Bobby Seale: Community Control of Police was on the Berkeley Ballot in 1969

Protests without demands will not end police violence. Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale wrote this piece for the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. Visit their website: http://sfbayview.com/

August 13, 2015

by Bobby Seale

I was the founding chairman and national organizer of the Black Panther Party. I created an organization, my BPP, in October of 1966, and our first organizing tactic was to legally observe the police in our Oakland and Berkeley Black communities.

We had law books, tape recorders and very legal loaded arms as we recited the law to the police. When the police said to us, “You have no right to observe me!” we responded with:

“No, a California State Supreme Court ruling states that every citizen has a right to stand and observe police officers carrying out their duty as long as they stand a reasonable distance away. A reasonable distance in that particular ruling was constituted as 8 to 10 feet. We are standing approximately 20 feet from you. Therefore we will observe you whether you like it or NOT!”

Today one cannot carry law books, 10 point programs and legal arms like we did because the laws have changed. Today, as I have been pointing out, the cell phone video technology is the best documentary tool to record police brutality and murder of our Black and Brown and oppressed citizens.

During those hard core late 1960s racist, fascist times, we took a big chance with our lives patrolling the police. It was a time of rampant vicious police brutality and murder of Black people by police that was 10 times worse than today.

We had declared that the racist police occupy our community like foreign troops occupy territory. That remains a fact today, especially with the militarized police forces in our communities all across America.

During those hard core late 1960s racist, fascist times, we took a big chance with our lives patrolling the police. It was a time of rampant vicious police brutality and murder of Black people by police that was 10 times worse than today.

The concept of greater control by the people and community of their police department is a constitutional democratic necessity. It is the opposite of the racist, fascist corporate control by city politicians using the police department to control and exploit the people. Too many unarmed people of color are being murdered.

The community control response concept is not about violence, i.e., NOT about murdering police. This concept of the people’s control of police had in the past, nor in the present, nothing to do with assassinating police. It has more to do with solving all the problems we see presently in Baltimore, where the duly elected, very progressive, state’s attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn J. Mosby, took action for the people, and with how the Ferguson Police Department was addressed in Eric Holder’s report.

The revelations that came out of the Justice Department’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department may be shocking to some, but not to the African Americans who comprise 67 percent of the people who live in the community of Ferguson, Missouri. The previous investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown did not indict police officer Wilson, as it should have, but the DOJ report most definitely indicted the police department, the City Council and the court system in Ferguson for violating Black people’s constitutional democratic civil and human rights.

What has come to light from the Justice Department’s investigation is far beyond the usual complaints of racial profiling. The report, as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. described, was laden with examples of racial bias, descriptions of discriminatory practices and allegations of police abuse.

As Holder put it, it was “a highly toxic environment, defined by mistrust and resentment, stoked by years of bad feelings and spurred by illegal practices.” These practices were shaped by revenue rather than by public safety needs.

When a police department has collected more than $1.3 million off the backs of the poorest people in their community, with $3 million more projected for the current year, putting pressure on police to deliver on these revenue increases, and when 93 percent of the African Americans in the community were arrested from 2012 to 2014 and the disproportionate numbers of arrests, tickets and use of force stem from “unlawful bias” rather than Black people committing more crime, then maybe Holder’s comment that the Justice Department would do whatever is necessary to reform the Ferguson police force, even if that meant dismantling it, should be in order.

The previous investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown did not indict police officer Wilson, as it should have, but the DOJ report most definitely indicted the police department, the City Council and the court system in Ferguson for violating Black people’s constitutional democratic civil and human rights.

The Justice Department issued precise orders aimed at wholly changing the way police and residents often wind up interacting, which seemed to me a weak band-aid approach. Instead we need to mold and restructure police departments so they work to protect us rather than exploit us. We need a step by step process to go about doing this.

