#BlackLivesMatter: The New Black Panther Party?

The following essay was submitted as part of a Critical Writing assignment in 2017. All Citations have remained intact.

Almost as if history were to repeat itself, in 2016 there came a time where African Americans felt the need to call protection amongst themselves against the force of police brutality. #BlackLivesMatter is a movement ignited by the power of social media and its influences from the world around it. This movement and its creation were much like the cause of the Black Panther Party where the racial divide and discrimination against colored people was at one of its peaks. Police forces water hosing Black protesters off of streets, unleashing dogs, bringing  out riot gear, tear gas and more. Black people were tired and fed up with being abused and treated as if their lives didn’t matter and so took to the streets.

 On a Monday night, October 20th, 2014 at 9:57pm, seventeen year old Laquan McDonald was shot a total of sixteen times by Chicago Police officer Jason VanDyke. The only weapon Laquan possessed was a pocket knife.  In light of Laquan’s death, African Americans and many allies across the nation (and across the world) felt the need to gather in protest, strengthen their numbers by shutting down large, major streets in major cities, and demanding justice of the judicial departments that govern our nation. Laquan’s killer hadn’t been found guilty of his crimes and was still out in the field as a police officer for years, even though during his time as a police officer VanDyke has had 20 reported offenses against him from citizens. This was due to excessive use of force during his policing. The culture of American police departments is very close knit and secretive, therefore creating a network of abusive, under trained cops that obtain too much power over civilians.

Statistically, there have been more whites killed by police than Blacks, but it is also statistically proven, as of June 2020,  that a black person is 2.5 times more likely to get killed by police than a white person. In 2019, 24 percent of all police killings were Black Americans. There are some that believe that police officers do everything in their power to protect their citizens, and that officers often put their lives on the line before everyone else against the crimes and dangers that society inflicts. But what America is conditioned to believe is that the police were meant to “serve and protect” at all times and that they can do no harm as they are above the law. But when controlling crime begins to turn into target practice on a specific group of people, that causes a necessary outrage. Very few know about the story of Chris Dorner, a Black man, who served as an LAPD officer and was fired for filing an abuse complaint  against his white partner. In a Dave Chapelle standup entitled “8:46”, Chappell recounts the story of Chris Dorner and how he was an officer and military man that did everything right. But when Dorner waged an “unconventional and asymmetrical” war on the LAPD, 400 officers swarmed Dorner’s hideout in San Bernardino, CA and assassinated him. But, in the same fashion that police can come together because one of their own had been killed, is exactly what happens when the people of the Black community loses one of theirs. A necessary outrage that creates a need for protest, protection and action.

In 1966 in Oakland California, civil rights activists Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party. “… a kind of community action club for the self-defense of Black people.” At this time, the community was fresh out of an era of lynching, Jim Crow, The Great Depression, migration from the south and countless other life hurdles. But even in the 60s, just shy of 300 years after the Slave Trade, the African American community still felt targeted and singled out by the white forces that were supposed to “protect” them. Newton and Seale decided to create an organization that symbolized Black strength, protection and integrity and by 1968 the BPP was about 5,000 members strong.

Some leaders of the BPP encouraged their members to carry arms if a rebellion was ever necessary, even though these tactics were not ideal for their safety. The Black Panther Party has enabled themselves to be artillerymen, which shook the FBI to its core. White police forces were not prepared for the level of ammunition that the BPP produced, and fear and rage on both sides caused shoot outs amongst some members and the police. “…  in 1969 police in Chicago killed two party leaders under circumstances that remain obscure.” This was all because of the impending threat Black Panther members felt from the culture around them. This caused friction within the party itself because many of its members understood the weight of the circumstances of the BPP members always being armed. Killings and domestic wars could have been a more common occurrence than it already was, and so many members felt that wasn’t the correct way to represent the African American people. There were even some members who joined solely for the purpose of owning a gun, because they wanted to be ready and prepared had it ever came time for them to fight the law. Such as Jamal Joseph, now a Columbia University fine arts professor who was only fifteen when he joined the Black Panther Party in hopes of becoming a Black militant.  He joined expecting to immediately get his gun and beat the odds of the opposing police forces, but instead the BPP chapter leader of the meeting taught him an extremely important lesson. In an NPR interview hosted by Michael Martin, Joseph expresses the moment:

“Nothing in there about killing a white dude, but I jump up. I’m not hearing him. And I said, choose me, brother. Arm me. I’ll kill a white dude right now. Whole meeting gets quiet. The gentleman calls me up front, reaches in the bottom drawer. My heart’s pounding. I was like, oh, he’s going to give me a big gun, like with the Panther logo on the bottom. And he hands me a stack of books.

