Pearlman, who published this book in 2016, was a retired judge and for some reason, this European woman is pegged as "a leading expert in this country on the Newton trial." She is also connected to at least two documentaries on the Black Panther Party and the Newton trial. The thesis Pearlman's book posits to tell about this trial is whether an African revolutionary - Newton - could receive a fail trial within the U.S. so-called justice system. What was clear from the very beginning of this book is that Pearlman is anything except the objective analyst on this case that her accolades grant her to be.
The contradictions within this book, and there are many, gives further life to the often repeated refrain in this blog that critical and analytical study is essential for anyone serious about understanding the contradictions within this society in deeper ways than the surface sound bite analysis that poses as critical information in this country. If you don't do the critical study, you will never develop the skills to see through the subtle tricks books like this one consistently pull designed to portray these works as objective presentations on the subject at hand.
The first very subtle attack is the suggestion, contained in the title and the body of the book, that the scales are balanced by Pearlman (and everyone else) in evaluating the Black Panther Party (BPP) and Newton, on one hand, and the state/capitalist system on the other hand. To the trained eye, there is nothing objective about this book in this regard. Like most literature in this society, the unspoken approach is that police are as much a part of the fabric of this society as oxygen. Never is it considered even for five seconds that maybe the police themselves are the problem. Instead, any question of police abuse, and there certainly were credible indications that Officer Frey was racist and abusive in his enforcement of "laws" in African areas of Oakland, are treated as individual distortions by the author. Meanwhile, the BPP itself is treated as an extreme and unstable entity. This characterization is accomplished by repeatedly labeling the Panther's slogans such as "off the pig" as violent which suggests automatically that the Panthers are the aggressors. This happens without the author having to call the Panthers aggressive. Its the implication. Never, is it explained that a person who survives rape is perfectly within their right to call for the castration and/or destruction of the rapist. No where should their response to their oppression be considered violence as if to suggest they are the instigators. This is exactly what this book does in a way that ensures that despite the fact the author says the burden of proof is on the state against Newton, what she's actually set up is a scenario where its actually Newton who must prove to the readers that he wasn't a bloodthirsty anti-white "Black militant". This is the premise in all literature produced in the capitalist world along with the unbalanced rule that when one police officer is abusive its just that one individual we are talking about, not the institution, but when one Panther is foul, its the entire Black Panther Party which is unreliable.
The book continues on this slanted route by slyly mentioning the racist allegations against Frey and the system, but never institutionalizing them like Pearlman does against the Panther Party. When she describes jury foreman David Harper refusing to enter the court building through public entrances because he "refused to be intimidated" the inference is that it was the BPP that would be doing the intimidating. She then provides examples to ensure this is the message. She talks about Harper being in elevators with "belligerent Panther leaders" like Bobby Seale and Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) without even bothering to discuss what made these leaders belligerent. Such a serious accusations should be required to come with examples of belligerence such as instances where Seale, Ture, etc., cussed people out, abused people, etc. Nothing is offered. Just like nothing is offered to confirm Pearlman's baseless accusations that the Panthers wanted and encouraged urban rebellions. Her evidence of this were the bombastic assertions of former BPP Minister of Information Eldridge Cleaver. She elevated the comments of someone as erratic and ill responsible as Cleaver while completely ignoring the fact Oakland was one of the few cities with large African populations that didn't have an urban rebellion outburst. Anyone familiar with the on the ground reality in Oakland knows the BPP played a major role in cooling out tensions after Martin Luther King's assassination, etc., Yet, this European woman would have you believe the Panthers wanted nothing more than open and unorganized bloodshed in the streets of Oakland. Several times throughout the book she accuses Kwame Ture of this bloodlusting, constantly bringing up the long ago dis-proven allegation that Kwame "was against" white people and was only interested in "Black Nationalist politics." When you have actually shared work with Brother Ture, its still often difficult to believe anyone could be so far off base in their assessment of this work, yet Pearlman accomplishes this time and time again. Also, she consistently equates urban rebellions with revolution as if these two distinctly different phenomenons are one and the same. No wonder so many people continue to be confused about the difference today.
