In today’s society, when you say the words ‘Black Panther’ it usually invokes a 20-something crossing their arms and screaming “Wakanda forever”! If you mention Huey Newton, Fred Hampton or Bobby Seale to these people they stare at you and say they don’t remember who the actor that played the Black Panther was, but he was very good and deserved an Oscar.
But what those names should evoke are the words ‘revolution’, ‘organizers’, ‘progress’, and as much as I do love those Marvel movies, I gotta say, they haven’t particularly captured the spirit of the Black Panther comic book either! Hell the second issue has him fight the Ku Klux Klan after the board at Marvel requested more white characters to be introduced in the books! That shut them up real quick!
The REAL Black Panthers came out of a need for social revolution in America in the 60s. And that need is still here today, so it’s important to know what they did right, where they dropped the ball and how & why they were attacked by the establishment while driving social change and paradigm shifts! Aside from the comic book character, the only thing we know about this group is that they were militant Black men out for Black Freedom with guns, leather, sunglasses and berets which were also all Black! But that’s not really the accurate picture of the movement!
The Black Panthers were created by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in 1965 after the assassination of Malcolm X. At this point there were riots over police brutality in predominantly black neighborhoods and this was also the time where black protestors were having dogs sicked on them and marchers were being hosed down. This is how you know that teaching racism has gotten out of hand, when dogs are trained to be racist.
Dogs don’t have no interest in judging people based on melanin content. They have interests in belly rubs and who’s got the treats! I feel like teaching dogs to be racist goes against the 8th Amendment of Cruel & Unusual Punishment! Emphasis on unusual! You gotta be real weird to try to teach a dog the N-Word…also racist. Very very racist!
It’s the same thing with Horse Cops! Those horses don’t want to be an instrument of oppression! They want to be free, eating apples from the hands of horse whisperers, not have commands shouted at them by Sargent Pepper Spray. Every time I see a horse at a protest I wonder if that horse is thinking “This is bullshit! My life matters too mother fucker! I’m not just here to let you bear mace innocent people!” I have to wonder how many horses put their two weeks notice in after a protest against police brutality!
Now Huey Newton was a law student that knew how to protect himself in the streets. Newton introduced the idea of how militarized the police are by saying they “occupy black neighborhoods as troops occupying a territory!” Really this is taking manifest destiny a bit too far isn’t it? Cops are no longer about protecting and serving they’re about manifesting and destinying…
If you’re unfamiliar with Manifest Destiny, it’s the idea that all the land was destined to be America’s and if they pray hard enough, or more accurately pillage hard enough, they make that land theirs! Which would then fulfill their destinies. It’s a real pull yourself up by yourself bootstraps approach to oppression.
America has a 1000 military bases around the globe right now which just means that manifest destiny has been franchised like a Subway or a McDonalds. For every base that occupies your territory you get a free toy that says upward mobility! Hooray Freedom via merchandised oppression! Manifest Destiny is an incredibly juvenile philosophy! It’s basically the “called it” of foreign policy!
“What is that Guam? Called it! America, called it! Callin it first! Is that Korea? Oh called it! It’s ours! We called it!”
Bobby Seale was a genius organizer. He was also a natural born rapper and instead of starting a band like most college kids he came up with the Panther’s tagline and what really became their mission statement “Power to the People. Power to all of the People!” Just within that statement alone the myth of Black Nationalism and militancy is dissolved.
The Black Panthers believed that society’s issues were coming from a systemic level, specifically poverty, which affected people of all races and creeds! If this sounds familiar it’s because a lot progressive and anti-establishment activists, organizers, commentators and comedians are STILL saying this stuff today! The Black Panthers pointed this out in 1966! That’s 54 years ago! What’s the time limit on trying ideas that don’t work and FINALLY listening to the voice of the people? Like…55 years?
Newton said: “We’re here to transform society and erect a system where people will receive justice”! So in order to specify what that meant, they came up with their 10 Point Program, which in reality was just addressing basic human rights! I will cover them more in depth in a little bit! But one of the aspects of the 10 point plan was to end police brutality of black people in America.
After the cops murdered another young black kid, which was the discriminatory cherry on the Jim Crow cake – which is pretty much just a big pile of flour – the Panthers decided to start their first initiative called ‘copwatch’! With Huey Newton being a law student he knew that California Penal Code 12020-12027 states that people were allowed to observe the police from a safe distance! And the Second Amendment granted them the right to bear arms during their observations. If the police decided to shoot them, they had a right to defend themselves.
