnam, turns to a second war, which is the war against black people right here in Babylon. I say to college students and to all people who want to see a new world and a better world that they should unite to form the type of power block that can defeat this racist power structure and put it in the garbage can of history where it belongs.
QUESTION: Don't you believe that Ghandi did a great deal more with non-violence?
CLEAVER: It may be. To a great extent he liberated his country with the use of non-violence, but he was dealing with people other than the racist yankees that we must confront here. He was dealing with a minority of occupying forces. We're dealing with the majority of a very complacent people who surround us, who have us dispersed throughout their population, who have a tradition of murdering and treating us in a very brutal and violence fashion, and who don't seem to be able to recognize the fact that black people have suffered beyond any more tolerance of a continuation of these conditions.
To those who urge us to use adoptions from other lands, adoptions that in effect leave us merciless before very vicious enemies, we would say to them to take their non-violence and go preach it to the racist President of this country. Teach non-violence to LBJ. Teach non-violence to Chief Charles Gain, the number one pig in the Oakland Police Department. Teach non-violence to the racist policemen all over this country who are murdering the children of black people. Don't come to the black community and teach the victims of this violence to be non-violen[t]; teach the perpetrators of violence to be non-violent and then we can talk about it.
QUESTION: What would you recommend that the typical whites do to help you?
CLEAVER: I think any white person who is interested in the welfare of mankind should take a good look at what's going on in this country. This is what's really happening. The white students of this country have already taken a look at what's going on and they don't like it. So I say that they should organize themselves into machinery that will be capable of dealing with the revolution from what we call the white mother country.
We feel that we have black people here who are colonized by the white people. We refer to that as the relationship between the black colony and the white mother country. We feel that we need to wage a national liberation struggle in the black colony and a revolution in the white mother country. Young white people
are interested in doing this should organize themselves in a fashion to deal with the politics and the economics and the social practices in this country and should be prepared to work with those elements in the black community who understand this process, and who are willing to work with them. We think that with this type of coalition, we will have the strength to bring about the revolutionary changes that this country must have if there's going to be a future for our America or for mankind.
QUESTION: You talk about revolutionary changes. Let's see if your argument makes any sense. First of all, you've got to consider, if you talk about violence, what percentage of population is Negro in the United States, and you've got to recognize that you are outnumbered by about 10 to 1. You've also got to consider how many resources in the United States are Negro-controlled. How many factories, how many food-production arteries do you control? Do you own the trucking companies to get your men and machines from place-to-place, when the revolution takes place? How many airlines and how many communication systems are black controlled? You're asking black people to organize and be willing to die for the country.
CLEAVER: I also said kill, didn't I?
QUESTION: Kill and die. Well, that's a tremendous responsibility -- you're asking them to kill and die.
[continued on p. 14]
CLEAVER: Let me ask you a question. Are you a white man or a black man?
QUESTION: I'm a white man, sir.
CLEAVER: I thought so. Let me tell you this. You can count off your statistics about everything that you control. And if you had it sewed up tight, then you shouldn't be concerned about what black people can do in this country. But we know that with all of your numbers and with all of your materials and superiorities, with all these things that you have going for you, you're in big trouble all over the planet earth. You dig it? We know that, and we don't look upon this situation as being just something confined to the geographical boundaries of the United States or the North American continent. We see this as a world-wide contest, and in this world-wide contest, you are in a very much of a minority, and we are with the majority. So you don't have 20 million black people to deal with, you have 700 million Chinese, 300 million Africans, and unnumbered billions, and millions and millions, and millions, and millions of mad black, brown, red, and yellow people to deal with. And you know that.
We don't care about your atomic bombs. We don't care about your tanks, your guns and how many guns you have. Because when the push comes to shove, we would do the same thing that the Viet Cong is doing in Vietnam. We will lay and wait, and we will take your guns from you, and we will use your guns against you. Your plants and your factories are right here in our neighborhood. You put them there because you didn't want them in your own neighborhood, because they give out their smoke and those fo
wl[ul] smells. These resources are here and we will move against them and disrupt the economy of this country and force you to destroy all of your liberties and all the beautiful things that you love.
