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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 12. June 16, 1971



Photo of Eldridge Cleaver

"If the white man doesn't know what I'm talking about that's his problem because Black people understand me and thats who I'm talking to."

Cleaver's Post Prison writings evolved in the two years following the nine year term he spent in jail for rape. This book is not meant to be a sequel to "Soul on Ice" but contains various articles, interviews, speeches and letters by him in this period. It describes his contempories; those who influenced him like Malcom X, Stokely Carmicheal and Fraz Fannon's "The Wretched Earth"; those he respects and those he hates. It also contains his ideology and those events which effected him profoundly.

He writes as the Minister of Information for the Black Panther party and states "We start with the basic principle that all deserve the very highest standard of living that human knowledge and technology is capable of providing period." The basic problem is the confusion of not knowing who the friends and enemies are, as well as how to deal with situations. One solution is "to say fuck it, to take acid trips or freak out on weed, pills and alcohol". But this will not provide a solution. Cleaver believes the power structure consciously manipulates the people to this end. In the Black Community the number one problem is the repression by the police. On one level Cleaver says that the social failure which results in people being subjected to deprivation and inhuman living conditions will cause them to rebel. Black people are forced to "turn to behaviour called criminal to get what is needed to survive and then the system punishes them for what is inevitable." On the other level the police are constantly harassing and victimizing the Black people. They are continually stopped in the streets for no reason at all, having their homes broken into without a warrant, beaten up in prison and having trumped up charges brought against them. The aim is to give the Black people a criminal record at an early age; to intimidate and break their spirit by the police constantly being around to remind them of their strength and potential power. Cleaver tells how he was first institutionalized at the age of 12. He noticed the crime orientated way of life with the same people reappearing at all the different levels of the prison system up into the adult penetaries.

He describes two events which seem to have had a profound effect on him meeting the Black Panthers and the attempt to organise a Black community picnic.

Up until the advent of the Black Panther Party the movement had been one of "Splinter groups and an archipelago of one man show cases". Cleaver's first meeting was one of love at first sight. "I spun round in my scat and saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen". This consisted of four Panthers dressed in black and carrying guns. When they escorted Malcom X's widow to 'Ramparts' magazine office they had a similar electrifying effect on all present. "The lobby resembled certain photographs coming out of Cuba the day Castro took Havana. There were guns everywhere pointing towards the ceiling like metallic blades of grass growing up out of the sea of black faces beneath the black berets of the panthers."

The Panthers attempted to organise a picnic to raise funds. Their time, funds and energy was constantly being sapped by the Police who did everything they could to try to prevent the picnic taking place. In the week before it was to occur sixteen of their members were gratuitously arrested and charged with offences they had never committed. Panther's cars were constantly being trailed. One night the car in which Cleaver was travelling had cause to stop. The trailing cops ordered them to walk into the centre of the street and immediately started firing on them. Cleaver and 17 year old Bobby Hutton sought cover in a basement. They were fired on for half an hour. As a result Cleaver was injured. They were forced to come out when tear gas cannisters were lobbed in. As Bobby was walking towards the police car the cops shot him in the back and killed him.

The language Cleaver uses to describe the people he dislikes is incredibly scathing. Robert Kennedy he describes as the "knight of the liberal round table mounted on that tired hack of the worthy war of poverty, watched by those with a vested interest in poverty - the social worker. He is 'too greedy to be great, too white to be all right'."

Mickey Mouse Ronald Regan he never liked even in the days of his bad moves "Regan reflected to me a sickening mixed bag of humourless laughter and perfect Colgate teeth, with never a hint of the real funk of life". Included in the book is a deferential letter to Regan written while Cleaver was in prison. As well as this is an open letter after Reagan had tried to prevent Cleaver taking a teaching position in experimental sociology at the University of California. "Your thirst and greed for power is so great that you don't care whether or not in your lust you destroy the vital processes of a barbaric society that is trying in its parts to become civilized."

Cleaver believes that what is needed is solidarity between Black and White people, so that they will not become divided and estranged from one another They must remember the country belongs to all the people and say "stick em up mother fucker we want what is ours". But, "I think; that America has already committed suicide and we who now thrash within its dead body are also dead in part and parcel of the corpse.