Back in 1964-1965, I worked with the Youth Jobs Program in Oakland. My mandate was one of touring and knowing city government and the police departments. I had my youth question the police about the brutality and racism of the time.

With the Black Panther Party, I did what I could to organize people to use the ballot to change the police department. The Black Panther Party was so legal that the powers that be had to make a law to stop us from patrolling the police.

And during that time I got to know certain policemen who gave me helpful information. I wanted to get the racists out of the police department and get progressive police leadership that would honestly serve the people of the community. I told the youth they had to understand what it meant to be responsible to your community, and I detailed to them all the methodology on how to do this.

The Black Panther Party put together a campaign for greater community control of police that would work in Ferguson and other cities. The Party actually put a “Community Control of Police” referendum on the ballot in Berkeley, California.

The Black Panther Party put together a campaign for greater community control of police that would work in Ferguson and other cities.

My people’s control of police concept was set up in four different cities in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area: San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond and Berkeley. The Black Panther Party, working with many different organizations and groups, crossing all racial and ethnic lines, was able to get enough signatures to place the referendum on the ballot in Berkeley only.

This was basically community control of the police.

The photographer’s caption reads “Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Bobby Hutton detained at the Oakland Police Dept. while officers check guns. Hutton was shot and killed by police shortly after this photo when he and Eldridge Cleaver were involved in a shoot-out with Oakland Police. (1967 photo by Ron Riesterer)” Actually, Lil Bobby Hutton, the first person to join the Black Panther Party shortly after its founding in October 1966, when he was only 15, was killed on April 6, 1968, two days after Martin Luther King was assassinated.
The photographer’s caption reads “Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Bobby Hutton detained at the Oakland Police Dept. while officers check guns. Hutton was shot and killed by police shortly after this photo when he and Eldridge Cleaver were involved in a shoot-out with Oakland Police. (1967 photo by Ron Riesterer)” Actually, Lil Bobby Hutton, the first person to join the Black Panther Party shortly after its founding in October 1966, when he was only 15, was killed on April 6, 1968, two days after Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Our referendum, or measure, first called for real community investigative powers. Rather than the standard appointment of a police chief, our referendum called for a tri-level body of police commissioners to be duly elected by the people of the community.

Most important, the referendum called for three community review boards with not less than five members duly elected to each of them. These review boards would have the investigative power to investigate questionable police shootings, reports of undue and unnecessary force, and community complaints.

If the board found in their investigation unnecessary force was used or complaints were credible, then the people’s voice would be heard. With that method, we the people would rise above their internal police affairs, i.e., police “investigating” police. Instead, we’d have elected members as a people’s investigative body to recommend action to be taken against the police misconduct.

Right after the referendum was written, I was put in jail, but the community organizers got all the necessary signatures and put this referendum on the ballot in Berkeley, California. The referendum lost by only one percentage point.

Black Lives Matter, which has become a very large movement since the killing of Michael Brown, was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murder. “Black Lives Matter” is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates the American landscape.

We have momentum with this movement and programs need to be put together. Revolution is not about any need for violence. It is a need to organize and then re-evolve greater community empowerment into the hands of the people: a greater, more profound political, economic, ecological and social justice empowerment.

Bobby Seale’s REACH initiatives

Bobby Seale speaks, inspires, illuminates and details all the practical how-tos for greater constitutional democratic community control and grassroots electoral empowerment – organizing connected to two immediate social and economic objectives:
•Ending rampant police brutality and murder and
•Developing environmental, ecological youth jobs projects.

Mr. Seale’s REACH programs are in opposition to right wing Tea Party people attempting to stop him from speaking at universities with his inspirational lectures, enlightening Q & A workshops, and power point presentations on the very relevant ‘60s to present day protest movements.

This co-founder of the Black Panther Party explains how youth must organize electorally and progressively in hundreds of communities like Ferguson, taking over city council seats and county supervisor seats to make progressive new laws that curtail and stop militarized police and the murder of unarmed Black youth across the country, from Oakland to Ferguson and Baltimore.

