Black Panther Documentary Introduces Revolution to a New Generation
TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway and Urban Researcher at Morgan State University Ray Winbush speak with students and faculty at Catonsville Community College about the Black Panthers, Reparations, and the Baltimore Uprising.
EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN: Hi, I’m Eddie Conway. Welcome to the Real News. I’m here in Catonsville Community College with a number of students. We’re going to watch the Black Panther Party film by Stanley Nelson, and we’re going to have a group discussion afterwards.
SPEAKER: This is an opportunity to pick the brains of two gentlemen that has been a part of not just the struggle, but things that’s been going on here in Baltimore. And this is an opportunity to really engage them in higher thought, and the whole world of intellectualism.
CONWAY: If somebody has something that they want to talk about in reference to the film, or what’s currently going on in the black community, Black Lives Matter, or what’s happening in particular in Baltimore, in the area where Freddie Gray lived.
SPEAKER: My question is that, what was it like growing up and being a Black Panther? Like, was it very, very struggle, what–. I don’t know.
CONWAY: Well, I didn’t grow up [and] become a Black Panther. I was in Europe, I was in the army. I spent my youth in the city, and then I went to Europe and I came back from Europe, and got engaged in what was happening in the black community, and looked at all the different organizations and decided that the Black Panther Party was the organization that was trying to address some of our problems. The conditions then were really bad. The conditions now are worse.
SPEAKER: How’d you become a Black Panther? If that’s–.
CONWAY: It was a conscious decision. I was on my way to Vietnam, and I decided that I needed to be on my way back to America. And so I made a decision to join in the struggle, to try to change the conditions in the neighborhood.
SPEAKER: How did you guys feel when the riots happened here? Did you feel like, oh my God, this is happening again? Did you feel like, okay, you can’t keep picking at people, because eventually they’re going to react? And also, after the riots happened, how did you feel the media portrayed it?
CONWAY: Two things. One, I spent 44 years in the prison system. And when I went in the prison system in 1970, the reason the Black Panther Party organized was because conditions were really bad. When I got out of prison in 2014, I was shocked. Conditions are ten times worse than the were when I went in the prison system. But the story behind the uprising is that it was manipulated by the city government. They created that to change the narrative. The narrative up to that point was, why was Freddie beaten and ended up dead? After that it was young thugs and hoodlums. They changed that narrative, and that’s the narrative that they wanted people around the world to see, when the reality is a Freddie Gray is beaten across America every–and Shirley Gray–every 28 hours, to death. Beaten or killed or [hung] or something.
SPEAKER: Hi. I am a psychology professor here. And I need help. I had a student submit a paper yesterday that I graded. A student who lives in the Sandtown neighborhood. And in this paper wrote about how she did not see any issues with the sorts of things that are going on, because she felt that people are just not working hard enough to get out of the situation. And I had a very visceral response. I had to actually step back and not grade that paper right away. And I know that I’ve also had emotional responses in having discussions in class. So I’m wondering as an educator, how do I deal with that emotion? Because the emotion is meaningful and it’s important and we need to acknowledge it. But also as a white woman, not honoring somebody’s experience, if I don’t feel like that experience is what it should be?
CONWAY: I mean, you have to go beyond your classroom and your students. And what surprised me is out in the Midwest, the so-called red states, you have a enormous amount of poor white people voting against their own self-interest. Voting against food stamps. And they use more food stamps than anybody else. It’s the educational system in America. We’ve been bamboozled, as Malcolm X said. And if you, and I don’t want to point out Fox 45, but if you listen to Fox 45, you are dumber than people that don’t listen to the news at all.
SPEAKER: About reparations, because you were saying about going back to the community, rebuilding it, it seems to me that some of the funds that are going to be necessary for doing that are going to have to come from something called reparations. And can you–so can you just say what you’ve learned about it? Because I think we need to know more about it. And I do think that this generation, that may be their cross to bear. You know, it may be that this is just a discussion right now. But it’s not a reality, and it needs to become a reality. How can it become a reality?