This of course irritated the police officers, which then prompted Republicans to say we needed tighter restrictions on gun laws! REPUBLICANS AGAINST GUNS! Now I try not to make all the issues about race, but this one is just too obvious! All of sudden a bunch of black guys with guns show up to ensure that a mustachioed cop wasn’t going to kill another innocent civilian and the Republicans want to pretend like the Second Amendment doesn’t exist? Had this been a white dude with a sawed off shotgun and a water bottle of chew the cops might have deputized him for the week.
In today’s society we do have a version of Copwatch! It’s using our cell-phones, going live on social media, and of course unleashing the wrath of our Karens threatening to contact a manager. That’s right! We’re about to exercise our constitutional rights to speak to 100% of the managers! Plus we have the Black Lives Matter movement that is keeping violent and unjust cops at bay with protests and demonstrations for every innocent person killed by police!
And today the Republicans aren’t really advocating for tighter restrictions on guns, but rather flooding the market with them. FREEDOM…but in order to get it you have to win a duel with your neighbors! Take 10 paces, that’s one for every Amendment you don’t fully understand! And when a black NRA member is shot by the cops, the Republicans stay silent. They all scurry away into Mitch McConnel’s turtle shell and hide till everything blows over. They only peak out to blame the mentally ill or the Muslims.
In 1967, Republicans decided that they needed to restrict open carry. The Black Panthers decided to protest that ruling! Bobby Seale took 30 Panthers down to the California State House, brandished with rifles, handguns and shotguns! But this was happening at the same time that Governor Ronald Regan was talking to the “Future Leaders of America”! You know these are the people that keep telling you that they are legislating on your behalf by telling you Corporations will trickle everything down. And of course the media freaked out, thinking that the Panthers were some kind of a gun club.
Now eventually they made it to the floor of the California Senate to talk about why passing the bill was a bad idea and what they stood for. Bobby Seale even addressed the media and outlined what their 10 Point Program for Human Rights was! After that the Panthers went to a gas station a mile away, where cops confiscated their guns and arrested a bunch of them under the charge of ‘conspiracy’, including Bobby Seale. Yet, we haven’t arrested most of the corporate media for spreading McCarthyist conspiracies for 4 years! Neither have we arrested my neighbor who keeps saying the landlady is a mole person! NO Randy she just doesn’t want to have dinner with you!
Congressmen came out saying they were ‘scared’ and out of fear the “Panther Bill” passed in 1967. Reagan is quoted to say: “I don’t think loaded guns is a way to solve a problem that should be solved among people of good will. And anyone who would approve of this demonstration is out of their mind!” So according to this logic cops that have killed innocent unarmed people, whether they were black or otherwise, according to God-King Republican Regan, are clinically insane. Open up the looney bins because we got some cops to check in!Apparently the Thin Blue Line is now a psychological diagnosis! Does that mean being an asshole is a pre-existing condition for cops?
Question for Republicans: What do you think the gold standard of Republicanism would say about the AR-15 and how deep the dick of the NRA is down the throat of the party today? Do yah think the gipper would call you crazy? Now before everyone freaks out and says that I’m sexist for making it a dick and not a lady part, there’s a reason! Most Republicans are homophobic as well as racist and I’m just trying to make them gag both physically and mentally at the sight of their guns going forward so that was a really progressive joke!
Eventually in a shootout, Officer John Fry is killed and Huey Newton is blamed for it. Newton is put into prison, putting both leaders of the Party behind bars. This brought in Eldrich Cleaver, who was an intellectual that had credibility with both the white and black communities. Cleaver was a lot more bombastic than both Newton & Seale. He even said he’d beat Ronald Reagan with a marshmallow in a duel!
As things kept escalating with the cops, The Panthers came up with one of the iconic sayings about the cops as an illustration in their papers! One of the cartoons by Emory Douglass read “Fuck the Pigs!” The cops said that their feelings were hurt when kids would say it to their faces. Oh really? Well the minority communities feelings are shattered when you murder one of us in cold blood, but you don’t really have much to say or do about those feelings! If we can keep rising up from that, maybe your bourgeoisie, bootlicking snowflake ass can take a few jokes we throw in your direction, Officer Bacon! Or you could just stop killing us to protect rich people’s interests and you know, serve your community! You might want to do what that badge actually says.
This back and forth power struggle is one the things that began to dissolve the Black Panther Party for Self Defense! In 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the violence from the Black Panther Party escalated and led to the first death of a Panther, little Bobby Hutton. Before we get to that, the death of Dr. King meant that hope for unity had died with him. There was a lot of anger that the man that walked through hell to befriend the oppressor to gain equality and was killed. And that anger is a righteous one!
