In the latest dumpster-fire of a super bowl half time show, Beyonce and her backup dancers payed tribute to the divisive Black Panthers with themed costumes and gestures. This is the latest in a laundry list of racial hissy fits broadcasted by spoiled hollywood elites. I don’t care so much that celebrities and athletes alike echoed the false “hands up, don’t shoot” mantra or that they complained that the Oscars were discriminatory towards black actors. What really bothers me is that Beyonce and others would choose to venerate a group so mired in violence as the Black Panther Party.
This seems to be a trend among frustrated activists across the country and it needs to stop. A quick peek into the history of the Black Panthers should reveal enough violence and divisiveness to dissuade even the most radical of protesters.
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was started in 1966 in Oakland, California by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Seale and Newton met while protesting Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba, became friends, and decided to project their voice by starting the Black Panther Party. The BPP split from the nonviolent movements of Martin Luther King Jr. and preached a more militant view of civil rights activism. With socialist influences stemming from Malcom X, Mao Zedong, and Marx, the BPP was originally instituted to combat racial prejudice in the Oakland police force, however, the BPP mutated into something much more sinister.
Both Seale and Newton were on trial at some point in their lives for murder. Huey Newton was charged with murdering Oakland police officer John Frey. On October 28th, 1967, John Frey pulled Newton over and after recognizing who he was, he called for backup. A second officer, Herbert Heanes arrived. A few minutes later, a distress call was placed and responding officers found Frey bleeding out and Heanes with several bullet wounds. Newton was found, arrested, and later convicted of voluntary manslaughter and was ordered to serve 2-15 years in jail. However, after two mistrials, the case was thrown out. Newton also murdered prostitute Kathleen Smith, smashed in the skull of his tailor Preston Callins, and ordered the grisly murder of Betty Van Patter.
Seale was arrested for conspiracy to incite riots after he and many others protested the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Seale was tried along with seven others who came to be known as the Chicago Seven. Seale was charged with contempt of court and spent four years in jail. Seale was also tried for murdering Alex Rackley, who confessed to being a police informant while being tortured by fellow Black Panthers. George Sams, who said that Seale ordered the murder of Rackley, confessed in court and spent time in jail. Michael Moynihan explains the Alex Rackley ordeal in more detail in his Daily Beast article.
Now that we’ve established that the founders of the BPP were marred by violence themselves, let’s look at the BPP’s activities and influential members. On May 2nd, 1967, The Black Panther Party, brandishing guns, marched on the California state capitol to intimidate lawmakers. On April 6, 1968, The Black Panthers, lead by Eldridge Cleaver, conduct an ambush on Oakland police officers. At First, the accounts of that night said that the police initiated the attack, however, later details would prove otherwise. In a New West article from May 19th, 1980, Cleaver admits to initiating the assault. When asked if he initiated the ambush, Cleaver said “I am no longer in favor of going after the police with guns. With that context clear…yes.” Bobby Hutton, a member of the BPP was killed in the ambush.
The BPP also had skirmishes with the police on August 5th, 1968 (Steven Bartholomew, Robert Lawrence, and Thomas Lewis), October 5th, 1968 (Welton Armstead), July 17th, 1969 (Larry Roberson), October 18th, 1969 (Walter Pope), November 13th, 1969 (Spurgeon Winters), and several other times. In most, if not all of these incidents, the police were justified in their actions.
As reported in the Chicago Tribune (pg. 18), in early April of 1969, 21 members of the BPP were indicted for a bomb plot. The Panthers had planned to bomb five department stores during Easter shopping season. Among the indicted was Robert Collier, who had been previously convicted of conspiring to blow up the Statue of Liberty in February of 1965.
Assata Shakur, a lifelong criminal and domestic terrorist, was a member of both the BPP and the Black Liberation Army. Born Joanne Chesimard, Shakur is described by the FBI as “an active, prominent member of the Black Panther Party and later the Black Liberation Army in the 1970s.” On May 3rd, 1973, Shakur and two others were stopped by New Jersey police. According to the FBI’s account, “From the front passenger seat, Chesimard [Shakur] fired the first shot, wounding Trooper James Harper in the shoulder. As Harper moved for cover, Chesimard exited the car and continued to fire at both troopers until she was wounded by Harper’s return fire.” After the dust had settled, Trooper Werner Foerster was fatally wounded. Shakur was convicted of his murder but escaped jail in 1979 and fled to Cuba for political asylum. She remains there today. She is currently on the FBI’s top ten most wanted. UC Berkely recently renamed an academic building to honor Shakur.
The original Black Panther Party eventually dissolved but there are spinoffs and imitation Black Panthers that still exist today. The New Black Panthers made news back when Ferguson was in the news, specifically because two members planned to bomb the Arch and kill prosecuting attorney Robert McCullough.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an ultra-left organization, lists the New Black Panthers as a hate group.
The Black Panthers have an extremely violent history and spinoffs of the group continue to advocate violence. The BPP is nothing to venerate, in fact, they should be denounced. Therefore, my message to all activists is: Stop Venerating the Black Panthers