At almost 75 years of age, I’m surprised by very few things in life anymore. However, I can say I was not only surprised by the recent allegations made against my comrade Richard Aoki—that he was an FBI informant—I was sickened. I should not have been surprised, because I know that this government still has unfinished business with us, the Panthers. Being dead doesn’t free us from their need to persecute us.
I got to know Richard Aoki in the early years of the Black Panther Party. I learned of his internment, a young victim of America’s concentration camps for the Japanese, of how he and his family were stripped of everything they had, how he survived that, how he grew up on the mean streets of Oakland, how he learned to defend himself and how the Black Panther Party seemed to him the logical place to be.
Like me, he had been in the service. He knew about weapons, sure. He also saw that through education he could fight for equal rights, educate and organize his community. As an educator, he never, ever stopped doing that. He was a fierce warrior for human rights, to the day he died.
In early 2006, after decades apart, we were reunited at an event. We were both pretty frail, him walking with a cane after several strokes and kidney problems, and me just recovering from cancer surgery and several other chronic health conditions. It was so good to see him again.
In later years, no matter how ill he was, Richard would find a way to come to almost every event, and we never ceased to find joy in seeing each other.
Richard, whom we loved and admired, who made it clear how much he loved us and, in particular, all disenfranchised, oppressed people, kept us entertained with his wit and intellect until his death in 2009.
So we will continue to fight these atrocious lies, lies without evidence that are designed to sell a book and create anxiety and suspicion among us all. Richard is no longer here to fight these ridiculous allegations himself, so we must do so. After all, we owe him, big-time.
For a complete, unedited version of this remembrance, see San Francisco Bay View.
Elbert “Big Man” Howard is one of the original six founding members of the Black Panther Party; he served as the first editor of the Black Panther newspaper and as party spokesperson. He is also, more recently, a founding member of the Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline (PACH). An activist, author and lecturer, he resides in Sonoma County and can be reached at [email protected]
Open Mic is a weekly feature in the ‘Bohemian.’ We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].