Passin’ It On: The Black Panthers Search For Justice (1993)

“An address from the political prisoners held captive in the dungeons of the United States.”

Richard Moore was found guilty and imprisoned for the machine gun shooting of two police officers in New York in 1971. Moore was already well known to the judicial system–born and raised in the Bronx ghetto, he served time in the 60s for felonious assault. While in prison in the 60s, he changed his name to Dhoruba Bin Wahad, and with a new sense of political awareness, he joined the Black Panther Party in 1968. This was a period of great social upheaval, and Moore–now Dhoruba and fresh out of jail–became involved in the Black Panthers and by extension–his own community.

Dhoruba recalls the American political institution’s response to the Black Panthers. According to Dhoruba, “everyone went bananas” and certainly V.P Spiro Agnew’s statement labeling the Black Panthers as a “completely irresponsible anarchistic group of criminals” leaves no doubt in one’s mind where the state stood. With the Black Panther “leadership targeted first”, and with Cointelpro on the case, soon a huge conspiracy charge–known as the Panther 21 case–was leveled against various leaders in the Black Panther Party. Dhoruba was one of the defendants. Dhoruba had just been acquitted from the conspiracy charge when two white policemen sitting in a car were machine-gunned–they survived. Dhoruba was convicted for the crime.

Was Dhoruba guilty of this crime–or was he guilty of being a Black Panther? While the documentary doesn’t exactly directly pose or solve the question of Dhoruba’s guilt, both sides of the argument have their say–there’s one juror who could not believe the lack of evidence, and former policemen who were happy with the conviction. Interviews with various Black Panther leaders point to the involvement of the shadowy, sinister Cointelpro–a government agency which was instituted to target dissidents and radicals. The film includes clips of Dhoruba speaking to crowds, and walking around his neighborhood while he discusses his memories and experiences. Other people involved in Dhorubas’s life are interviewed, and these interviews provide a sense of the social unrest, and the history of the Black Panther Party. The documentary Passin’ It On doesn’t delve deeply into Dhoruba’s case (I had many questions at the film’s conclusions), but it most certainly gives food for thought and raises many relevant questions about Cointelpro and the Black Panther Party. This film recently made it to DVD, and the DVD extras include a lot more information.

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Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

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