The New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense -- angrier, louder, and some say more violent than the groups’ namesake predecessors -- was on the radar of the U.S. Justice Department and the Southern Poverty Law Center long before the NBPP was accused of voter intimidation during the 2008 general elections, but it was that high-profile incident which thrust the NBPP back onto national scope.
According to the SPLC, King Samir Shabazz – the leader of the Philadelphia branch of the NBPP – along with several other NBPP members, showed up at a polling station on 12th and Fairmount Avenue, and eyewitnesses claimed that Shabazz began yelling, “Cracker, you’re about to be ruled by a Black man.” Shabazz’ comments, according to the SPLC, led to a confrontation between Shabazz and responding police officers, and claims that it also forced the NBPP party to distance itself from Shabazz and suspend the Philadelphia chapter.
The SLPC has branded the NBPP a “Black Separatist” hate group.
“All lies and misdirection orchestrated by a raciest social system hell bent on the eradication of the party,” Shabazz said during a recent exclusive interview in Tribune offices.
“We were not there to vote, we were not there to encourage anybody to vote. We were there to protect the people, our elders and our babies, so they could vote,” Shabazz said, deferring comment on the party’s official stance on the upcoming election to NBPP National Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz. “We weren’t there to intimidate anyone, only there to protect our elders.
“But the reason why we even sat down to do the security for this polling place is because there was a flyer posted up in the neighborhood by the Keystone State Skinheads and a few other groups, stating that they were going to be attacking elders and young Black people who were going to vote. These flyers were on the poles, abandoned houses. We then got with a few other organizations and decided we were going to secure some of these polling places to protect our elders and children, and make sure, regardless of who they are voting for, they can at least vote safely,” Shabazz continued.
“See, this is what the media is not telling. We cleared the area out and took a walk around the perimeter to make sure the perimeter was secure. And when we came back, that’s when they had all those crackers, media and lawyers out in front of the building. We weren’t there to be rabble-rousers; we were there under directions to protect them and keep our people secure.”
The Department of Justice brought the voter intimidation case against the NBPP and its National Chairman, Maurice Heath, Jerry Jackson and Shabazz, citing four causes of action: intimidation of voters, attempted intimidation of voters, intimidation of individuals aiding voters and attempted intimidation of individuals aiding voters.
“Intimidation outside of a polling place is contrary to the democratic process,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker when the suit was filed. “The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to protect the fundamental right to vote and the Justice Department takes allegations of voter intimidation seriously.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on the case, but according to SPLC documents regarding the matter, the Justice Department won the case by default due to the NBPP not showing up; however, justice officials working in President Barack Obama’s administration decided to drop virtually every charge, claiming there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams also declined comment on the case, but spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson confirmed that district attorney’s office was first made aware of the situation through phone calls made by people outside of Pennsylvania whose only knowledge of the matter came from media sound-bites and truncated newscasts. Jamerson also confirmed that her office has not received an official complaint of voter intimidation carried out by the party, and that only voters in Philadelphia can file a voter intimidation complaint here. According to the SPLC, the Justice Department did score a victory, which forbade Shabazz from bringing a weapon to any voting place until after this year’s elections.
“Another victory over the white man. I cannot look at it any other way,” Shabazz said. “I believe in a Black god, and I prayed and knew for an actual fact that we were going to get up from under this situation. Because when we stand on truth and justice, there is no such thing as wrong, especially coming from your enemy. Who is your enemy to tell you what’s right or wrong, according to how we see our truth and our justice as Black people. So I’m honored that they hate my guts even more. I don’t feel any better about Obama, I don’t feel any better about the DOJ, and I don’t feel any better about United States ‘politricks.’”
The way Shabazz sees himself, his party and the state of Black people in America has led to equal parts damnation, consternation and fear emanating from all segments of society – in both Black and white communities. In fact, comments such as these from Shabazz and the party have caused some members of the original Black Panther Party to disavow the current group.
