Chicago… and Santa Barbara and the Black Panthers and Beyond (04/02/70)


In a free society, you have to take some risks. If you lock up everybody, or even if you lock up everybody you think might commit a crime, you’ll be pretty safe. But you won’t be free.
—Senator Sam Ervin, Dem. North Carolina


On the afternoon of February 16th, the day after Judge Julius Hoffman sent the Chicago Seven off to jail for contempt, perhaps a thousand young people gathered in a park across from the Berkeley Police Department. An effigy of Hoffman was raised up on the flagpole; its flames spattered in the light rain. During the few speeches, inaudible to most of the crowd, people turned and looked back to see what the cops were doing; the Police Department had been bombed two days before. After a short time the small mass moved out of the park, some to the main business district, some to Telegraph Avenue, some to a Safeway market complex half a mile away.

First bank windows were broken, then those of big firms, and finally whatever was close at hand. Small stores, sandwich shops, bookstores. The police were taken by surprise. There weren’t nearly enough of them to control the situation and they were easily intimidated by the crowd. As the windows fell at Safeway, black employees rushed out of the building and began to fight with the demonstrators. That night a police station in San Francisco was hit with a fragmentation bomb; one cop died. People began to wonder if the rumors about the Weathermen sneaking into town were true.

The next day several thousand people in Seattle, again acting against the sentences in Chicago, marched on the local Federal Building and tear-gassed it.

Other demonstrations, some violent, followed in Michigan, Boston, Los Angeles, and North Carolina. Then a week after the action in Berkeley, Santa Barbara blew up.

The street fighting in Santa Barbara was perhaps more vicious and more effective than anywhere else and at any other time in the recent fighting history of American student demonstrations. A bank was burned to the ground, realty offices were attacked, and students successfully charged lines of police and for a short time drove them out of their community. When it was over, yet another college campus had learned what it was like to live under the occupation of the National Guard.

These riots and demonstrations were not simply more of the same. Unlike any of those of the past—the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the uprisings at Columbia, or People’s Park—those involved had no steering committee, no alternative plan, no demands on any specific institution. And yet these demonstrators were not strategic either—there was no ground to be held, no power to be seized.

It seems that it would be virtually as hard for radical politicos to organize those who took part in the fighting at Santa Barbara as it would have been for them to organize the thousands that came to Woodstock or Altamont. As the Nixon administration moves to the right, with a surer sense of its power to control and exploit the fears of most of the nation, those who reject the Government’s course of action out of hand and see that course as the context within which other sorts of personal harassments take place have bypassed traditional movement to fight, briefly, on their own terms.

To understand what those terms are, it is necessary to understand the degree to which a hatred for America itself is growing among young people. Self-styled revolutionaries, lacking a coherent idea of what sort of revolution they would make, might tell you that it’s only when you come to understand this country as evil—all of it, its history, its present, its future—only when you come to hate it can you call yourself a revolutionary. It’s within this sort of context, I think, that the Weathermen now operate, and within such a context that that group has attempted to capture the public fascination with Charles Manson and make him into some sort of revolutionary hero, adopting a four-finger salute (representing the fork driven into Sharon Tate’s stomach).

The Weathermen will never have their own revolutionary executions; there will be no Weathermen guillotines—but Bernadine Dohrn will take the place of Madame LaFarge nonetheless, as long as there is someone to do the right sort of killing. The Weathermen have developed a theory in which America—as a country and as an idea—plays the role of master exploiter of the world, the bourgeoise of Earth itself. The conclusions drawn from this is that America must be destroyed so the world can live. Everyone is the enemy—the working class, blacks outside the Panthers, middle class, upper class, anyone who gets in the way. Thus bookstores go under as well as banks; whites, properly revolutionary, can feel admirable fighting black workers for their chance to knock off a chain store.

Rather than being good—or even bad—theory, this attitude is, I think, mainly a justification for a kind of death wish which has begun to permeate the actions and the proclamations of the Weathermen and which finds expression in the actions of groups that have, on the surface, nothing to do with them.