In order to suppress the 20 million black people in this country, you are going to have to destroy this country, and we say that if we can't have freedom here, then let us be destroyed because you don't deserve it. If we can't be free, you don't deserve to even talk of freedom, and your numbers and all that. You're moving in a fog, and there ain't nobody digging it but you.
QUESTION: I'd just like to make one more point. You ask these people to kill and die because the white people in the United States are trying to suppress the black people. I don't think that's true. They may be trying to suppress you, but they're not trying to suppress black people. That's another thing.
What percentage of the Negro population of these millions of people that you are talking about are sympathetic to your cause?
CLEAVER: I think they're all sympathetic.
QUESTION: It seems to me that before you can have people take other lives and be willing to give up theirs, you're going to have to at least come up with a logical, viable cause for them to die and kill.
CLEAVER: I think that we already have that cause.
QUESTION: How much of the so-called racial disorders is actually racial and how much of it, in your estimation, is economic?
The philosophy of white supremacy (the whole concept of all non-white people being inferior to and servants of white people) is something that developed after whites came out of Europe and began to travel around the world and to find all these people who didn't have the weapons that they had and who they were able to . . .
QUESTION: They have technological superiority . . .
CLEAVER: They had a type of unethical savagery. For instance, when the white man came to America and encountered the Indian, the red man tried to help him to survive. You know, they teach you that in school: The settlers were starving and the red men helped them. Well, it was just a difference in the type of background from which the people came: Backgrounds that enabled the whites to prey on their fellow man.
It's very important that people understand that there is a distinction between the economics of the situation and the racism of the situation. Historically, we could say that economics were primary and that the racist philosophy that was developed later on was done to
to justify the whole process of exploitation of the non-white people. As the Europeans began to colonize them in Asia and Africa, Latin America, and so forth, they developed this philosophy to justify what they were doing to these people, only after they started doing it. Now, everything about this country has been permeated by this philosophy in order to justify it. When people encounter this, they encounter a mixture of economic exploitation and racism. Economics and racism go hand-in-hand. People who confront this situation daily, and who haven't had time to elaborate studies of the situation, don't have time to distinguish between the economics and the racism.
QUESTION: Mr. Cleaver, if you're so
unahppy[unhappy] with America, or if this nation is so unsatisfactory, why don't you go back to Africa?
CLEAVER: I think that after we send you back to Europe, we might go back to Africa.
QUESTION: The crime rate amongst the Negro is the highest as far as the United States is concerned, and I say that the black people are committing genocide against the white people.
CLEAVER: You can say that, if you want to. But I say that the crime rate, or what you call the crime rate, is not nearly high enough. Black people are put into a position where they either have to go out and beg you white people for things to survive, or they have to go out and take it. So I say they're not able to get it in any other way, that they should push the crime rate to high heavens and just take it all -- everything you've got. You don't deserve it, because you have an anti-human attitude toward other people.
QUESTION: I say, sir, that if anyone wants to work they can work.
CLEAVER: Do you know there are millions and millions of people in this country who want to work and who can't find jobs?
QUESTION: There are plenty of jobs available.
CLEAVER: Well, why don't you go out to one of the unemployment offices and tell those people who are standing in those lines that there are plenty of jobs available? Why don't you do that?
QUESTION: Well, the jobs are available, but they cannot guarantee help. And I think your violence polarizes the situation. You're not bringing the white people and black people together.
CLEAVER: We want to bring people together who have their heads together. It wouldn't be any good to bring people together who have their heads so untogether, you know.
QUESTION: Mr. Cleaver, does the Black Panther Party accept or welcome the help of white people?
CLEAVER: Yes, we work with white people all the time. We have good relations with a lot of white people. We have a coalition with the Peace and Freedom Party which, as I said earlier, is composed of white people. We work with different groups on the campuses, and with white people who have had a chance to see us in action and who know what we'
v[r]e involved in and what our aims are.
