They're in Fort Worth, they're armed, and they make white people nervous.
By Alan Rankin
AUGUST 3, 1998: As national news coverage focused on the tiny town of Jasper, Texas, in June, following the torture-slaying of a black man by three whites, it also focused on the New Black Panthers. Although the original group was broken up in the 1970s, the Jasper killing inspired two peaceful marches there by a new generation of black militant activists, including members of Fort Worth's chapter, the New Afrikan Nationalist Movement.
"Brother Eric" is minister of information and a co-founder of the local movement started here in 1995. His name is Lief Crear, a 27-year-old graduate of Poly High School who works for MHMR teaching skills to the mentally and physically disabled. The separated father of two young children lives with his Anglo mother, Linda, a Head Start teacher, and African-American father, David, an air-conditioning company employee, on Fort Worth's East Side. Both of his parents, who married 28 years ago when they were students at TCJC (causing Linda Crear to be disowned by her family, she says), are long-time non-violent political activists. Brother Eric credits his political awakening to his mother. "When other kids were going to the park," the slender man with a close-shaven head and intense dark eyes said, "I was attending nuclear protests." He won't say how many members the Fort Worth chapter has.
FWW: What caused a resurgence of interest in the Black Panthers after all this time?
Brother Eric: In the late '60s, you had people feeling we had achieved something, and convinced we should be satisfied. With the Reagan years, a lot of people began to realize their oppression. ... Police brutality, the miseducation of our youth, lack of employment opportunities, gangs. The explosion of hip-hop and rap conveyed ideas from one coast to another. We were starting to see that our pain and suffering were the same nationwide.
Some people would be alarmed just from the name, "New Black Panthers."
The people who are alarmed are those who are alarmed at black people getting together anywhere to do anything. ... One of the things that is always pumped-up about the Panthers is that they carry guns. Well, in our community, the gun carries a lot of respect. ... Being afraid of a gun is not even an option in our community.
Can whites join your organization?
We are seeking power for the black people. The only way we can get away from the white power structure is by creating our own power structure. White people have had power ... for hundreds of years, and allowing them into the Movement would only perpetuate that. We need to achieve power for ourselves before we can concern ourselves with members of other races.
What's the movement's position on Fort Worth's gang problem?
The gang problem in Fort Worth is like the gang problem anywhere. Sisters and brothers who have had their family unit destroyed through the economic system in this country have had to reach out to others in their peer group to create their own families. When you have pubescent and adolescent youth teaching other adolescents what it is to be grown, then of course you have ideas that are not fully developed.
You also have to remember that the Crips and Bloods are controlled by the police and ultimately do what the police tell them to, whether it be "sell drugs on this corner but not that one," or "we're in for this amount of what you take and we won't touch you."
The police tolerate the gangs to justify their own existence?
Well, if you have an entire unit called the "gang unit" that exists simply to control gang activity, and this unit is equipped with guns and surveillance equipment and know every move that the Bloods and Crips make, if they wanted to take the gangs out once and for all, they would be able to do that easily. But if they took out the Bloods and Crips and there were no more gangs, there would be no more need for gang units.
Why go to Jasper just to confront a bunch of white-robed idiots?
We weren't going down there for any white-robed idiots; we went initially to provide support and network with our family. Black people have a right to do that. We went because the black community was there, to let them know they are well within their rights to do whatever they have to do to keep from being harassed. We went back because basically we felt the Klan was coming in behind us to tell the black folks, "OK, we let the niggers come through, now we're going to tell you what the real deal is. You don't got no rights when it comes to white people."
That's an example of how the media miseducates people. There were white reporters down there asking the sheriff, "How can you let them walk around with rifles out in the open like this?" We were merely exercising our rights under the law. So they had to downplay it and make that sheriff look good. They said we turned our weapons over to him so he could take the bullets out. That was just an out-and-out blatant lie.
About the unloaded rifles....
Yeah, it was a lie. When we were arrested in Forest Hill, they did the same thing.
Tell me about that.
Last August, me and another brother were on our way to the rifle range to shoot our weapons. ... A Forest Hill police officer saw the barrel of one rifle where it was leaning up against the car window and pulled us over. Before long there were four or five squad cars, and cops ordering us out of the car with pistols drawn.
But carrying a rifle in the open is legal. White boys ride around in pickup trucks with shotguns in the back window, and no one gets upset. The cops took our penal code book that we always carry with us and tried to find something to arrest us on. They finally arrested the driver for "failure to give a turn signal." They arrested me for disorderly conduct, saying I was carrying the gun in a way "calculated to cause alarm." We were held for a day and posted bail.
A week later, we had a protest outside the Forest Hill police department with our rifles. The chief came out and said, "Well, you aren't doing anything wrong, just don't break the law and I can't do anything about it." ... The Star-Telegram reported that we were out there with weapons that were unloaded.
Eventually the charges were dropped and our weapons were returned to us. We got a copy of the police report, and it contained no information, nothing about why we were stopped or what charges were filed against us. They know they can get away with this because it costs so much to file any kind of civil case against the city, and it's so hard to win once you do.
Aren't you concerned that the higher profile you've gotten from the Jasper action will lead to a backlash, as happened to the original Black Panthers?
Really, I don't see how the community can get more oppressed than it already is. With people dying the way they're dying, going to jail as wholesale as they're going to jail - the jails are so successful that they're becoming privatized. I don't see how it could get any more oppressed than people getting rich off your mistakes! No one's going to try to rehabilitate you as long as they can get rich off you.
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