Oakland, California (EastBayDaily) — Arc of Justice Productions, Inc. and its distinguished honorary committee are proud to sponsor this historic film project. Following the Cliven Bundy ranch incident, the George Zimmerman verdict and the 2013 films “Fruitvale Station,” “The Butler” and Oscar-winning picture “12 Years A Slave,” this film provides historic context for today’s debates on civil rights, “Stand Your Ground” laws and gun control. The documentary recaptures for younger generations a polarizing murder trial that put the spotlight on confrontations between white urban police and black militants amid charges of entrenched racism and sexism in America’s criminal courts.
In a particularly volatile year in our country’s history, the newly-formed Black Panther Party became infamous for urging black men to arm themselves for self-defense against police brutality. Their wounded Minister of Defense Huey Newton was arrested on his way into surgery following an early morning shooting in West Oakland that left one officer dead and another hospitalized. The Panthers rallied supporters by charging that a black man accused of killing a white policeman could not get a fair trial anywhere in America. Surviving participants of the 1968 Newton death penalty trial and nationally prominent commentators reflect on its extraordinary significance—then and now as previewed in a just-released 3-minute trailer.
By 1968, the nation had endured crippling race riots and escalating protests over the Vietnam War. Pretrial publicity quickly made Newton into a Leftist icon as cries of “Free Huey” spread on campuses and in inner cities across country.That spring the country was rocked by two shocking political assassinations—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Bobby Kennedy, then running for President as a champion of minority rights. During Newton’s trial in the summer of 1968, the whole world watched on television Chicago police bashing protesters, reporters and bystanders at the Democratic Convention. Meanwhile, FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover named the Black Panthers the greatest internal threat to American security.
In this tinderbox setting, Newton’s radical Dream Team mounted a ground-breaking effort to minimize bias against their revolutionary client and a California trial judge, prosecutor and jury surprisingly rose to the challenge. The brilliant defense played a key role in transforming a “a jury of one’s peers” nationwide from mostly white men to the diverse cross-section of the community it is today. Newton jury foreman banker David Harper—the first African-American foreman of a headline criminal trial in America—speaks on camera for the first time 45 years later about his historic role in the outcome. Had the trial resulted in a murder conviction and death sentence against Newton—as virtually everyone at the time expected–the verdict could easily have prompted more devastating national riots than occurred in the Long, Hot Summer of 1967. It also could easily have kept Newton imprisoned to this day as a higher profile Leftist cause celebre—and galvanizer of Conservative ire—than Mumia Abu Jamal. Check out the trailer. Follow the progress of this historic documentary and judge its lasting significance for yourself.