This is a preview for an upcoming piece for Social Matter. This excerpt from the Staff Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence should set the mood:
The BSU’s off-campus center is not a particularly easy place to find, even when you have the correct address. First you have to find the center of the “Fillmore,” a narrow, low-income, mixed-minority group neighborhood of Victorian-style wooden buildings stretching north over a series of hills from Market along Fillmore Street. The address is on Ellis, but Ellis Street stops at one of the sparkling concrete urban-renewal projects neighborhood groups
The Reasons Underlying the Actions of the Black Student Strike Leaders 91 have raised so much protest over, and you have to snake your way around to a battered, three-story structure in the slummiest, blackest part of the Fillmore, where rotting buildings are rapidly being abandoned in the face of the advancing urban renewal. There, hand-crayoned signs direct visitors to the down- stair meeting halls or the upstair tutorial office. One door of the BSU center has been smashed away from its padlocked hasp, and propped shut from the inside with a battered old table. Weather beaten plywood panels cover smashed windows. It is the kind of neighborhood where, in larger cities, whites instinctively lock their car doors as they drive through.
Middle-aged and elderly black men lounge around the signposts and building corners throughout the day, some drunk, others just idle. Toward the middle of the afternoon, one of the city’s largest interracial prostitution operations swings into action, supplying a variety of girls to stroll the side-walks in micro-mini-skirts or tight bell-bottomed pants until well past dawn on some corners, volunteering a variety of services to anyone who does not look like a plainclothesed cop.
One block from the BSU office, on Fillmore, between Eddy and Ellis, the San Francisco office of the Black Panther Party serves as a gathering place for the younger blacks into the “militant look” big, bushy Afro hairdo’s for both men and women, black leather jackets for the men, boots for the women. Someone is usually manning a table out front where a variety of Panther literature, ranging from “antipig” stickers to Chairman Mao pins printed in Chinese, is for sale beneath windows plastered with recent issues of “The Black Panther, Black Community News Service.”…Violence, all around. From the obvious the feeling that the hippie should have been flattened on the sidewalk to the subtle-the attitudes black children pick up as they romp in the nearby streets, listening to the shouting and the cursing and bumping into drunks and streetwalkers. As sociologists have often pointed out, this is the kind of neighborhood where those who wish to get along well in the streets learn to fight their own battles. Violence is no stranger to these blocks, and to hundreds of others in San Francisco’s minority neighborhoods. Many of the BSU and Third World central committee members live, or spend considerable time, in this neighborhood or others like it, and the language and attitudes they bring from there to the campus reflect this violence that is a basic part of ghetto life in every city in the United States.
San Francisco’s crime statistics reflect this basic ghetto violence. Among nine police districts, the one that includes the Fillmore ranked generally highest in 1966, 1967, and 1968 in homicides, robberies, aggravated assaults, larcenies, and burglaries. It lost top ranking only to the district that includes Haight-Ashbury, another slum, on forcible rapes, and to that district and the one that includes Hunter’s Point, the third major Negro slum in the city, in auto thefts. Over the past 3 years, the police district that includes the Fillmore reported slightly better than one-sixth of all the city’s crime in those categories.
The Panthers have plastered the neighborhood with hundreds of the new urban art-form posters preaching their message in various ways, but always making their main point that guns are essential usually by putting the picture of a rifle on every poster, including those that announce rallies. A fairly common one features ink drawings of five ferociously charging men- two blacks, a Mexican-American, an Indian, and an Oriental carrying a variety of prominently held weapons that include a fiery torch, a hand grenade, automatic rifles, a dagger and for the Indian a bow and arrows.
It bears the legend:
“We are advocates of the abolition of war … we do not want war. But war can only be abolished through war and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.” It is signed “Chairman Mao.”
Occasional photos of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., are lost amid the jumble of posters of Eldridge Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael, LeRoi Jones, Malcolm X, and a variety of other black radicals in heroic, weapon-bearing poses. H. Rap Brown holds aloft a burning match without comment on one poster, while another proclaims Carmichael, “Prime Minister of colonized Afro-America.”
Even a dozen blocks from the Panther office, the posters are common.
“A rule of thumb of revolutionary politics is that no matter how oppressive the ruling class may be, no matter how impossible the fact of making REVOLUTION may seem, the means of making that REVOLUTION are always near at hand,” one reads. Another is much shorter: “The spirit of the people will be stronger than the pig’s technology.” And on the white- painted walls of the burned-out Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, someone has repeatedly stenciled in black letters: “The Revolution is Coming Tom Paine.”
On the southwest corner of Turk and Fillmore, an old supermarket has been taken over by the State. Its plateglass windows proudly proclaim in big gold letters, “State of California Service Center, Ronald Reagan, Governor.” On its side wall are three prominent posters. The first, an Eldridge Cleaver campaign tract left over from his Peace and Freedom Party presidential candidacy, reads: “Our purpose in entering the political arena is to send the jackass back to the farm and the elephant back to the zoo.”
The second shows Kathleen Cleaver holding a pump shotgun at waist level, aimed just past the viewer’s shoulder. Its caption: “Shoot your shot.” The third is a photo of the late Panther, Bobby Hutton, with the caption, “MURDERED BY OAKLAND PIGS.” Sometimes it is displayed in conjunction with another showing three uniformed Panthers waving their flag in front of Oakland’s Civic Plaza. “The sky’s the limit if you kill Huey Newton,” it reads.
A half-dozen blocks to the south, the Third World Liberation Front uses donated space in a church as a legal defense office. These streets are not known at all well by many of San Francisco’s middle-class whites, but their mood, and the mood of similar Spanish-speaking areas of “The Mission” and the side streets of Chinatown, has been a powerful influence on non-white student leaders, both in the methods they use to express themselves and in what they have to say. Couple this with the other influences already mentioned that shape young minds, and the result is an overall change of mood that has awed even close observers. [i]