Eldrich Cleaver wanted to make a point and decided the Party needed to take decisive action and take arms against the police. The elder members knew that was not a risk they wanted to take, but the younger members were ready for action. 17 year old Bobby Hutton borrowed a shotgun and went out with Cleaver to hunt for cops!
Eventually they got into a shootout. They got trapped in a basement after the cops had fired tear gas into the house they were in. The house was going to burn and Cleaver suggested that they surrender, but in order to not get shot, they needed to go out naked to show they were unarmed. Hutton was 17, shy and only took off his shirt to surrender. The cops killed him. This is the origins of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”, and it’s the continuing pattern of innocent black kids getting killed by a system protecting it’s investments first. And also, pants can be very scary! According to cops, you never know if there’s a roll of quarters, someone is excited to see them or a bazooka!
After this incident Cleaver had disappeared. Now he’d later reappear in Algeria to start an International Wing of the Black Panther Party! The Nixon Administration was calling for Law & Order to be returned to the streets! And so we go back to the root cause of the problem; Creating an overpowered law and order system that oppresses citizens of color that only makes them want to push back.
With both sides escalating actions and tensions, it got a lot of people killed, and it kept a lot of Black Panthers in prison to this day! One of these escalations included the creation of the Black Liberation Army, which was the militant wing of the Black Panther Party, instituted in 1971. One of these cases that was brought to light was the case of Jalil Muntaquim who was accused of killing 2 cops in 1971.
Muntaquim has been in prison close to 50 years now, despite evidence showing that he didn’t fire the gun that killed the officers. The reason he has been denied parole is because he doesn’t regret being a Black Panther and a revolutionary! In 2002 he did say that he regrets the death of these 2 cops but he does not regret being a Black Panther! This makes him a political prisoner and this is the treatment that most of the Black Panthers in prison get too!
This is an unconstitutional imprisonment! In 2020 it’s not illegal to be a member of the LGBTQ community. It’s not illegal to be a Neo Nazi or White Nationalist. Fuck you’re still allowed to be a member of the McDonald’s Happy Meal Club at age 43 so you can keep collecting the toys! But if you’re a Black Panther that stood up for the people’s rights then you are kept in prison, proving the point of what we’re all fighting for!
There are those that don’t have any sympathy for political prisoners like Muntaquim. In 2018 it was stated in a press conference that “No cop killers should walk the face of the earth!” But we let killer cops walk all over our society and the laws don’t say anything about that! In fact most times cops are protected after they take the life of an innocent child, especially if that child was black like Bobby Hutton.
The wife of one of the deceased cops has made statements like “if you kill someone that is meant to protect society, then you deserve the death penalty”. Statements like these are ones of pain and the torment of loss but don’t see the other side of the argument. Copwatch was put into place because there was no protection from law enforcement if you were black or brown. The police were not there to serve these communities of color but rather contain them as Huey Newton put it! And in a country that has a torrid history of containing people against their will, perhaps it’s time to treat people significantly better. Through pain and loss, this woman has made some unfortunately racist statements.
There are over 19 Black Radicals that believe in Panther Philosophy still in prison today! One of the oldest of these folks is Chip Fitzgerald who is 80 years old! How fragile is a system when it fears an elderly black man that could be returned into society? Your feeble criminal justice system with it’s chains of institutionalized racism is weaker than an 80 year old man who should be soaking up the sun in Ft. Lauderdale and getting STI’s in his retirement community!
The Panthers legacy written by the oligarchs with their media propaganda proxies became about the violence in the streets. But this is not what the Black Panthers ever stood for. Copwatch and the escalation of violence came from one side not listening to the needs of the other. One side not feeling protected or served. When you turn civic duty into military force, you should expect push back.
The second amendment granted citizens to form a well regulated militia and misuse the shit out of comas, and the Black Panthers did at least one of those things. They were well regulated and well organized revolutionaries that fought both intellectually and physically against an unjust system, while advocating for some of the best and most progressive ideas we’ve ever seen in the 20th & 21st century!
Krish Mohan is a socially conscious, Indian standup comedian and writer who regularly tours the country. He performs at small theaters, bars, comedy clubs, colleges, DIY and house venues. With his quirky attitude, charming personality, and intelligent humor, Krish captivates and engages audiences of all backgrounds, tackling hot button topics like race, religion, war, immigration, while adding an optimistic, philosophical & sociological twist!