Finally, Pearlman relies heavily on the bad behaviors and actions of Huey P. Newton himself to justify discrediting the entire African liberation movement. There are so many articles I've written here and posted about the contradictions of Newton, that I'm not even going to waste time getting into them again. No one has been more balanced in their criticism of Newton's erratic behavior than this blog, but we also have a responsibility to point out when subtle defenders and apologists for white supremacy/capitalism are using Newton's personal failures to attempt to discredit an entire organization and movement. And please don't give the weak response that Newton was a major leader in the BPP (therefore justifying the correlation). The very same people who tirelessly make that racist argument are the same people who call violent enslaved African owning, patriarchal barbarians like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson "forefathers."
Pearlman spends a significant portion of the book detailing the work of Newton (and George Jackson) attorney Fay Stender. A white Jewish woman, Stender was invaluable in her contributions to the Newton defense team. Pearlman's major jab at Newton regarding Stender was the attorney's alleged attraction to Newton and her eventual reported oral sex encounters with Newton while he was incarcerated which led to them coming together on a sexual basis upon Newton's release from prison. When Newton moved on from Stender, Pearlman portrays that as such a violation based on Stender's extensive work on Newton's defense. For any of us not born yesterday, we should be sophisticated enough to recognize that Newton probably was insensitive and sexually manipulative as many, many men often are, but everything else from these encounters displays two consenting adults who handled a sexual relationship in a messy way. Certainly not the wholesale theft of white woman resources by conniving "Black militants" that Pearlman goes out of her way to infer.
Stender was eventually victimized by a physical attack in her home by an alleged Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) member. The complexities of the relationship between the BGF and the BPP have surrounded me since I was growing up as a youth in San Francisco in the 70s. The back and forth is so convoluted the story will change depending upon who you talk to. What we do know is the federal government had massive intelligence and counter insurgency measures directed at the BPP and the 1970 Marin County Courthouse incident where George Jackson's younger brother Johnathan attempted to take over the court proceeding for the trial of James Mcclain who was being charged with stabbing a prison guard was a clear example of this. The word on the street has been the Panthers planned to help Johnathan Jackson bust Mcclain, William Christmas, Ruchell Magee, and others out that day in August, 1970, but that Newton, from jail, correctly suspected cointelpro interference and called off any Panther involvement. Jackson carried out the action anyway and he, along with Christmas, Mcclain, the judge, and others were killed and jurors and other court officers were injured. Magee still remains in prison today 50 years later, and of course, Angela Davis was then sought after, arrested, and charged with supplying the guns Jackson used that day (the guns were apparently registered to Davis). The point to all of this is the word on the street is many within the BGF blamed Newton for the failure of that day as well as the death of their founder George Jackson who was also a BPP Field Marshall. The BGF also allegedly blamed Stender for her work on George Jackson's defense to which Jackson allegedly fired Stender before he was himself murdered in prison. Stender suffered injuries from the attack that she never recovered from and in 1980, Stender committed suicide, allegedly citing depression and deep regret for being "used" by the African liberation movement. Pearlman spends quite a bit of time making this point. We have no doubt that Ms. Stender was genuine in her commitment to bringing justice to these imprisoned Africans, but the first rule of revolutionary organizing is for you to understand that your work will be as thankless as thankless can get. People in capitalist societies like this one have very little respect and appreciation for revolutionary work which is characterized by the capitalist system as work carried out by insane people. So, if you are doing this work expecting anything more, it probably isn't going to happen and each one of us can give extensive examples of being disrespected, abused, and traumatized for trying to do what's right. What happened to Ms. Stender is extremely unfortunate and should not have happened to anyone, but to use her suffering to suggest that the African liberation movement is only about gangsterism and not revolutionary change, as Pearlman attempts to do, is just as criminal to me as what happened to Ms. Stender. The BGF and the BPP do not solely represent revolutionary African politics and our movement. They are manifestations of it. The only motivation for making such an argument is to uphold the belief that anything outside of capitalism as an approach to addressing oppression is wrong.
In conclusion, when all those reviewers and analysts credited Pearlman with being the expert on the Newton trial I'm left to think what they really meant is what she provided in terms of the courtroom drama and occurrences from a historical standpoint. For that, she can take that title, but since 60% of the book was dedicated to evaluating the African liberation movement in general, and the BPP and Newton in particular, for that she gets an F grade. Whatever Huey P. Newton and the BPP did well or terribly to the African liberation movement reflects on their accomplishments and/or shortcomings as human beings and makes absolutely no measurable statement about the credibility of independent African liberation efforts as Pearlman tries hard to suggest. To suggest otherwise, as Pearlman clearly attempts to do is nothing more than the same racist dehumanizing of our human struggle covered in liberal sheepskins.