Friday, July 21, 2017

Was the Ghetto Deliberately Narcotized to Destroy the Black Panthers?


independent |  Melvin Van Peebles says he believes ''people of goodwill can go with him". He also deliberately veered away from focusing on Seale or Newton: "I wanted people to look at the forest, not the tree.

"You have to remember this is based on my novel. But I didn't just make it all up." Yet isn't he on thin ice? If it's a novel, why should his critics not assume that he had indeed made up vast swathes of the story? He replies: "By calling it fiction I hoped I could sidestep questions like 'Oh, and where in the FBI files did you establish this? Where's your corroboration?' ''

Clearly he miscalculated media reaction on this point. But the film's most remarkable claim is that in response to the militancy in America's cities, FBI boss J Edgar Hoover ordered black ghettoes to be flooded with cheap drugs to pacify their inhabitants. That decision, says the film, led to a tenfold increase in addiction.

"The Panthers had a lot of community support," says Van Peebles Snr. "It was their power base. Hoover, knowing he couldn't destroy the Panthers, decided to destroy the community itself. He had the people medicated."

This sounds an outlandishly paranoid alle-gation. Do you really believe this, I asked Melvin Van Peebles? Is there no question at all in your mind? Do you feel no need for corroborating evidence?

"No," he says simply. "It's like the 18 missing minutes in the Nixon tapes. I'm not saying Hoover personally went round and sowed weeds in the garden. I'm saying all you had to do was give the gardener a couple of days off and the weeds would grow. You follow?''

Evidence for the charge is scant. Certainly the FBI was mobilized to harass the Panthers, black FBI informants infiltrated their ranks and Hoover urged his men to neutralize the Panthers. A Hoover memo dated 4 March, 1968, outlines one specific goal: "Prevent the rise of a 'Messiah' who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement."

"Right," says Mario Van Peebles, as if this proved all the film's claims. "And who do we have 25 years after Martin Luther King and Malcolm X? A bunch of rappers."

Yet this is poor proof that the FBI systematically narcotised entire communities. The Van Peebles' case appears to rest on a 1974 conversation, reported to them, between Newton and Elaine Brown, who by this time was leader of the Panthers. She complained to Newton that drugs were rampant.

"There were white guys driving into Oakland in Rolls-Royces, and not dealing with the old gangster drug dealers, but going straight to the kids," said Mario. "What Elaine didn't know at the time was that this was happening nationally. It's not a new concept. You're British, right? Your people did the same thing in the Boxer rebellion. Gave the people opium."