CONWAY: Reparations is certainly required, you know, that’s certainly the idealistic thing. The fact of the matter is that you cannot pay for robbing, raping, looting, murdering billions of people over the world. America would cease to exist if it even tried to pay that debt. The only thing that we can actually hope for is a new economic arrangement which will make people’s lives better, change the quality of their lives.
SPEAKER: All groups in this society have received some form of reparation, including Native Americans. And I could go through all of that. Jews received reparations after World War II, relative to the Holocaust. I could go globally on that. Reparations will never pay for what occurred to Africans in this country, or around the world, because enslavement was an enterprise that lasted for 400 years globally in this world. It’s the largest–you know, people try to say there’s always been slavery–there’s never been European [travel] slavery. There’s nothing that can compare to it.
SPEAKER: My question is directed to the gentleman who spent the four decades in prison. How do you come out of prison and feel that you see all these different events has happened since you left? When you left it was one way. You come out and it’s still, what you said, it’s worse. How did you contain yourself and understand, like, you know, I’m gonna get out here one day, and I can still try to make a change. Because 40 years, I mean, you think of it, day one, that seems like a lifetime. I mean, you’re 20 years in, you have 20 more years to go, like, how did you–I guess I have a two part question. How did you contain yourself, is the first. And the second is, how did you stay–I guess I can say sane, and understand at the end of the day when you get out, you can still make a change?
CONWAY: I’ve never stopped doing the work that I was doing when I was outside when I went inside, from day one to the day I got out, there was no break. There was a continuation of what I was doing, trying to make life better for people, trying to change conditions that I thought was bad. And I’m still committed to doing that.
SPEAKER: I learned that at a young age, like when you’re, specifically you’re black boys, when they’re in–my God, elementary school, they will get poached. The parents will get poached, and they’ll tell specifically our black boys, oh, well, you know, your son, he’s very disruptive, and he’s active, so such-and-such, such-and-such. I would suggest adderall or ritalin. And I had a couple of my male friends that have children, and when the moms put them on ritalin, they actually, the little bright spirit that you saw in them, the medicine actually numbs that. So you have children that are being [poached] for prison, which I call a prison plantation, that’s all it is. And you drug them up–I’m sorry.
You drug our babies. Then when they get to middle school they can’t perform. And when they get to high school they can’t perform. So they’re ready for prison. So you do have to look at the beginning. Because I asked most of my male friends, how many of you guys got poached for special education? And all of them, like, ten out of ten said yes. They signed me up for special education. Even a friend told me that they had him in the back of the classroom. So it’s a racket. You know, just like welfare replaced a father in the home, a check replaced a dad. So you have to look at the beginning.
SPEAKER: We start in the middle of the book. We don’t want to see any connections between what happened 150 years ago. In fact, we’re the only people who are told to forget about the past. And specifically, to forget about enslavement, because that is, like Ta-Nehisi Coates said, that is the stain of America that we have never washed clean, and we don’t want to wash it clean. We just want to move on.
CONWAY: And I can’t take you back to the beginning, but when I was in the third grade, when Malcolm X was in the third grade, we didn’t have drugs. We weren’t put on drugs. We were put on misinformation. There was no information about us. The classrooms were bad. The books were hand-me-down books from 20, 30 years before. The conditions were so dismal we could not learn. The learning environment for the third grade then was bad, and I’m talking 60 years ago, right. And that continued to grow until eventually they added drugs to that.
SPEAKER: And my question is basically, how do we, you know, because I have two little brothers and I have a little sister, and I want both of them to do their dreams. But I don’t–my question is how do we as a people, you know, able to provide our little brothers and our sisters and our children with the ability to live their dreams, [inaud.] having to worry about if I want to do it, somebody’s going to do everything they can to make sure I don’t live that dream?
CONWAY: The first thing is to guide them, to advise them, to protect them, to care for them. But also go out in the larger community and fight for the changes that you think need to happen, and communicate with other people about that. You know, each one teach one.
SPEAKER: After the Panthers, after the assassination of King, black America was ready for everything. And bam, ’81, crack. ’81, I’m talking about 1981, HIV/AIDS. Bam, just like that. Disrupted everything. And you know, and see, when you talk about–I always tell people if you’re not a conspiracy theorist you’ve got to be a coincidence theorist. One of those.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.