MARTIN: A stack of books?

JOSEPH: A stack of books. “Autobiography of Malcolm X,” “The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon, “Soul On Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver. So now I think this must be a test. You know, he’s trying to check me out to see if I really want to be down, you know, with the Panthers.

I said, excuse me, brother. I thought you were going to arm me. He said, young brother, I just did.

This moment illustrates how there were opposing sides even amid the very members of the Black Panther Party. There were some members, much like Jamal, that joined the BPP expecting to be handed a gun and told to go kill as many white men as they can, giving the BPP the perception of a domestic terrorist group. This was of course a nationwide misconception, and still is for some people today. But the members that wanted to dispel the dangerous stigma of the party did more than rally and protest while holding large guns. The BPP  “launched an ambitious breakfast program for children and opened free health clinics to screen for sickle-cell anemia.” What the federal government tries to ignore is that the Black Panther Party was more than just a group of angry Black people seeking revenge on whites. Active members were utilizing themselves to help their communities actually feel like someone was caring for them. During my research about the BPP, I had gone into this project believing that I knew as much as I could about these organizations, but I discovered that I was very wrong.

 As stated in Nick Chile’s article ‘8 Black Panther Party Programs That Were More Empowering Than Federal Government Programs’ the BPP created community aid programs such as The Youth Institute; an educational program that was created to sharpen the skills of Black school children so that they reach their full academic potential when learning amid their white peers. Seniors Against a Fearful Environment (SAFE), a neighborhood watch-like program, made specifically to prevent muggings from happening to senior citizens who would receive disability or pension checks and would walk to their local banks to cash them. “The program offered free transportation and escort services to the residents of the Satellite Senior Homes, a residential complex for the elderly in Oakland, California (Chile).” People’s Free Ambulance Service, a 24-hour emergency service that provided “ free, rapid transportation for sick or injured people without time-consuming checks into the patient’s financial status or means.” The Black Student Alliance, a college campus program founded to unify Black students and support the Black communities around them with food programs, financial aid services, child care services and more. The Black Panther Newspaper, “…the official organ of the Black Panther Party.” The BPP’s national tabloid. The Black Panther Party Newspaper was established in April 1967 and was a weekly published paper that kept the Black community updated about the different BPP organizations around the nation, and oppression that occurred in not only America, but in Africa as well. With the Black Panther Party’s innumerable amount of non-for-profit programs that supported the Black community at that time, the impact on those people was profound, even around the world. During their short-lived time as an organization, the BPP made sure that they rebuilt the parts of Black communities that some thought were irreparable, and the impact that these programs had on their communities still thrive today.

