[Ppnews] In Memoriam - John Bowman

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 29 16:42:14 EST 2006

John H. Bowman III,  born December 6, 1947, 
passed on to the ancestors December 23, 2006 
after a courageous battle against liver cancer. 
This well-loved and respected brother was a 
former member of the Black Panther Party for Self 
Defense, a devoted family man and a dedicated 
community organizer.  He was a proud man who 
committed his life to his people and the struggle 
for their liberation. A dear friend and comrade 
to many of us, John will be deeply missed.

Join us for a celebration of his transition 
1/11/07 2:30 PM at True Vine Church, 36th and Spencer Rd. Spencer, Oklahoma.

We will also pay tribute to him on January 28th 
in San Francisco. Details will follow.

For more information call :  405 848-2594 or 405 816-6870
Cdhr_right at hotmail.com

or 415 863-9977
info at freedomarchives.org

Interview with John Bowman
Published in the SF Bayview
October 2005

It was clear to me that the federal government 
tried to destroy and did destroy the Black 
Panther Party, and tried to destroy me as a 
member of the Black Panther Party. They used 
deceit, they used false information, they also 
participated in overt assaults on people’s lives. 
I was assaulted, and two other people were 
assaulted and shot and imprisoned in Los Angeles. 
I was imprisoned for six years for assault with 
intent to commit murder on police officers, when 
in fact it was the police who initiated the 
assault - and eventually charges was dropped. It 
was clear to me then that this was an attack to 
destroy us, and I survived. And in 2003, it 
became clear to me that they wanted to continue 
their campaign to destroy me by visiting me, 
accusing me and wanting to talk to me about things that happened in 1971.

 From 1968 to 1973, I experienced false arrests, 
I experienced assassination attempts, I 
experienced being railroaded through the courts, 
I experienced police brutality, experienced 
torture - because of my association with this 
organization called the Black Panther Party for 
Self Defense. So, how does it make me feel in 
2005?  I feel like it’s something that’s never 
gonna end; that my commitment is being challenged 
again by the United States government. Because of 
the commitment that I made in 1967, I’m still 
being persecuted and punished for that commitment 
and believing in the ten-point program of the 
Black Panther Party and implementing some of the 
programs of the Black Panther Party in some of 
the social programs that myself and my colleagues 
are doing.  So, I’m very concerned. I’m angry.  I 
don’t feel like it’s right, and I don’t feel like 
it’s something that should go unnoticed, and I 
don’t feel like the government should be able to 
get away with this continuous harassment. The 
same people who tried to kill me in 1973 are the 
same people who are here today, in 2005, trying 
to destroy me. I mean it literally. I mean there 
were people from the forces of the San Francisco 
Police Department who participated in harassment, 
torture, and my interrogation in 1973. And these 
same people I have to come in contact with, I 
have to go before courts in front of, who are 
asking me the same questions that they 
interrogated and tortured me for. I have to be 
confronted with these people, and none of these 
people have ever been brought to trial. None of 
these people have ever been charged with 
anything. None of these people have ever been 
questioned about that. So I think if they have to 
put me in court, I think they should be brought 
to court and questioned about their behavior as 
it related to John Bowman, Harold Taylor, and 
Ruben Scott, and dozens of other people in New 
Orleans in 1973. So if I have to be brought 
before a grand jury and questioned in secret, 
where no one is there but the grand jurors, John 
Bowman, the US Attorney and the State’s Attorney, 
no lawyer for me, why can’t there be some forum 
where some questions are put to the police 
department from San Francisco about their 
behavior in 1973 which is the basis of this grand 
jury investigation today. That’s what I’m asking for is some justice.

What makes John Bowman tick?  Well, one of the 
things that makes me tick is that I have two 
children. I have twenty-eight nephews and nieces 
who I care quite a bit about. I’m a man [who 
thinks] that each one could teach one, and that 
each person has an obligation to give something 
to the community in which he dwells. I learned 
that concept and principle through my parents. I 
learned that by growing up in what is now called 
the Western Addition, but [which was] the 
Fillmore district of San Francisco where I went 
to school and where I was raised. It took awhile 
for me to understand who I was. In fact, I had 
dropped out of high school. There was a program 
in the community called the Neighborhood Youth 
Corps program, and I had a job counselor who gave 
me books,  Malcolm X’s autobiography, and James 
Baldwin’s book, Go Tell It on the Mountain.  So I 
read the books and that excited me quite a bit. 
And then I heard about Huey P. Newton and the 
Black Panther Party.  So I was beginning to be 
socially conscious [when I was] 17 years 
old.  So, who am I right now?  I’m 57 years old 
and still feel like I need to contribute to my 
community and contribute to my family. That’s 
what I try to do on a daily basis. One of the 
things that I was able to do is to appreciate the 
programs that would give things to the people, 
and one of the things that attracted me to the 
Black Panther Party was their ten-point platform 
and program which spoke to the issues of housing, 
education and employment, spoke to issues of 
social justice and justice in the criminal 
justice system. And in my community, in the 
Fillmore district, there was lots of social 
injustice, there were lots of businesses  that 
didn’t contribute anything, there was dilapidated 
housing and absent landlords and all of that was 
just pressing me.  I felt like it was time for me 
to do something besides just talk about it. And 
that’s when I decided to pay attention to the 
ten-point program of the Black Panther Party. So 
I joined their organization, and I began to work 
with their programs – the breakfast programs, 
collecting medical supplies, having a clinic and 
programs inside the housing projects, working 
with tenants and families, organizing rent 
strikes. Those are the kind of things that shaped 
and molded me to be a contributor to the community.

