Asemi-gritty, often unclear glance at former Black Panther leader Dhoruba Bin Wahad (ne Richard Moore) chronicles not only the man’s bio but gives a ragged look at his surroundings; it’s about defending principles.
Throughout the hour, the producers thread a speech Bin Wahad gave at Yale as a skeleton on which to hang his story. They puff up the piece with montages, interviews, newsreel clips and current comments by Wahad as he wanders streets.
As he grew up in the comparative calm southeast Bronx in the late ’40s and ‘ 50s, his life became disturbed, as were those of many black youths of the time, by police harassment. Robert Daley, NYC deputy police commissioner in the early ’70s, agrees that “police brutality was considered part of the game.”
In prison at 18 for “felonious assault,” he endured more pain and he learned to be tougher. He remembers, “I couldn’t accept certain types of authority.”
Out of prison five years later, Bin Wahad joined the Black Panthers. Started as a defensive org against police brutality, he says, the Black Panthers also offered free food to kids, health care clinics, black history to youngsters and legal aid, though to many outsiders their intent seemed less benign.
The movement, begun in 1966 in Oakland, had grown into 30 chapters spread across the U.S. A rift between the N.Y. chapter and the other Black Panther chapters would dramatically affect Bin Wahad’s life.
The FBI’s secret counterintelligence org CoIntelPro and the NYPD infiltrated the N.Y. Panthers and arrested the chapter’s 21 leaders, including Bin Wahad.
Without any details or explanation, Bin Wahad jumped bail. Picked up in what he describes as a caper designed to clean up a drug pushers’ nitery, he reportedly carried a machine gun that had been used to shoot down two cops in an earlier action. He was convicted of being one of two men who shot the policemen.
Nineteen years later, his defense lawyer, Elizabeth Link, a strong heroine if ever there was one, got him out. Spectators at the courtroom scene are jubilant.
Details, motives and characters are too sketchy in much of the docu. Those who speak on camera include defense attorneys, police chiefs, jurors, fellow Black Panthers and attractive Tanaquil Jones, activist who married Bin Wahad while he was in prison.
Questions — lots of them — arise. As it stands, it isn’t clear just what Bin Wahad is doing now that he’s out of jail. Docu does suggest that a fictional account of his life could prove a major dramatic coup, but this factual version skips too many areas.