What are the New Black Panthers up to, and what is their next move?
The New Black Panthers are in the news these days, most recently for holding a protest this week in front of the infamous Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Texas, where Sandra Bland died in custody on July 13 following a traffic stop and arrest days earlier.
Bland, 28, had recently moved from the Chicago area to work at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. Although her arrest was ruled a hanging suicide by local authorities–not the first in that jail–many questions remain unanswered, and many in the black community are not having it.
Bland’s family, concluding Bland had no reason to commit suicide, filed a wrongful death civil rights lawsuit against the arresting officer, state trooper Brian Encina, and other officials last week.
The New Black Panthers, numbering at around 25, participated in a two-hour, nonviolent protest, shouting “Oink, oink! Bang, bang!” and “The revolution has come! Off the pigs!” They said they were there not only to protest the death of Sandra Bland, but “other crimes against black people,” according to KGNS-TV. A number of the group’s members were armed, and they were surrounded by barricades of mostly white police officers from numerous departments.
The parallels–or more aptly the contrasts–between the New Black Panthers and the Oath Keepers beg for a closer look.
Members of the Oath Keepers, a predominantly white, rightwing militia group, were present at last weekend’s protests in Ferguson to mark the first anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Oath Keepers include former and current police and military who believe President Obama is a dictator and an enemy of the state, and have vowed to protect the Constitution and disobey orders they believe are illegal.
Members came to the #BlackLivesMatter protest armed with semi-automatic rifles, bulletproof vests and camouflage outfits. And yet, the group was not confronted by police, and therefore not arrested, though St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said their presence was “both unnecessary and inflammatory,” according to NBC News.
And while the Oath Keepers claimed they were present to protect Ferguson–and a conservative journalist working for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars–the sight of armed white militias concerned the unarmed, nonviolent black activists in Ferguson who were there to protest racial injustice.
Meanwhile, although the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the Oath Keepers a “fiercely anti-government, militaristic group,” it has not designated them a hate group, though it and other organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League monitor them.
On the other hand, SPLC does label the New Black Panther Party a black separatist and hate group–“a virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers.” However, in its own words, the group has articulated the following aims and objectives:
1. To unite and rally Black/Afrikan people into one national front of the basis of Black Nationalism.
2. To fight for the overthrow of White racism, Black inferiority, criminal settler colonialism, imperialism, and domination. To fight for the establishment, maintenance, and right to self-determination of Black/ Afrikan people; in the United States and abroad.
3. To work and struggle for the establishment and maintenance of a Black/Afrikan United Front.
4. To support and disseminate the educational, cultural and economic advancement of Black/Afrikan people.
5. To propagate and promote the impress and ideology of Revolutionary Black Nationalism/Pan Africanism by promoting unity among the peoples of Africa and African descent
through the usage of Proper Propaganda.
The New Black Panthers are not to be confused with the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense which, while also militant, was a revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organization in the 1960s and 1970s. Further, although the BPP was most prominently known for its conspicuous use of the Second Amendment–making it an ironic forerunner to today’s white, rightwing-oriented open carry movement–it also had a 10-point program which included such things as demands for full employment, decent housing and education, and end to police brutality and the murder of black people, freedom for all black people in prison, and so on.
Meanwhile, the Panthers also maintained social programs in the community such as health clinics and a free breakfast program for children. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover said “The Breakfast for Children Program represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for.”
Regardless of your opinions on guns and the right to bear arms, the role of self-defense in the civil rights movement cannot be denied. Even the nonviolent civil rights movement depended on armed protection from the Ku Klux Klan, including Dr. Martin Luther King, and groups such as the Deacons For Defense and Justice protected civil rights workers and black people who wanted to vote.
In the age of #BlackLivesMatter, in which white violence against black bodies is taking center stage and creating a sense of urgency in black communities, some have employed the hashtag #WeWillShootBack as a call for self-defense.
Armed resistance movements are not meant to be antagonistic, but are intended as a means of protection when existing systems fail to protect marginalized communities. But it is serious business nonetheless, and black people should realize the high risks of such an approach. “Stand Your Ground” laws do not look favorably upon black people, as whites have a 354 percent greater chance of being found justified in fatal shootings than blacks, according to the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center.
Meanwhile, protesters have continued to focus the spotlight on Waller County Jail, as they should. The constant protests seem to be getting to Sheriff Glenn Smith, who recently told a white clergywoman who protested at the jail to “go back to the church of Satan that you run.”
Surely the case of Sandra Bland is not over, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement is just beginning. And groups such as the New Black Panthers must decide whether they are serious about bringing justice, and what their role should be.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove