Is Violence the Answer?: The Black Panther Party
Organized in the 1960s at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther Party emerged as a revolutionist group pioneering a strategy of militancy. The Party's aims were to eliminate the discrimination challenging African-Americans in America since the time of slavery, and to protect their communities from police brutality. Inspired by contemporary radical leaders such as Malcolm X, the party recognized that in order to restructure American society so that civil equality was obtainable by all people, a much stronger opposition was necessary. Party members felt the passive resistance adopted by their predecessors fighting for equality proved futile, and therefore the Party endorsed new tactics of self-defense and violent resistance to secure their political and social rights as American citizens. However, the promotion and employment of open violence fueled the government with legitimate reason to battle for the Party's eradication. Regardless of its success in instituting innovative community reforms in African-American neighborhoods, during its short existence the Black Panther Party was never able to achieve its fundamental goal of eliminating racial discrimination and ensuring civil equality for all when battling against an America averse to change.
The period ranging from approximately 1950s-1970s witnessed a rabid call for social change: in particular, the demand for civil equality. In 1966, frustrated by the lack of progress in the fight for equal rights for blacks, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Outraged by instances of police brutality and violence toward civil rights workers and even innocent citizens, the Party adopted a policy of self-defense and militancy recognizing that "All history has shown that this government will bring its police and military powers to bear on any group which truly seeks to free Afrikan people" (Acoli 2). This new strategy of "fighting back" differed dramatically from the non-violent rebellion that leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated. These non-violent leaders had adopted a strategy of building a respectful coexistence with the rest of society, which they hoped would eventually lead to social change. However, change was not transpiring rapidly or extensively enough for the founders of the Black Panther Party. Originally a small coalition of men with the goal of protecting their community of Oakland, California, the Party developed itself into a prominent national organization maintaining chapters in forty-eight states all fighting to rid the country of discrimination and unlawful violence against blacks.
While other prominent civil rights groups were engaging in non-violent protests such as sit-ins and rallies, the Black Panther Party was determined to take a bolder stance against injustice. The Party believed that the methods that organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. were implementing remained ineffective against an extremely discriminatory America: despite mass uprisings by blacks in resistance to unrelenting violence and the law's delay, despite tacit urgings by blacks to be afforded some means to survive, despite bold attempts to live separate lives in America [
] blacks, in the main, found themselves denied of every possible avenue to either establish their own socioeconomic independence or participate fully in larger society ("Panther"). The Black Panther Party, therefore, ventured to adopt a new strategy: revolution. The Party was strongly influenced by the rising Black Power movement, which stressed dignity, self reliance and racial unity. Robert F. Williams, an early Black Power leader, was one of the earliest advocates of violent protest against the...
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