Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pete O'Neal: A Panther in Africa

For the last few months, my posts on this blog have focused primarily on the criminal injustice system in the United States and how it functions related to the Black community. This is not new. In fact, many of the more than 600 posts I have published here over the past decade have specifically dealt with the topic of prison. And that's not surprising, considering that I committed myself to the prison abolition movement in this country in 1971.

In his now famous address to the prisoners at the Cook County Jail in 1902, Clarence Darrow, one of the best known and most successful lawyers in U.S. history, stated flatly: "There should be no jails," and went on to explain precisely why he thought this. But here we are, 115 years later, with more people locked up than any society in the world at any point in history. And to make it worse -- far worse -- the entire system is now privatized from the bottom to the top, turning it into a giant money-making machine, now touted as the best investment on Wall Street.

There is, however, more than one way to imprison and control individuals and this post concerns one of those ways. The documentary above tells the story of Pete O'Neal, who was one of the founders of the Kansas City Chapter of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s. In 1969, O'Neal was arrested for bringing a shotgun from Kansas City, Kansas, to Kansas City, Missouri. He wasn't actually found with the weapon, but a photograph of him with the gun was enough to get him convicted.

The 29-year-old organizer appealed the decision, but when Fred Hampton, another highly effective BPP organizer was drugged and then assassinated in his bed by the Chicago police, O'Neal left the country in fear for his life. He has now been in Tanzania, where he has become a beloved icon of service to the community, since 1972. But there are those who hope President Obama will pardon O'Neal, allowing him to return to the land of his birth. And I am unapologetically one of them.

Last October, Pete and his wife Charlotte were interviewed at their home in Tanzania about how the making of the documentary in 2004 has affected their lives in exile.


Bruce Williams said...

This is amazing!! I met Pete in 1981 while walking down the street in Arusha. I was on the opposite side of the street, and being a white guy, I guess Pete noticed me walking along by myself. He bee-lined across the street, and in perfect English, asked me if I had a few minutes to talk. I don't know how long we stood there, but it must have been at least an hour as Pete told me all about his journey in life. Heck, I even recall him relating a story about a motorcycle that he bought when he first arrived (years earlier) which had broken down, and he was never able to repair it because he couldn't even get spare parts brought in.

I had forgotten Pete's name all these years later, but I often told the story of Pete to those who would listen. He was a very interesting and capable man, and I can see from his history after I met him that he went on to do important humanitarian works in and around Arusha. I'm very glad that I had a chance to meet Pete all those years ago, and perhaps more importantly, I'm cheered by the thought that he did okay in life.

I'd be honored if Pete would reach out to me a second time, and reconnect once again.

Warm regards,

Bruce Williams

changeseeker said...

I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Bruce, and to put you two in touch. If you don't hear from Pete soon, let me know.

Bruce Williams said...

Hi There ChangeSeeker, still no word from Pete. If he's not interested I'll respect that decision and move on.

Your thoughts?

Bruce Williams

changeseeker said...

He's on Facebook under his name. I'd try private messaging him. He may have assumed you would contact him.