Ever since the absence of the Black Panther Party, police brutality against minorities has taken a high toll in the most recent years leading up to 2017 (2020). Black Lives Matter is a movement that reinforces the validity of the lives of the African-American community. But leading up to the creation of #BlackLivesMatter were a slew of unjustified killings of unarmed Black people by policemen. (As of June 15th, 2020 this list has been slightly updated.) Some of the most illustrious victims idolized by the Black Lives Matter movement are Eric Garner; 43, killed by white police officer in New York who put him in a chokehold because he was selling loose cigarettes. “Garner’s death sparked peaceful protests across the nation, with demonstrators adopting the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” as a symbol and slogan of protest.” Michael Brown Jr.; 18, shot and killed in a video recording after trying to run from police officer Darren Wilson. John Crawford III; 22, was shopping at a Walmart in Beaver Creek, Ohio for his newborn child. He was holding a BB gun that was being sold as an item at the store, and BC Police opened fire. Ezell Ford; 25, a mentally ill, unarmed man shot three times by white police officer. Tanisha Anderson; 37, died from a trauma to the head after being slammed into the pavement. “Anderson’s family said she had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.” Tamir Rice; 12, shot and killed by white police officer who mistook Tamir’s toy gun for a real gun. Jerame Reid; 36, shot and killed after he and his friend were pulled over on a road.  On the recorded footage of a dashcam, we hear an officer claiming that there is a gun in the glove compartment of the car. At gunpoint, Reid steps out of the car with his hands visibly above his chest, but officers Braheme Days and Roger Worley opened fire anyways. Freddie Gray; 25, “…died of a spinal cord injury a week after he was arrested by Baltimore police. It’s still unclear how Gray sustained the injury…He was put in a police van, which is where police say he suffered a medical emergency.” Freddie’s injuries were ignored when he was thrown into the back of a police van after running from the police. Freddie’s death also sparked protests around the nation as well as the Baltimore riot in 2015 on the day of his funeral. Tony McDade; 38, was a trans man who was shot and killed by police on May 27th. “They said ‘Stop moving, nigger,’ and then they shot him after he stopped moving,” a resident says in a Facebook Live”. Breonna Taylor, 26, was asleep in her home on May 13th, 2020. On orders of a “no-knock” warrant, police in plain clothes burst into Taylor’s home that night and shot her 8 times. Taylor’s boyfriend survived the shooting because he too was armed and fired first trying to protect his home. 

These are only a few, of the countless victims. Some of these names I have known for years (and some of these names I am learning today in 2020.) Many of these Black names are forgotten about or never learned and to this day, the day that I am (updating) this very paper, the body count of Black lives taken by the hands of police officers is still growing. In my own personal experience, I participated in (my first) protest in downtown Chicago. I was on the way home from a rehearsal of a show I was doing in the summer of 2016. On July 11th, I was riding the number 4 Cottage Grove bus as I usually do after every rehearsal. But for some reason, my bus had come to a halt and couldn’t move because of the parade of people chanting things like 

“Black Lives Matter”

 “I Can’t Breathe” 

 “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! These racist cops have got to go!”

 “No justice! No peace! No racist police!”

“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

I remember jumping off of the bus thinking “if ya can’t beat em, join em!” because there was no way my bus was moving anytime soon. There were people of all races and ethnicities marching together in peaceful protest. The crowded streets were being aided by hundreds of Chicago Policemen on bikes, there were large police bunkers, assumingly waiting to collect those who have been arrested, and as far as I know the only person I saw arrested was a middle aged white woman who had nothing to do with the protest, but was berating a police officer and forcefully poking him in the chest while yelling. She was taken down and arrested by six to seven police officers and thrown in one of the vans parked in the middle of State street. In my opinion, I believe the use of excessive force was completely unnecessary, as it so usually is. Many of the bystanding protesters seemed to have agreed with me. (But at the time, we felt powerless.) The protest continued down State street and I took my time to observe the police officers around me. Half of me was flamed and fueled up with the liberation of the rally, but another part of myself was very afraid of the reality that stood in front of me, ******************wearing bulletproof vests and blue uniforms. If I in any way provoked one of these police officers, would I end up the same as the victims whose names I chanted at the top of my lungs? Will I be arrested and have to explain to my mother as to why I hadn’t come straight home in the first place over a phone call from a CPD holding cell? There had already been violent arrests of protesters from previous marches. Police forces came in numbers so astonishing that for there to only be a peaceful protest for social justice, the number of police officers present was more than overwhelming. Many of the participants saw the number of CPD officers as a reflection of what the political construct around us thought of the movement. Much like the BPP, the BLM movement was perceived as a violent and disruptive group of demonstrators.