He also proposes new laws ending exploitation and brutality and simultaneously developing multi-thousands of eco-jobs for youth. He tells how and why we must do it in today’s overdeveloped, high tech, fast paced, computerized, scientific social order.

Mr. Bobby Seale advocates how we have to R.E.A.C.H., Reclaiming, Recycling and Re-evolving * Ecological Economic Enviro-Empowerment * Around All-Peoples Artistic and Active * Creative Cooperational * Humanism.

Contact Bobby Seale by email at BobbySealecom@yahoo.com, ReachBs@msn.com or BobbySeale01@yahoo.com or on his website, http://www.BobbySeale.com, at http://bobbyseale.com/html/orderform1.htm.

Berkeley Copwatch blasts change in police policy restricting right to observe

by Berkeley Copwatch

A new Berkeley Police Department General Order (W-01) issued on July 21, 2015, marks a serious abridgement of the right to observe in Berkeley even though it looks much like a training bulletin that has been around for years. The previous training bulletin on “The Right to Watch­­ (Training Bulletin 91 issued in 1983 and reissued by Chief Meehan) required officers to put the “least possible restriction on citizen observation of police officer conduct.”

In the new general order, the language is changed to say that officers should “minimize restrictions on public observation,” but it doesn’t say to what degree they should do this. This change has big implications for Copwatchers in the streets trying to record citizen-police interactions.

“The old training bulletin meant that police were expected to make every effort to accommodate citizen observation of police. The new general order makes it sound like our ability to observe is going to be up to each officer depending on the situation.

“We want to know what in this policy will protect us from officers who claim that there is a threat to safety when really they just want to prevent us from observing,” said Andrea Prichett of Berkeley Copwatch.

The policy also includes some problematic language, such as “citizens have the right to observe, photograph and video record the officers from a safe distance.” Copwatch does not believe that it is the officers who should get to decide what is a “safe distance.”

There is no legal definition of “safe distance” and, as we have seen numerous times, some police believe that a “safe distance” is farther from the scene – sometimes several blocks away.

There is already a law, Penal Code 148, against interfering with police officers. BPD officers have routinely threatened observers and copwatchers for merely witnessing scenes and have often demanded that observers remove themselves even when no credible threat to safety existed.

Worst of all, is the third section of the General Order that says that citizens can observe police but that “the confidentiality of the matter being discussed with a suspect, victim, witness or reporting party is not compromised except with concurrence of the citizen and the officer involved.” This policy suggests that citizens cannot witness a conversation between a cop and a detainee if the cop doesn’t give consent.

This is not acceptable and it is not constitutional. BPD needs to get familiar with current legal interpretations.

Two court cases have been decided by federal courts that affirm the First Amendment protection of our right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The first one was Simon Glik vs. City of Boston. The other case was ACLU vs. Alvarez coming out of Chicago and challenged the anti-video interpretation of wiretapping statutes.

In both cases, the court found that we have RIGHTS that are not subject to the consent of any police officer, and we can videotape so long as we don’t interfere.

We are calling on the Berkeley City Council and the Police Review Commission to do all in their power to protect the right of all our citizens to watch police and to punish officers who threaten, harass or intimidate people from copwatching and documenting officer conduct in our city. Copwatch organizers are calling on members of the public to read and help to rewrite the new General Order and demand that the Police Review Commission hold a public hearing on this issue. Contact the Police Review Commission at prc@cityofberkeley.info.

We are calling on the Berkeley City Council and the Police Review Commission to do all in their power to protect the right of all our citizens to watch police and to punish officers who threaten, harass or intimidate people from copwatching and documenting officer conduct in our city.

To contact Berkeley Copwatch, email Andrea Prichett at prichett@locrian.com.

Note: California Sen. Ricardo Lara’s Senate Bill 411, clarifying that it is lawful for people to shoot video of police, was just signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

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