Black Panthers was a revolutionary movement started in 1966 by a group of African American nationalists who were concerned about the social segregation in the American society. According to Alexander, the African Americans have suffered injustices since the country gained independence in 1776 (2). They were living in a free world yet they were not free. The Blacks could not attend specific schools, live in specific towns, or board the same buses and trains used by the Whites.
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As Alexander puts it, they were second class citizens in a country they called home (2). Most of the African Americans could withstand the social segregation in the society. However, the oppression by the police and other security agents was unbearable. They were subjected to regular police brutality even in cases where they were wrongfully accused of crimes they did not commit. The fact that they were Blacks was in itself a crime, and many paid dearly for this.
People died, others were maimed, while children were orphaned by the brutality directed against the blacks. It is these social injustices that led to the creation of the Black Panther, and organization that grew to become a political party. In order to be heard, they would use violence against the authorities and the White communities. However, Martin Luther King once said that violence can never bring a lasting peace and solution to the oppressed. Instead, it only brings new complication that works against them. In this paper, the researcher will look at the incidents where the Black Panthers used violence to express their oppression and whether or not this helped in addressing their problem.
Violence against the Police Officers
Policing the police
According to Alexander, “The police force was one of the main instruments that were used by the ruling class to oppress the African American,” (2). The Black Panthers gained popularity when it defined its main mission as policing the police officers. Members of this group would follow police patrol cars in private cars and monitor their activities. When the officers attacked an African American, members of this group would get out of their cars and demand to know why the police officers were using excessive force instead of making peaceful arrests. They acted as civil rights group only that they used a different approach.
They did not organize street demonstrations against the police system. They went on the ground, monitored the activities of the police officers and made instant interventions whenever they felt the officers were using excessive force.
Use of violence
The tactics of the Black Panthers in policing the police degenerated to violence following an incident in 1967 when the police attacked and killed Mathew Johnson in San Francisco. This young African American man was unarmed during the attack. Members of Black Panthers reacted violently to the incident not only in San Francisco but also in other parts of the world (Laszlo 87). In Oakland, members of the organization became very violent towards the police officers.
There were cases where police officers were killed in the streets of Oakland by members of Black Panther. Every time the police tried to make arrest of any Black Americans- whether or not the suspects were innocent of the crimes- members of the Black Panther would come to their rescue using shotguns and other weapons. Such confrontations led to many deaths of both the police and the revolutionists. Government attempts to dissuade the members of this organization to stop violence bore no fruit.
Black Panther turned into a political party due to the massive support it received from the minorities that had suffered police brutality. However, the more it gained popularity, the more it engaged in violence against the authority (Gloriana 4). The organization used violence to make itself heard by the government. It succeeded in getting the attention of the government, but in a negative way. The Federal Bureau of Investigation came up with a program called COINTELPRO.
This program was not meant to address the plight of the Black Americans as per the demands of Black Panthers. Instead, it was formed to neutralize the organization and undo all its gains in championing for the rights of the minorities. COINTELPRO proved to be very efficient because it infiltrated Black Panthers, creating a rift within its leadership. A section of supported of Black Panthers formed a parallel organization called Black Liberation Army. Many other splinter groups came up in the 1970s. Instead of fighting for a common course, these groups started fighting against themselves, forgetting their golden aim of defending the minorities against police brutality. The Black Panthers was finally dissolved in 1982.
Analysis of the activities of Black Panthers confirms the argument of Martin Luther King Junior that violence cannot solve the problem of oppression. It may yield short-term success but such gains do not last long. The Black Panthers’ decision to use force brought short-lived success. However, it brought a new problem among the African Americans. It created mistrust and infighting instead of eliminating the injustices among the Black Americans.
Alexander, Don. The Rise and Fall of the Black Panthers Party: A Revolutionary Marxist Analysis. New York: City University of New York. Print.
Gloriana, Waters. Workplace Violence Prevention. New York: City University of New York. Print.
Laszlo, Alex. “Personal Historical Narratives.” Library Notes Fall 2.1 (2007): pp. 6-7. Print.