The Weathermen, one hears, are ready to die, like the Panthers. The difference, easy to ignore and even easier to discover, is that the Black Panther Party was organized and has functioned as a political group designed to protest and defend and improve concrete communities—black ghettos. When have Black Panthers rampaged through the streets, breaking windows, assaulting cops? The Panthers, like the guerrillas they are, have always had a firm sense of the political limits on their political action. Their rhetoric gave them their style, but it never translated itself into action—except when Party members were directly attacked by the police. The Black Panthers in action were an eminently political group, and a rational one.

Bobby Hutton: dead. Huey Newton: in prison. Eldridge Cleaver: in exile. Fred Hampton: dead. Mark Clark: dead. Bobby Seale: facing trial for murder, in prison. The Panthers’ sense of limits presupposed a sense of limits on the other side that simply was not there. Huey Newton was holding a law book when he faced two Oakland cops in the middle of the night. But it didn’t work. The Black Panther Party was no match for the combined force of the FBI, the Justice Department, and the local police. Not the “law”—the police.

The Weathermen are not white Black Panthers, but it is out of the murder and destruction of the Black Panther Party that the new line of the Weathermen has grown. They have realized, as the Panthers realized, that the old images of revolution have very little meaning in this country. There is no capital city that once conquered yields victory; there is no working class ready to rise, only a black mass tired of striking out at its own community. Sickened at the fate of the Panthers, at the endless war, at the show trial in Chicago, at the repressive intentions of the Nixon administration and the ease with which the administration has rallied the country and intimidated the media, the Weathermen may be ready to die only because they have no patience with history, no confidence in their own efficacy, and most importantly, I think, no affection for anything American. The Weathermen are perhaps the first revolutionaries to hate their own country and to cut themselves off from its traditions. If there is a death wish among the Weathermen it is one that has nothing to do with bad childhood. It is political. Better to die in the streets than simply fade away—thus provocations, suicidal actions, and a pretense to civil war.

These impulses are important not because they motivate the Weathermen but because they are striking deep into radical and student communities across the country. This is not taking place because of any sort of success of Weatherman propaganda, but because the theoretical conclusions to which the Weathermen have come, with some coherence, at least to the point where I can attempt to write them down, are becoming instinctual conclusions that others are reaching with no more aid than an occasional daily newspaper. There is a sense of rage moving through our communities.

This rage focuses on immediate, vaguely symbolic objects—windows, banks, Safeways—because it cannot focus on politics. Politics, in the movement, worked best with one “big” issue: race; the war. One or the other. Now racists have taken control of the Justice Department, and racism has become the sole qualification for nomination to the Supreme Court. The war goes on, moving into Laos. The Bill of Rights fumbles its way up the ladder of appeals courts with the outcome very much in doubt, while the administration moves in with wiretapping, preventative detention, and an emasculation of the Fifth Amendment.

None of these things, it seems, is an isolated phenomenon, and none are unrelated—they all stem from a certain vision of the proper concerns of the nation. The kids in the streets of Santa Barbara, like the rest of us, live within this context; students don’t blow up their town and risk injury on the street simply because of high rents and lousy apartments. Out of an inability to deal with such an enormity of political horror, the streets of what used to be known as a “party school” went up in flames.

Indiscriminate rage and political hatred have something to do with the realization by young people that those treasured American freedoms embodied in the Bill of Rights—free speech, free assembly, a right to privacy, due process of law—don’t mean shit to most of the public and perhaps mean even less to the Government in Washington, at least that part of it which holds the power within the Nixon administration. Americans, as such, have never much more than tolerated these freedoms—a truly American sense of freedom has less to do with the Bill of Rights than it does with an urge toward individualism as expressed through business—and when the use of those freedoms has consequences few citizens are very eager to keep them.

Yet it is, of course, speech with consequence that is most political and most valuable—speech that leads people to think, reconsider, and act. To act is not necessarily to riot; to speak within a violent context, and that context is becoming simply daily life, is not necessarily to incite to riot. It is out of this distrust for political action, political speech, and political men, that the Silent Majority comes onto the stage.

The Silent Majority slogan (and reality) brilliantly sums up the American distaste for and distrust of politics. Politics are corrupt, etc., etc. That is not what the Silent Majority is all about. Politics are evil. It is evil to expose oneself to the public, to attempt to arouse or to educate them. The Government is political—it has a monopoly on politics. The people may vote, or not vote. Political action—assembly and demonstration—is wrong. It is virtuous to ignore politics and events—the Government can take care of things quite well without help. That is the message of Spiro Agnew’s bombast—the good Americans keep quiet, mind their own business, and don’t bother with things they can’t understand. Other sorts of political behavior are anti-social. Thus Nixon’s expert on urban problems has great hopes for a black silent majority. Problems disappear as long as no one looks at them.

This is an old and familiar American idea of the virtuous citizen—not by any means the original American idea, but a familiar one. It is gaining credence and publicity now simply because it is being challenged by those in the streets and by those on trial. When Thomas Foran summed up the case for the prosecution in Chicago, he had it that the defendants were evil men; evil, because they hadn’t the virtue to stay home. Later, for Foran, they became fags, homosexuals, or, in the case of Tom Hayden, killers. Sure.

The Silent Majority is important because it is, for the Government, the country—the constituency of the Nixon administration. The weight of its silence will define how far the Nixon administration can go in its attempts to reformulate the political assumptions and the legal and social structure of the nation.

When Nixon came to power and appointed his campaign manager, John Mitchell, as Attorney General, a study was made in the Justice Department “to determine whether the Bill of Rights and especially the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that ‘no person… shall be compelled in a criminal case to be a witness against himself,’ should be amended.” That study was apparently shelved when Warren Burger was confirmed as Chief Justice; Burger had earlier questioned whether or not we really had to put up with jury trials, presumption of innocence, and protection against self-incrimination. Late in 1969 the Administration introduced a bill which indeed did begin to break down the Fifth Amendment. It has passed the Senate. (Quote above from Justice: the Crisis of Law, Order and Freedom in America, Richard Harris, Dutton.)

The Bill of Rights is not simply a red herring. It is, really, the only protection unpopular politics have in this country, and the only “institution” within which the ideas of American freedom and justice continually grow and expand. To some degree, politically, the Bill of Rights is what is good in America; we are all under its umbrella, this paper and your right to read what we chose to print included. The Justice Department, in concert with Agnew’s speeches, has moved against freedom of the press as well by their subpoenas of reporters’ files on the Black Panthers and other radical groups.

As Gene Marine makes clear [elsewhere in RS, 04/02/70], a reporter cannot report a story if he cannot protect his sources. This strikes close to home; those rules apply to Altamont as well as to the Panthers. The FCC has made it clear that stations giving too much of the wrong sort of coverage to radical events, riots, or unpopular causes, or which aim too much criticism at the administration itself may lose their licenses. Already Scoop Nisker, the brilliant news director of KSAN-FM, in San Francisco, a rock and roll station, had his caustic broadcasts suspended because the station’s owner got nervous. Tricia Nixon, not noted for her insight into national politics, got it right this time: “The Vice President is incredible. He’s amazing, what he has done to the media—helping it to reform itself. You can’t underestimate the power of fear. They’re afraid if they don’t shape up…” (I didn’t fade that, she did.)

This sort of activity, along with the administration’s popularization of racism, is perhaps only a warm-up. The February 23rd, 1970 issue of New York magazine included excerpts from a new book on urban politics, called The UnHeavenly City, by Edward Banfield, a former Nixon adviser. Advance copies of the book are causing a lot of excitement, as they say, in Washington. It looks good out there. Banfield may have a way to solve city problems without resorting to the mammoth welfare state on which the Democrats have always relied. Very exciting. Banfield puts forth a series of twelve interrelated proposals which, if adapted, would bring most of the black urban population into a state of almost total subjection, and which at the same time would gut the Bill of Rights. It would necessitate an enormous enlargement of police forces around the country. Finally, it would fully bury whatever vague “American” goals the country has left in which it can take pride: freedom for all, just and equal laws, privacy, education for all, and even that old chestnut, equal.

Don’t get me wrong; we get to keep these; they don’t. The abandonment of those values for all reduces them, however, to the status of possessions. However wretched our reality, Banfield’s proposals might well make us a nation without values and without ideas—and without limits.

Banfield hedges his argument. He states that while his proposals are politically feasible (government ought to try them) virtually all of them are politically unacceptable (the government couldn’t get away with them). It seems to me that most of them are acceptable, to the Nixon administration, and to the country. For what Banfield has done is to construct a set of “poor laws” which define the poor as a class (urban black, it seems), and then confine and control that class to the point where it is destroyed, culturally, and imprisoned, concretely.

Banfield does not like normal “solutions” to urban problems. That is fine; but he goes on to demonstrate what he means by this by noting that the McCone Commission, formed to investigate the causes of the Watts Riot, were incorrect in stating that a midday meal was necessary to a meaningful educational experience. Since in many cases that is all school children get, and since a child who has passed out or who is dizzy from hunger has a hard time learning, one gets a firm sense of the direction in which Banfield is moving. But let me list his proposals, with comment:

1. Avoid rhetoric tending to raise expectations to unreasonable and unrealizable levels, to exaggerate the seriousness of problems and the possibility of finding solutions, and to overemphasize “wrong motivation” (e.g., “white racism”) as a cause of social problems.

That is: Whatever the reality, the poor are the “problem.” White racism (Banfield continually puts quotes around it as if he doubts its existence) is not a politically useful term; it may contribute to the idea that the poor are not the cause of all their own problems, or worse, make the poor themselves think someone else or something else may hold much of the responsibility.

2. Repeal the minimum wage laws; cease to overpay for low-skilled public employment; cease to harass private employers who offer low wages and poor (but not unsafe) working conditions to workers whose alternative is unemployment.

That is: Create, by law, and encourage, by law, a degraded and immobile section of the population under conditions which they are legally helpless to change.

3. Revise school curricula so as to cover in nine grades what is covered in twelve. Reduce the school-leaving age to 14 (ninth grade), and encourage (or perhaps require) boys and girls unable or unwilling to go to college to take a full-time job or else enter military service or a civilian youth corps. Assure serious, on-the-job training for those who chose work rather than college.

That is: Perform an educational impossibility, which is to say, drastically reduce educational goals in the ghetto (the age of 14 in the ghetto does not correspond to the ninth grade). Force huge numbers of young people into jobs they do not want or service they do not want to have, a form of involuntary servitude, meted out by class and race, as a goal. Use the word “choose” when talking about force.

4. Define poverty in terms of “hardship” rather than in terms of “relative deprivation.” Distinguish between those of the poor who are competent to manage their affairs and those of them who are not, the latter category including the insane, the severely retarded, the senile, the inveterate “problem families” among the lower class, and unprotected children. Cash incentives by negative income tax to the competent, as incentive to work. Goods and services rather than cash to the incompetent; depending on the degree of incompetence, encourage (or require) them to live in an institution or semi-institution (for example, a closely supervised public housing project).

That is: Redefine poverty so as to lower expectations of what poor blacks can expect in America. Banfield earlier notes that someone is poor in Hollywood at $1000 a week since so many make $10,000 a week, thereby satirizing the “relative deprivation” standard. “Relative deprivation” matters partly because of the affluence of the general society with which the poor are confronted, and with which they are confronted by their children and their own aspiration, and because of the fact that men measure their needs relatively, regardless of the concrete demands of their stomachs. Men can live in shacks filled with rats; that is not justification for insuring that they do so.

Force those of the black urban population who have been in trouble with the law (an enormous proportion), who are in heavy debt, or who perhaps have too many children, to live in urban concentration camps; restrict their movements; destroy them psychologically. This will require a huge increase in local police and perhaps in the National Guard, with the possibility of general race war in the cities.

5. Give intensive birth control advice to the incompetent poor.

That is: Perhaps refuse to allow people to have more children than they can afford; set approximate sanctions, such as prison (children can be sent to institutions), or fines (?). In any case, limit the size of the black population of the country so that demographically it becomes less of a problem.

6. Pay “problem families” to send infants and children to day nurseries designed to bring them into normal culture.

That is: Destroy all that is good and vital in ghetto culture, and destroy black self-awareness, by removing children from their parents at an early age.

7. Regulate insurance and police practices so as to give potential victims of crime greater incentive to take reasonable precautions to prevent it. Why not, for example, require careless owners to pay the police cost of recovering their stolen cars?

That is: Deny ghetto residents, victims of most crime, the normal police protection enjoyed by the rest of the nation.

8. Intensify police patrol in high-crime areas; permit the police to “stop and frisk” and to make misdemeanor arrests on probable cause; institute a system of “negative bail” whereby a suspect who is held in jail and later found innocent is paid compensation for each day of confinement.

