|Remembering Michael Zinzun:
February 14, 1949 - July 9, 2006
Picture the late 90's at a community center called “Aztlan Cultural Center”
in Los Angeles and the event is named the Primate Freedom Tour with two
protest punk rock bands: Aus Rotten and Anti-Product. Michael Zinzun a
former Black Panther Party member in the 1970's and a member of the
Coalition Against Police Abuse/ Community In Support of the Gang Truce
is about to go on stage and the place is packed with drunk punk rockers.
I'm nervous, and I'm pacing back and fourth anticipating the crowd's
reaction. I've seen Michael speak a few times before, but not at a big
punk rock show. He goes on the stage, this highly educated, street smart,
beyond book smart man. He's loud, angry, and is cussing. He is
mesmerizing the entire crowd, grabbing everybody's attention and we are
all quiet and our eyes glued to him. Every other phrase is “motherfucker!”
Michael starts saying: “Raise your fuckin' fist up in the air if your tired of
Police Brutality!” (literally, the entire crowd's fist's go up). I can't catch up
and count how many times he fired the crowd up on so many different
issues and fists keep going up from the punk crowd. I will never witness
anything like this at a punk rock gig. In all this, the crowd still doesn't know
what he has been through and that one of his eyes is blind. Long time ago
he got beat up with a steal handled flashlight by the police and they
stomped on him when he was on the ground. He told me that when he was
on the ground he yelled at the police: “Is that all you got motherfuckers!”
This happened to him because he witnessed extremely violent police
harassment and he went up to prevent it, and they attacked him.
Why am I writing an article about this man? He was doing really important
community work including Community Support of the Gang truce and
working at the CAPA office. He was an important man and he passed away
in his sleep on July 9th, 2006.
“Coalition Against Police Abuse was founded in the mid 1970s by Michael
Zinzun who remained an important leader and personality within the group
until his peaceful death in July 2006. Zinzun and many other members of
the group were former low-ranking members of the Black Panther Party.
The BPP left an important, and acknowledged, aesthetic and political
legacy for members of CAPA but has never been viewed uncritically. Many
members of CAPA believe that the Panther's vanguardist and patriarchal
organizational methods obstructed the harnessing of the power of ordinary
members of the black community and left the group overly vulnerable to
decapitation by the government as various leaders were killed and
imprisoned. CAPA aims at empowering those it serves and has adopted
the motto "we will work with you, not for you." This means that when a
person approaches CAPA with a complaint about police brutality CAPA will
assist them and seek to empower the victim(s) to actively participate in
their case and act as representatives to the community. “ -CAPA
“CAPA, along with other organizations, has been instrumental in facilitating
the LA Gang Truce and seeks to recruit gang members to redirect their
energies from criminal activities that harm themselves and the community
toward community activism.” -CAPA
After his death sadly the CAPA/Community Support of the Gang Truce
office closed down.
(This was written in 2006 a week after Michael Zinzun passed away in his sleep)
Last week when I was driving and listening to KPFK (90.7 FM), I heard that Michael Zinzun passed away. I felt really terrible because I haven't seen him
for a couple of years and the last thing he said to me on the phone was visit by the CAPA (Coalition Against Police Abuse / Community in Support of the
Gang Truce) office. The radio announced that they were planning a candle light vigil in Leimert Park. I got home and called his house to double check if
this was true. His wife told me that he passed away in his sleep on Sunday, July 9th.
I drove to Leimert Park on Crenshaw where there was a small crowd gathered supporting Michael Zinzun's family. Michael’s kids and many elders were
present. People were taking turns speaking. One lady, who appeared to be her 50's, held her fist up as she made a speech about Michael, encouraging
us to continue his work. Another man, also in his 50's, held a sign that featured Michaels picture with the words “ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE” written
on it. Later on, Bloodhound arrived and I was really excited to see him as it's been years since we last met. We used to hang out together, but eventually
lost touch. One of the community organizers had a tear in her eye and told Bloodhound and I that “the younger generation needs to keep the CAPA
office going” and “to continue the work that Michael was doing.” She looked at me saying, “…that goes for you too young man.” I didn't know what to say.
That's a big commitment and requires a lot of responsibility. I don't have that much training or experience as a good community organizer.
