Excerpt from Twilight Los Angeles: 1992. Anna Deveare Smith
Ask Saddam Hussein
Elaine Brown, former head of the Black Panther Party, author, A Taste of Power
(A pretty black woman in her early fifties. She is in a town outside of Paris, France, on the phone . It is 5 P.M. France Time. Spring.)
I think people do have, uh,
some other image
of the Black Panther Party than the guns.
The young men, of course, are attracted to the guns,
but what I tell them is this:
Did you know Jonathan Jackson?
Because I did,
and Jonathan Jackson was seventeen years old.
He was probably one of the most brilliant young men
that you could meet.
He happened to be a science genius.
He was not a gang member, by the way,
but Jonathan Jackson
went to a courtroom by himself
and took over for that one glorious minute
in the name of
revolution and freedom of his brother
and other people who were in prison
and died that day.
My question to you,
seventeen-year-old young brother with a gun in your hand,
tough and strong and beautiful as you are:
Do you think it would be better
if Jonathan Jackson were alive today
or that he died
that day in Marin County?
I’d rather know Jonathan Jackson.
That’s what I’d rather do,
and I’d rather him be alive today,
to be among the leadership that we do not have,
than to be dead and in his grave at seventeen years old.
I’m talking merely about strategy,
I think that this idea of picking up the gun and going into the street
plan and without
any more rhyme or reason than rage
is bizarre and so, uh…
And it’s foolish
because it will, uh…
I think that all one has to do
is ask, to ask the Vietnamese
or Saddam Hussein
about the power and weaponry
and the arsenal of the United States government and its willingness to
to get to understanding what this is about.
You are not facing a,
you know, some little Nicaraguan clique
You are not in Havana in 1950 or something.
This is the United States of America.
There isn’t another country,
there isn’t another community
that is more organized and armed.
not only is it naïve,
it is foolish if one is talking
about jumping out into the street
and waving a gun,
because you not that bad,
you see what I’m saying?
You just not that bad.
You think you bad,
but I say again,
ask Saddam Hussein
about who is bad
and you’ll get the answer.
So what I am saying is:
Be conscious of what you are doing.
If you just want to die
and become a poster,
go ahead and do that –
we will all put you on the wall with all the rest of the people.
But if you want to effect change for your people
and you are serious about it,
that doesn’t mean throw down your gun.
Matter of fact, I would def… definitely never tell anybody to do that,
not black and in America.
But if you want a gun,
I hope you can shoot
and I hope you know who to shoot
and I hope you know how to not go to jail for having done that
and then let that be the end of that.
But if you are talking about a war
against the United States government,,
then you better talk to Saddam Hussein
and you better talk to the Vietnamese people
and the Nicaraguans
and El Salvadorans
and people in South Africa
and people in other countries in Southeast Asia
and ask those motherfuckers
what this country is capable of doing.
So all I am saying is:
I’m saying that
if you are committed,
if you seriously make a commitment,
and that commitment
must be based not on hate but on love.
And that’s the other thing.
My themes is
that love of your people.
Then you gonna have to realize that this may have to be a lifetime
and that the longer you live,
the more you can do.
So don’t get hung up
on your own ego
and your own image
and pumping up your muscles
and putting on a black beret
or some kinda Malcolm X hat or whatever other
and symbolic vestment you can put on your body.
Think in terms of what
are you going to do
for black people.
I’m saying that these
are the long haul,
because then you might be talkin’ about
bein’ in a better position for a so-called
At this point you talkin’ about a piss-poor,
ragtag, unorganized, poorly armed
and poorly, poorly,
and we will be twenty more years
trying to figure out what happened to Martin, Malcolm,
and the Black Panther Party.