May 2, 1967, Sacramento, CA:


A group of thirty young black men and women, dressed in black leather jackets, berets, and dark glasses, crosses the lawn to the steps of the state capitol. Many of them are armed with shotguns, though they are careful to keep the weapons pointed towards the sky. As they approach the entrance to the capitol building, Governor Ronald Reagan, speaking to a cluster of schoolchildren nearby, catches sight of their advance, turns on his heel, and runs. Still marching in tight formation, the group reaches the steps, faces the crowd, and listens attentively as their leader, Bobby Seale, [1] reads Executive Mandate Number One of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense to the startled audience. The mandate, addressed to “the American people in general and the black people in particular,” details the “terror, brutality, murder, and repression of black people” practiced by “the racist power structure of America,” and concludes that “the time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.” [2] Cameras flash as Seale finishes reading and the defiant group proceeds into the building. One wrong turn, and the delegation stumbles onto the Assembly floor, currently in debate over the Mulford Act, aimed to prohibit citizens from carrying loaded firearms on their persons or in their vehicles. Chaos ensues: legislators dive under desks, screaming, “Don’t shoot!” and security guards hurriedly surround the party, grabbing at weapons and herding everyone into the hallway. All the while cameramen and reporters run back and forth, grinning in anticipation of tomorrow’s headlines. “Who are you?” one manages to shout before the assembly is led into an elevator. Sixteen-year-old “little” Bobby Hutton is the first to reply, and his words remain an echo in the hallway just before the doors slide shut with a soft hiss:

“We’re the Black Panthers.
We’re black people with guns.
What about it?”[3]


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