Black Lives Matter, empowered by the use of social media, and was sparked through the magnitude of influence internet platforms such as Twitter and Facebook had on the liberated young-adult generation we experience today. Their impact is overwhelming. But I believe social media is where the strength lies in the BLM movement. I believe it comes from a place where awareness is the first and primary step towards change. People are influenced by things they can read, and to read about the social justice rebellion that Black Lives Matter ensued, it became infectious. #BLM is a trend that shook a generation by generating worldwide recognition, and spread amongst social media platforms like wildfire. There were not only BLM marches in Chicago, but in other countries such as Paris, Canada, Japan, Germany, and India, only to name a few. I would like to believe that everyone in the world is aware of how tech-dependent our adult generation is. Online, every person is connected to everything all over the globe. When the rest of the world hears about the efforts of BLM to repair Black America’s “pre-existing conditions”, and when people in other continents feel the need to respond to our racial cry for help, what should one expect they do?

What they did was followed in the steps of Americans. Foreign countries took to their streets and participated in protests and marches through their towns and cities to raise awareness of what exactly America was missing; recognition for the lack of regard that is shown to Blacks during brutal police encounters. African Americans face tragedies where they see the law allow police brutality as if it were just some subtle underlying norm in American culture. People have lost their lives at the expense of these so called “protectors of the law” for generations now, and much like the time where the Black Panther Party felt the need to bear arms with literal guns, Black Lives Matter is almost experiencing the same thing. The Baltimore Riots of 2015 resembled much of the division of the BPP when they faced being called “a domestic terrorist group”. However, both Black Lives Matter and the Black Panther Party insisted that their organizational goals were all about peaceful protest while still demanding change. 

While acknowledging those who have been more disruptive than peaceful in the Black Lives Matter movement, I find that these are only minor setbacks for the movements. Those people who committed acts of violence and destruction are not tolerated or endorsed by either groups. Admittedly, they had their “bad nuts”.  But after the legacy the Black Panther Party has imposed, and in the short time that Black Lives Matter has lived, who’s to say that it doesn’t have the potential to be some sort of reincarnation of the Black Panthers? As the new generation is on an upswing when it comes to taking a stand on political platforms, who’s to say that the BLM movement can’t create opportunities for people of color the same way the Black Panther Party did in their reign?

Personally, I never found any interest in vocalizing my social and political opinions. But by being so immersed in the effects that Black Lives Matter has had on the lives around me has changed my opinion. As I transition to adulthood, my awareness is hypersensitive to my place in society because of the BLM movement. As an African American female college student, I am very conscious and receptive to the things and people that I encounter. Being an inner-city high school student all my life has truly put me on the forefront of many experiences that most people would usually hear through a newscast or tabloid. I believe I come from a city where it is very easy for a young person to get caught in the concrete, caught in a crossfire or get lost on the way. But, to me #BLM changed the perception of many people my age. I started to notice my friends and peers getting involved with other students across the city. Working together, creating awareness through the medium of art and collaboration. People my age are always searching for new ways to organize protests and marches , and are assuming leadership positions amongst themselves in their community to bring attention to the problems that the Black community is facing. To me it seems like we are treating Black Lives Matter and its impact on society the same way Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton had in Oakland, California with the Black Panthers.

I believe it is very plausible for the Black Lives Matter movement to live up to the standard of the Black Panther Party, because in many ways they already have. Both parties fought for the same rights and are fighting the same battle Black America has been fighting for centuries. When it comes to recognizing the lack of care for Black lives, you can depend on Black people to make sure that our voices are heard. We all know that America was literally built on the backs of Africans, and that about 300 years ago, Black people were introduced to America as only three-fifths of a human being. And to think that I live in an era where I have to fear for my life when I encounter a police officer, someone who is sworn to protect me as a citizen, is egregious. America needed the Black Panther Party just as they need Black Lives Matter because without them, who else would fight for the validity of Black life? 

I believe the Black Lives Matter has the potential to finish the work that the Black Panthers began. Even though BLM hasn’t established a sole foundation in the same fashion as the BPP has, I have full confidence that the members of the Black Lives Matter movement will continue all the amazing work that they have created. I believe that the outcome of Black Lives Matter will leave footprints in the direction that the Panthers were leading, and now is the time to make all their effort redeemable and not out of vain only by taking action.




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