The Black Panther Party was educating people to 
some of the realities, some of the criminal 
realities of the system that was governing 
them.  In the local communities and nationally, 
the Black Panther Party was, through its 
newspaper, educating people to what is wrong 
about the structure and the policies of 
housing.  What is wrong about the prison systems 
and about the criminal justice systems.  And 
people began to listen to the Black Panther 
Party, and they began to support the Black Panther Party.

The environment was very oppressive. The Tac 
squad that was created by Joseph Alioto [former 
SF mayor], their task was to disrupt our 
function. And we would get pulled over if we were 
driving, if we were walking. We would get held up 
on the streets, we’d be laid down in the streets. 
We would have AR-15s or machine guns pointed at 
us, that’s when I first learned, got introduced 
to AR-15 automatic weapons through watching the 
Tac Squad put them in my face and other members 
of the party. Wherever we would go, they would 
come and disrupt, they would kick in our doors. 
Or they would sit outside our houses waiting for 
us to come home. And when we got home, before we 
got into our house, they would search us. So it 
became very clear to me that not only was this a 
social service program that they were attacking, 
they were  attacking me as a person because of my 
beliefs. This is when I began to feel that my 
life was in danger, always. Because everywhere I 
went, I had to be confronted with police. 
Organized harassment is what we came to realize 
was taking place against us. And as a means to 
protect ourselves, we had to go out in groups of 
threes and fours, even if just to sell newspapers 
or to go to community meetings and set up 
community meetings. It was clear that things had 
changed. And that on a national level, the Black 
Panther Party was the focus of an organized 
attack against the leadership. In Chicago, and in 
New York, in San Diego and in Los Angeles, there 
was people dying, people being assassinated in 
their cars. Fred Hampton himself, who was a 
member and a leader in Chicago, he was 
assassinated [as was Mark Clark]. And there was 
people assassinated in New York City and people 
arrested by the dozens in New York City. So it 
was clear to us here in San Francisco that 
something like that was gonna happen to us. And 
eventually it did happen where our office got 
raided on Fillmore Street. And they shot tear gas 
in our office. And they didn’t shoot anybody, but 
they destroyed thousands of dollars of materials 
and food and medical supplies. And then 
simultaneously they raided different homes that 
people were living in.  So it was clear to us 
that this is what it was gonna be about. It was 
gonna be about us being violently attacked and 
unjustly shot and put in jail. We knew it was the 
local police, but we didn’t know [at that time] 
it was coordinated by the FBI and the CIA and the 
United States government. So what we were going to do about it, we had no idea.

The Black Panther Party built coalitions with 
people who were against the Vietnam War, who were 
against the murders of citizens in El Salvador, 
Honduras, and Guatemala, with people who were 
against apartheid in South Africa. People who 
were on college campuses who wanted to protest 
the war and protest exploitation of people of 
color all across the world. The Black Panther 
Party even went as far as to communicate with 
other governments – the Vietnamese government, 
the North Korean government, the ANC government – 
the organization that Nelson Mandela was a part 
of which is called the African National 
Congress.  We all had one thing in common - we 
all were being oppressed. And there was a need to 
stop war and a need to stop oppressing and 
exploiting people. And the Black Panther Party 
was a very vocal part of this movement on a 
worldwide basis. This is why the Black Panther 
Party took the brunt of all the murder of its 
membership and the jailing of all its membership, 
because we were an organization that was very 
vocal.  People embraced the Black Panther Party, 
and that’s why the federal government created a 
program called the Cointelpro program. And that’s 
why they had a senate committee hearing, and 
people admitted that J. Edgar Hoover orchestrated 
and created mass hysteria and mass murder, 
because of our relationships with people all over 
the world. Eldridge Cleaver and Don Cox and 
Kathleen Cleaver and other members of the 
organization who went into exile traveled all 
over the globe internationally and were telling 
people what this government was doing and giving 
them documented evidence, just like Malcolm X did 
when he went to Africa - he talked to people all 
over the African continent about this government 
and its treatment of people. Well, the Black 
Panther Party did the same thing. They never talk 
about the relationships between people all over 
the world and the Black Panther Party.  They only 
create criminal images of Black Panthers.  So 
it’s important that people take a broader look as 
to what it is when they speak today of the 
Patriot Act and Homeland Security, and what does 
it do to affect us today, us ordinary citizens. I 
think I’m a victim of the Patriot Act. We all 
became victims of the Cointelpro program.

In fact, it was the Black Panther Party that 
enabled me to grow as a man and as a person, 
because it taught principles, it taught 
integrity. And I’ve been doing this for, I can’t 
even count the years – 35, 40 years. And I 
continue to give this example to my son, who is 
19 years old, and to my daughter who is 26. I am 
a community activist. I’m a social program 
developer. I don’t consider myself a member of 
the Black Panther Party today. But I do consider 
myself someone who have learnt from the 
principles, the basic principles and ideology of 
the Black Panther Party, which was to reform and 
revolutionize the social system so black people 
and all people could benefit more from it.

Interviewed and edited by Claude Marks

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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