Bobby Hutton: How did the Black Panther Party Treasurer Die?

A fight against the system ensues in Apple TV+’s ‘The Big Cigar’ when Huey Newton and Bobby Seale lay the foundation of the Black Panther party. The party starts with the idea of saving people from police brutality but soon evolves into something much more. In the beginning, it has only a handful of members, but a series of events changes the tide, and the party draws so much support that the authority has to stop and pay attention to it. One of those events is Bobby Hutton’s death.

The Circumstances of Bobby Hutton’s Death Sparked the People’s Anger

17-year-old Robert James Hutton died on April 6, 1968, following a confrontation with the police, where the events of the witnesses remain conflicted. He was shot dead by the cops, who inflicted multiple bullet wounds on him outside 1218 28th Street in West Oakland. This was two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

According to some accounts, Eldridge Cleaver led a few party members, including Hutton, and problems arose when they faced a confrontation with the police. It led to a shootout for 90 minutes with Hutton and Cleaver stuck in an apartment building. They decided to surrender when Cleaver got a leg wound, and it became clear that there was no way out for the duo. Cleaver told Hutton to go out of the building stripped to his underwear and his arms in the air to show the cops that he didn’t mean any harm. Despite this, when Hutton walked out, he was shot at least 12 times by the cops and died on the spot. The police have a different version of the story where they claim that Hutton tried to flee when he saw the cops and was shot as a result. Two police officers also sustained some wounds due to the shootout.

Hutton’s death, coupled with King’s assassination and the prior arrest of Huey Newton, became one of the turning points for the Black Panther Party. He was the first person within the party to be killed like this, and the tragic circumstances of his death turned him into a martyr that inflamed the sentiments of the cause. On April 12, 1968, over a thousand people attended his funeral at the Ephesian Church of God in Christ, which was followed by a rally at Lake Merritt with over 2000 people in attendance and speeches given by several major members of the party and other figures like Marlon Brando.

Born in Jefferson County in Arkansas in 1950, Hutton’s family moved to Oakland after they were hounded by racist groups linked to the Ku Klux Klan. He was introduced to the ideologies of the Black Panther party when he was only 16, becoming one of the first recruits and its youngest member. He’d met the co-founders at the North Oakland Anti-Poverty Center and soon became the treasurer of the party. He was always at the front of the line for every protest and demonstration and was arrested several times for one infraction or the other.

His death at such a young age broke many hearts but also made it clear that the authorities would continue to be oppressive unless people spoke out against it. Hutton’s death sparked that feeling in the masses. To celebrate his life, April 6 has been held as “Lil’ Bobby Hutton Day” since 1998. DeFremery Park has also remained Bobby Hutton Park in remembrance of the young Black Panther.

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