That is: Institutionalize and legalize current ghetto police procedure, while denying those arrested their basis for a Constitutional appeal. “Negative bail” simply means “preventative detention” for misdemeanors as well as felonies; the conviction rate is near 90% already, and detention insures that the suspect will have great difficulty securing a lawyer or witnesses or raising money for defense. “Compensation” is a fraud since in many cases the suspect will lose his job.

9. Reduce drastically the time elapsing between arrest, trial, and the imposition of punishment.

That is: Fine as far as it goes, though for Banfield it may go to such a point that the suspect has no idea of his situation and is unable to secure a lawyer. Note Banfield’s use of “punishment” and not “sentence” to get his meaning.

10. Abridge to an appropriate degree the freedom of those who in the opinion of the court are extremely likely to commit violent crimes. Confine and treat drug addicts.

That is: Limit the mobility of convicted ghetto felons (a proportion close to 50 percent among ghetto young males) drastically, perhaps within their city, area, or “housing project.” Refuse to allow certain radicals to cross state lines, instituting a system of “permanent probation.” Confine convicted felons (from car thieves to murderers) to the ghetto.

11. Make it clear in advance that those who incite to riot will be severely punished.

That is: Intimidate defense attorneys and round up radicals and militants after any disturbance; convict and imprison them.

12. Prohibit “live” television coverage of riots and of incidents likely to provoke them.

That is: Unconstitutionally restrict the freedom of the media, in a way that could lead to the prohibition of any sort of coverage of riots or other disturbances. Remove ghetto residents and student radicals from the view of the nation, thus easing the “problem.” Incidents likely to provoke riots could range from speeches to peaceful demonstrations. Define and regulate “the news.”


Thus Banfield’s set of proposals, to whom and to which I have probably been somewhat unfair. Perhaps so, perhaps not. My response comes not solely from Banfield’s specific proposals but from their obvious implications, and from the view that such proposals are not “politically unacceptable,” to the Nixon administration and to much of his constituency, though much of them appear to be unconstitutional, not a great stumbling block these days.

These proposals, from a highly respected political science professor, from Harvard at that, offer a sense of what America is willing to do to have her peace and quiet, her law and order. Cut the heart out of that which is good in the American political tradition; prohibit the development of social or political alternatives; enforce cultural and social genocide on blacks in the ghetto; greatly increase the size of the police, or perhaps simply merge them with the Army. Institutionalize the situation in the ghetto as it stands, while removing whatever freedoms remain for poor blacks, taking them out of the public view with an eye toward a “disappearance” of social problems.

Near the end of the excerpt Banfield satirizes the idea of justice, degrading it into the admittedly paltry impulse to “do good,” arguing that this idea/impulse is something the nation would be better off without. They’re very excited about it in Washington. Rights, dignity, and aspirations, it seems, are for those rich enough to enjoy them, not for those who, even more than we, need them.

Whether or not this plan indeed becomes Nixon’s program for black America, and whether or not the Administration succeeds in its attempt to kill off the Bill of Rights and the political rights of students, teachers, and radicals, all of it is in the air, all of it is quite real. America is so big, so powerful, and so silent that to think seriously of taking it over boggles the mind. To strike out in an attempt to destroy even a small part of a police station, a bank, an ROTC building, a bookstore may not make political sense but it certainly reflects a certain kind of political reality.

What took place in Santa Barbara and on the streets of Berkeley will visit other cities and towns in the months ahead; no speakers from the Conspiracy will be needed to “incite” anyone. The fact remains that a hatred of one’s country will not bring change, much less revolution. A firm commitment to participation in self-defined politics must be accompanied by a realization that understanding America means not to hate it, but to learn how to live in it. A death wish satisfies frustration and confusion—students leading their leaders and leaders guiding their followers to a minor apocalypse that would be forgotten months after its “explosion.”

But like it or not, we are at that point where goals and ideals matter less than they ever did before. We are approaching a situation that in terms of the psychology of its politics is becoming much like war. “Those kids,” said an older woman as I passed her on the streets of the town where I grew up, “they ought to take them out and shoot them at sunrise.” For the first time I took that seriously. There are people walking the street who have never seen you, and they want you dead. Santa Barbara is part of the answer to that—but only part of it.


Rolling Stone, April 2, 1970rs1970


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