Yesterday my Honors 201 class had the opportunity to Skype with author and professor Alondra Nelson. We were discussing her book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination and students had the chance to ask Ms. Nelson questions concerning her book.
One student posed an interesting question in regards to the Black Panther Party, their public display of firearms and how this public display of weaponry has left a lasting impression of the BPP on society. Today, a stereotypical image of the Black Panther Party is one that evokes radical sensation and fear. We think of guns, leather jackets, and loud voices. But, as Nelson notes in her book, the Black Panther Party was not participating in unlawful activity. In fact, at that time in California (Black Panther Party members and co-founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton were both operating out of the Bay Area), it was legal for an individual to carry loaded firearms in public. The Party had taken a radical, but lawful, stance in policing the police who they felt were victimizing them.
At this time, Ms. Nelson made a similar argument about policing those who police us today with social media and hand-held devices. Camera phones.
Think back to last Fall and to the events surrounding Occupy Wall Street. If you remember or if you were there or in any one of the many cities where these protests were taking place, you might remember being constantly glued to your phone. Tweets informed you of police raids, or marches, or where to organize. Independent filmmakers were providing us with live-streaming 24-hour news from the front lines. Tim Pool filmed most of his live-streaming footage with a camera phone. With these small devices, protesters were able to weave around activity capturing every moment as the events unfurled. Weaponry had evolved to an iPhone.
Protestors used their cameras to capture the truth. Again, we saw activists and protestors policing the police. The police must have known this because many of the camera phones and digital cameras of arrested protestors had been found erased after they were released from holding.
“Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” was a chant echoed throughout the streets during the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was a call of shame directed at police. It was not a rhetorical question.