This is distinguished from the racists in the power structure who want to keep people divided. They don't want to see white people and black people work together on anything that seriously contests the STATUS QUO. They're the ones who spread racism through their control of the mass media; they try to spread the idea that the Black Panther Party is some type of irresponsible gang of hoodlums, whose only ambition is to go out and kill and murder and invade the suburbs and all that magic. But the white people here in this area work with us, and we do a very good job, and there's no problem in that area.
Our problem comes from the racists who fear the development on a national scale of a working coalition between black people and white people who want to move to change this country. This is what they fear and this is why they move to suppress all tendencies and all manifestations of political expression that are moving in that direction. Any white person with any sense who wants to do something to bring about a better world, has never had a hard time talking to black people or relating to black people because black people have been so down on hatred, they have been so much the victims of racism and racial hatred that it's almost impossible for a black person to really become a[s?] racist as white people are. This is not one of our problems.
QUESTION: Is it possible then that the white and black can live together?
CLEAVER: If you're speaking in ultimate terms as to whether it will be ultimately possible for white people and black people to live together, I think it will be up to white people. Black people are willing to live side-by-side with other people. But the question is this, how are we to move and survive against a hostile population that on the one hand sends in a few of its numbers to talk non-violence to us, to talk brotherhood to us, and to talk about living together, while on the other hand the very working and functioning of this system is daily grinding black people down and keeping them down? While other people's standard of living is going up, ours is falling or standing still. It's very difficult for us to be concerned about brotherhood when we see the operation of this country destroying us.
QUESTION: What do you mean when you talk about black? Is this a descendent from Africa, or is it a Negro, or is it everyone that is non-white?
CLEAVER: You know the saying: if you have one drop of black blood in you, you're not white. You know how white people run around saying that. Well, they were classifying the various people as not belonging to their superior group. But we have people in our group who run from those who can pass for white, you know, like Adam Clayton Powell, who could very well be a white man, or from Senator Brooks on down to brothers and sisters who are pure black and who have never had their blood lines corrupted. We all are descendents of the people who were brought here from the motherland and fatherland of Africa.
QUESTION: Would you include some like a Mexican-American or an Indian as black? You say black is a descendent from Africa.
CLEAVER: Yes, we do include that as a descendent of Africa because Africa is the home of the black man. The Mexican people refer to themselves as brown people, and I've heard Indian people refer to themselves as the red man.
QUESTION: You use the simile, then, about your brothers in China. Yet, they're not black.
CLEAVER: I didn't say my black brothers in China; I said my brothers in China. They're my yellow brothers if you want me to be specific.
QUESTION: If the Black Panther Party was to decide to forego the idea of defensive measures, do you think there would be more acceptance of the party?
CLEAVER: Yes, I think that a lot of people would see that as a good sign, but I think there actually would be a very great disservice to mankind, for if we abandoned our position of calling for a cessation of the brutality and terror of black people, then we would, in effect, be endorsing evil. And we say that it is the duty of people to stand up and to impeccably oppose all manifestations of inhuman behavior.
[A picture of white police officers with batons]
Transcriber's comment (February 5, 2005): Today, the majority of Black people do not support a revolutionary party like the BPP even though it could be in their interests. However, what Cleaver says below about the oppressed minority of Amerikans being part of the world majority, who are oppressed by imperialism, is correct. Imperialism is doomed despite its "numbers . . . materials and superiorities" in the imperialist country. The below article show's the BPP's internationalism and anti-Menshevism.
Cleaver mentions Ghandi. It has to be pointed out Mao's approach would have been better than Ghandi's even in India precisely because the enemy was a minority of the population. It's not that MIM is pacifist, or pseudo-pacifist like Ghandi, but "in the current strategic stage of struggle MIM advocates only protracted legal struggle in the imperialist countries and internal semi-colonies. The exception to this is of First Nations bordering imperialist countries which can form their own police and army."