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From Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter

Created over 50 years apart, the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense are both rooted in the same fight against police brutality towards Black people in the United States.

Historian Isabel Wilkerson and several other scholars have pointed out that the killings of Black bodies represent the continuation of lynching culture in the United States.

These documented lynchings publicly categorized by Ida B Wells titled, The Red Record, inspired the Mapping Police Violence research project that is currently in use by Black Lives Matter activists. By presenting statistical lynching data that was based on her own research, Wells singlehandedly debunked the claims that Black men were being lynched in great numbers because they were guilty of “committing crimes”.

Today, Black Americans die at the hands of police at a rate that is almost equivalent to the number of documented lynchings during the early 20th century. This constant state of Black deaths are ever increasing and those individuals that should be held accountable are nearly impossible to convict.

Police killings of Black people: a continuation of lynching culture:

Wells argued lynching was a tool of white supremacy to prevent the social advancement of Black people in the aftermath of slavery. “Truth is mighty,” she pointed out, “[and] the lynching record discloses the hypocrisy of the lyncher as well as his crime.” It’s estimated that two or three Black individuals were lynched each week in the American South during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much like The Red Record, the mapping of the Police Violence project catalogs and publicizes the police shootings, revealing that the occurrences are increasing and are often unreported.

The connection:

The connection between Black Lives Matter and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense are more striking when they are compared to the mid-1950s Civil Rights Movement, which erupted when segregation was legal and people protested politely and defensively. One stark difference was that the Black Panthers were not interested in mainstream press or general public approval. There was a clear divergence from polite protests in the 1950s and to the more militant views and deep visceral conviction of the Black Panthers. This was evident in the organization’s originally written Black Panther Party Platform, Program, and Rulesin 1966. Rule #6, states that “We want an end to police brutality and murder of Black people...We therefore believe that all Black people should arm themselves for self defense.” It should be noted that this written text has been edited throughout the years as the bottom disclaimer states:

"Our ten point program is in the midst of being changed right now, because we used the word 'white' when we should have used the word 'capitalist.'"

-Fred Hampton, Chicago Black Panthers

Disruption and pushback:

Activist Deray McKesson points out that, “protest is confrontation and disruption.” In addition to protesting and posting images/videos on social media platforms of the scenes displaying police brutalities towards Black people. By bringing these issues to the forefront, Black Lives Matter protesters disrupt the general public by forcing non-Black people to confront the everyday atrocities that are faced by many Black bodies.

Many who don’t understand the goal of the Black Lives Matter movement, see these displays as a public nuisance and a disruption to everyday life. In an interview, Netta Elize a Black Lives Matter organizer, explained why the protests must happen frequently. She said, “Black people in the US do not have free space to live. The ability to participate in everyday activities without having to think about race is a privilege.”

Fearmongering at its finest:

In their time, the Black Panthers were marginalized and vilified, limiting their audiences to college campuses and other liberal venues. At the time, only the most fear-producing images of the Black Panthers appeared in mainstream press, reiterating the FBI’s claim that the organization was the greatest threat to national security.

A group of Seattle Panthers on the steps of the Capitol in Olympia.

Much like the Black Panthers, many Black Lives Matter demonstrations are often portrayed as breaking the law or turning violent due to the biased images that are circulated through the media. As one demonstrator stated while participating in the "Peace Walk" in Chicago this past summer, "People want to say that protesters are violent, but you have to look at the people who are in charge of violent systems. Poverty is violence, and we're responding directly to poverty.

It goes to show that negative words and images matter when discussing race and public unrest. As we have become aware in the era of “fake news” and biased outlets, it is clear that the media has crafted a violent image of the Black Lives Matter activists that has been woven through our society, to further alienate the non-Black audience and to plant seeds of division between Black Lives Matter supporters and the general public.


*Ida B. Wells-Barnett - Karlyn Kohrs Campbell (essay date November 1986)" Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism Ed. Janet Witalec Project Editor. Vol. 125. Gale Cengage 2003 12 Oct, 2021


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