This is a day where death has dominated the headlines–Jack Kevorkian, the American economy, Marshall Matt Dillon. But I want to say a special word about the recently deceased Geronimo Pratt, the Black Panther who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he likely did not commit.
As the surviving Black Panthers begin dying off, it’s worth revisiting their analysis of the 1960s inner city as a colonized space analogous to colonized Africa. The Panthers are popularly remembered for unnecessary violence (at least this is how most of my students interpret them) even if Malcolm X is a nice symbol we can deploy when we want. But given the conditions of the inner cities–police brutality, no social services, no jobs, no health care, no public transportation, no grocery stores, white flight and strictly segregated suburbs, etc., I am certainly not going to say the Panthers were wrong in their analysis. Given J. Edgar Hoover’s desire to kill them all, I might say they were quite right. One might criticize their methods, but that’s real easy to do in 2011 and I’m not going to attack them for arming themselves against the police. I’d probably think about picking up a gun in the same circumstances.
Even if Pratt did commit the murder, the justice system was so openly racist that it’s impossible to know. Today, we’ve really advanced on this front, having hidden just enough of the open racism and incorporated just enough black people into the machines of capitalism and the state to partially hide the fact that our spatially and racially unequal economic system combines with the courts to push as many African-Americans and other people of color into prison as possible.