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July 25, 2005

Dressed to Die

Let me get this straight. In London a Brazilian man is tackled and shot 5 times in the head because ran from undercover cops while wearing the wrong sort of clothes. In NYC a sightseeing tour bus got bumrushed by a SWAT team 100 strong, because a bus dispatcher reported that "five male passengers of Middle Eastern descent were wearing 'backpacks and their pockets [were] stuffed.'" Does anyone notice a pattern here? As I read these headlines my mind jumps to another incident, four decades earlier.

In 1968 Eldridge Cleaver and a group of his fellow Panthers were about to surrender after a long standoff with police. According to legend, Cleaver knew the cops would be eager for any excuse to shoot the Panthers as they emerged, and he decided there was only one way they could get out of this alive.

As reported at the time by Ramparts, Cleaver told his crew that "If the eight went out naked, the cops couldn't claim that they thought the Panthers had guns or that they shot in self-defense. The other Panthers agreed that nakedness might be their only chance, and in the besieged basement, their eyes streaming from the tear gas, seven of them took off their clothes."

But one member, 17 year old Bobby Hutton, was too shy to go through with it.. according to Ramparts: "He was too embarrassed. And as it happened he emerged first, into the floodlights, his hands high over his head, and walked toward the waiting policemen. When he was well out in the open, one of them yelled, 'Run, Boy!' Hutton froze, terrified, obviously knowing what the call meant, then took a few frightened, hesitant steps. They shot him dead. 'We thought he was trying to run,' they said later. And sure enough, the first statement said, "We thought he had a gun."

37 years later, have we found ourselves in a climate where all people of color need to consider Cleaver's advice, each time they leave the house?

Posted by jsmooth995 at July 25, 2005 11:35 AM

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