Days of Rage
Panthers, clad in black leather and berets, to the California State Capitol building in Sacramento. A news crew, on hand for a talk Governor Ronald Reagan was giving to a group of schoolchildren on a nearby lawn, began filming.
    Seale, wearing a .45 on his hip, was stopped by security guards at the top of the capitol steps. To his left stood a Panther holding a .347 Magnum; to his right was the party’s first recruit, a teenager named Bobby Hutton, massaging a 12-gauge shotgun. One of the guards asked another, “Who in the hell are all these niggers with guns?”
    “Where in the hell is the assembly?” Seale shouted. “Anybody here know where you go in and observe the assembly making these laws?”
    When someone yelled that it was upstairs, Seale’s group pushed past the guards, ascended a broad staircase, and marched into the packed assembly chamber. Pandemonium ensued. As guards began pushing the Panthers back toward the door, a guard snatched Hutton’s shotgun. “Am I under arrest?” Hutton yelled. “What the hell you got my gun for? If I’m not under arrest, you give me my gun back!”
    The Panthers went peacefully. Outside, as reporters crowded around, Seale read a statement, denouncing the proposed gun law and launching into a tirade against “racist police agencies throughout the country intensifying the terror, brutality, murder and repression of black people.” This was the Panthers at their most theatrical, and it caused a sensation. Overnight, footage of armed black men boldly roaming the capitol steps stunned the nation.
    All that summer, as Newton led the Panthers in demonstrations across the Bay Area, the party was inundated by calls from new recruits. Then came the moment that altered the course of Panther history. Early on the morning of October 28, 1967, Newton—who by his own estimate had already been stopped by police fifty or more times—was flagged down by an Oakland patrol car. A gunfight ensued. Newton walked away with at least one bullet hole in his abdomen. Two officers were badly wounded; one died. When Newton limped into an emergency room, he was arrested. He would not go free for three years.
    The prosecution of Huey Newton would be one of the decade’s centerpiece events, providing a rallying cry—“Free Huey!”—for a generation of Black Power advocates, drawing hundreds of recruits to the party and mobilizing thousands more to protests. But the impact on the Panthers was ultimately devastating. The absence of both Newton and Bobby Seale—who was serving a six-month sentence for his role in the confrontation on the capitol steps—created a leadership vacuum that was filled by Eldridge Cleaver. It was under Cleaver that the Panthers would drastically escalate their language of violence and insurrection to levels never before heard in America.
    The audacity of this rhetoric, even from a vantage point of forty-five years, is shocking. It was the Panther newspaper, the Black Panther , that coined the phrase “Off the Pig”; under Cleaver, the Panther openly called for the murder of policemen, supplying tips on ambush tactics and ways to build bombs. “The only good pig,” quipped Michael “Cetawayo” Tabor, a New York Panther, “is a dead pig.” The Panther chief of staff, David Hilliard, was arrested after telling a crowd in San Francisco, “We will kill Richard Nixon.” When Cleaver ran for president in 1968, he said of the White House, “We will burn the motherfucker down.” Another Panther was quoted as saying, “We need black FBI agents to assassinate J. Edgar Hoover . . . and nigger CIA agents should kidnap the Rockefellers and the Kennedys.” 3
    Panther rhetoric, in turn, inspired a host of black voices toward new extremes. A young poet, Nikki Giovanni, was among the mainstream black writers attracted to revolutionary themes. She wrote in a 1968 poem:
Nigger
Can you kill
Can you kill
Can a nigger kill
Can a nigger kill a honkie . . .
Can you splatter

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