Panther Bobby Seale – who couldn’t be reached for comment for this article -- has been one of the NBPP’s staunchest critics, as has the Huey P. Newton Foundation, which released a scathing letter several years ago that went a long way toward discrediting the NBPP.
“Firstly, the people in the New Black Panthers were never members of the Black Panther Party and have no legitimate claim on the Party’s name. On the contrary, they would steal the names and pretend to walk on the footsteps of the party’s true heroes, such as Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton, George Jackson, Jonathan Jackson, Bunchy Carter, John Huggins, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark and so many others who gave their very lives to the Black liberation struggle under the party’s banner,” read the letter provided by the Huey P. Newton Foundation. “Secondly, they denigrate the party’s name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the party was founded. Their alleged media assault on the Ku Klux Klan serves to incite hatred rather than resolve it. The party’s fundamental principle, as best articulated by the great revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, was: ‘A true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.’ The Black Panthers were never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the ‘white establishment.’ The party operated on love for Black people, not hatred for white people.”
Shabazz defended the NBPP, and said both factions have long since buried their differences and united on several issues, and that letters like these only come from those wishing for an integrated paradise while casting a blind eye toward racial injustices.
“But you’ve still got certain Negroes,” Shabazz continued, “like Bobby ‘boot-licking’ Seale. Every chance he gets, he disrespects the New Black Panther Party. This man told our national chairman that he is with us and will help serve with us. Turned right around and got Black on the white man’s media and disrespected the hell out of us. Channel 6 did a segment on me, and that last little piece when they had Bobby Seale come on? Right before that, he was on the phone with us, saying he supports us. And this is the same Negro that took us to court in Dallas for using the name, ‘Black Panther Party.’ This is the same Negro who runs around the country talking about a humanitarian plight for all people. He has completely sold out to the white man and is ducking his head like a mutt dog.
“But overall, there is no division between the NBPP and the Black Panther Party; we’ve even done a tribute to the Black Panther Party and they came. They were honored that we were honoring them.”
According to the SPLC, original Black Panther Party members Fahim Minkah and Marvin Crenshaw won an injunction against Michaels in 1997, which forbade Michaels and the NBPP from using the original Panther logo and name; that injunction was never enforced.
Activist and attorney Michael Coard has represented NBPP members previously, and says that although the new party may seem off-kilter in its machinations and beliefs, but what the group stands for essentially should be applauded.
“James Baldwin stated to be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage. Well, the New Black Panther Party consists of angry Black men and angry Black women, and that is a great thing and is why I support the NBPP efforts to bring about racial justice by any means necessary. However, and I must make this clear, I support even more the original Black panther party, who, by the way has repeatedly and consistently stated that there is no ‘new’ Black Panther Party,” Coard said. “Now, the reason I fully support even more the original Black Panther Party is because they were and still are the solution to the race problem that has oppressed the Black man, the Black woman and the Black child in America. When the Black Panther Party came up with their ten-point program, it was and still is pure genius and is quite applicable to this very day. It includes education, enlightenment, self-defense, employment, class consciousness and programs for food, clothing and shelter. That is just pure genius.
“But despite my even greater support for the originals and despite many Black people’s opposition and even condemnation of the New Black Panther Party, I will never condemn any Black organization that fights for the rights of Black people.”
And in the end, Shabazz wants it to be known that fundamentally, the NBPP is about Black love, striving for equality and justice – and that the NBPP is here to stay.
“The NBPP party is on the rise. Right now, we’re about really getting down to the crucial points of saving our people, and helping our people to survive,” Shabazz said. “So we can take this beautiful race of people and survive. Locally, we’ve just opened a Saturday school, and we have free food and clothing drives. Right now, our focus is programs, so the people can feel like we’re worth something and that they’re worth something after they leave our programs.
“Right now, we are thee absolute Blackest organization that is still standing today.”