I met Michael Zinzun a little over ten years ago. He invited me to the CAPA office, which is where we later held the very first Solidarity Festival (3 Day Fest
at Koo's Cafe, CAPA offfice and at the Panther Headquaters). CAPA opened their office to us allowing our festival the space to offer workshops, and
open discussions . They even provided us with free veggie snacks, not to mention, the space was offered for free. He shared with me the use of the
CAPA office many times to organize meetings or just hang out. Michael never asked for any money or donations.
At the CAPA office they regularly held meetings with families who have been victimized by police brutality and terrorism. The office took action for them
and was involved in winning numerous lawsuits against the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department). They helped struggling youth and gang members to
get jobs screen-printing shirts in the back dome room. They also led political education classes, computer training and much more. As an
experienced organizer, Michael would come out to speak at Punk benefit concerts that my friends and I organized.
Some people might remember him from the workshops he conducted during the early Solidarity Festivals that took place at the old Koo’s Café location in
Santa Ana or the Aus-Rotten and Anti-Product show during the Anti- vivisection tour at the Aztlan Cultural Center in L.A. and the big CAPA Benefit show
with tons of bands like Sugar Puss, Squab, Armistice, Resist and Exist, The Out Sout (Hip Hop) etc. at Aztlan Cultural Center again. I went to his
CAPA office many times to get advice on how to keep the AGC (Alternative Gathering Collective) organized and strong.
We once had a meeting with him at Luna Sol Café (R.I.P.), which focused on Michaels organizing experiences during the 60’s and 70’s. We wanted ideas
on how to build and sustain a collective. He was a great teacher and he was also my friend. In my free time I would visit him at the CAPA office and talk
about anything. We could be funny or serious and even explore personal relationship issues. I feel that, because of knowing Michael Zinzun, I met
amazing community organizers such as Bloodhound, Bilal Ali and Mabbie Settlage. These are people, who on numerous occasions would come and
speak or give workshops at the events that I would organize.
I don't remember everything that happened during that ten-year period of time, but what I'm trying to communicate is that Michael worked with everyone,
regardless of their racial, sexual, gender, spiritual or sub-cultural identity. He worked with punk rockers, feminists, animal rights activists, anarchist,
radical college students, youth, etc. This is the side of Michael I got to see that others may not have known about.
One of the other memories I have of him that comes to mind was during the late 90's, when my old friend Justin and I were arguing at his office. We were
going to a rally in Watts that CAPA had organized and I thought it was a bad idea to have an Anarchist Black Bloc in Watts. Justin disagreed, so we both
asked for his opinion and he said “BRING IT ON MAN!” When Michael would speak at punk shows it was like there was fire coming out of his mouth. He
was such a powerful speaker with a lot of anger and conviction in his voice and he was very confrontational and loud. He would grab everyone’s
attention. He was both book and street smart and well researched. Most of the time he was talking about his own experiences.
On Saturday, July 15th, I attended Michael's funeral in Pasadena with members of COPWATCH Los Angeles. The funeral was packed with elders. There
was an open mic and, at times, the funeral reminded me of a rally. There were all kinds of people present (Revolutionaries, Christians, Muslims, etc).
People came from many different states and countries (including Africa and Brazil). Some speakers had soft voices and talked about spirituality, some
read poems, some sang and some still had that angry, revolutionary voice for change. So many people said good things about him and it seems as if
they had lost someone important to humanity. Everyone had a different story to tell about Michael. The common theme was that Michael loved working
and fighting alongside oppressed peoples. When one of the Panthers read the ten-point program, an old Panther next to me had his eyes closed and
was mouthing the words. He still memorized it after all these years. Near the end of this segment of the funeral, one of the Panthers on the mic asked for
all Panthers to stand up and the crowd applauded. They were in their 50's, clothed in suits and ties. Everyone raised a clenched fist in the air and
shouted “ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!” These were original Black Panther Party members from the late 60's and early 70's.
Later on I went outside and talked to some of the original Panthers from Los Angeles who, many years back, had been in a shoot out with the S.W.A.T.
team and LAPD at their headquarters. They are still as militant as they were in their youth and are organizing in their communities to achieve social
change and revolution. They never stopped, even as they got older.
Later on I introduced Cop Watch folks to CAPA Office members to network and work with each other. The only thing is that so much unfinished paper
work was left behind, but Michael's vision will go on and people will continue where he left off, working towards a new world, free of oppression and
- J.Lee 7/15/ 2006
Michael and I at the CAPA office
in the late 90's.