Wednesday, January 1, 2003
A PANTHER GENERATION GAP
Chicago Tribune: With their guns, black berets, black leather jackets and radical rhetoric, the armed and angry members of the Black Panther Party did an excellent job of upsetting their elders in the 1960s. Now they're getting a taste of their own medicine.
What's left of the original Panther leadership is so upset by the rhetoric pouring out of a paramilitary group called the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense that the old Panthers have announced an effort to put the new Panthers out of business. They have begun a fund-raising campaign and legal trademark fight to force the New Panthers to stop using the old Panther names, symbols and likenesses.
New Panther leader Malik Z. Shabazz has charged that the elder Panthers are being manipulated by enemies of the black power movement. "For them to call us extreme is extremely outrageous," he was quoted as saying.
Indeed, the original Panthers were widely known for hot-blooded slogans advocating death to police officers and the overthrow of the U.S. government. By the time they disbanded in the mid-1970s, 28 Panthers and 14 police officers had died in various confrontations, by co-founder Bobby Seale's count. Dozens were wounded. Eight members remain in prison, Seale said recently.
The original Panthers would prefer that everyone remember that they operated free health clinics, sickle-cell anemia testing, grocery giveaways and breakfast programs for children. They would prefer to be remembered as victims of the late-night police raid on a West Side apartment in 1969 that led to the deaths of Panther leader Fred Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark.
Now prominent Panther veterans like Seale, David Hilliard and Elaine Brown want nothing to do with the vile anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of Shabazz, a 35-year-old Washington lawyer.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League rank the New Panthers as a hate group, right along with what's left of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
The elder Panthers -- we'd call them Gray Panthers, but that's already been taken -- want no part of that.
Yet, they can't deny that the New Panthers are a consequence of choices the old Panthers made years ago. The original Panthers, based in Oakland, Calif., chose to take the "revolutionary" road, when many others chose nonviolence as their tactic for change. They were extremists, even in the context of the roiling 1960s.
That bitter lesson has come back to haunt the surviving Panthers. How odd it is to watch them, as they mellow into their senior years, complain that their reputations are being soiled by a new bunch of ... extremists.