The Role of the Black Panthers

Ken Kutska, Assistant A&E Editor

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The Black Panther Party was a huge movement in the 1960’s when intolerance was high and unity was strained. Before a Santa Rosa Junior College Bertolini Center audience on Feb. 8, Elbert “Big Man” Howard, former Oakland Black Panther Party member and Political Activist, spoke about the idoneous nature of “The Role Of Black Panthers.”

Some people may have conceptions about the Black Panthers thinking sought out violence and didn’t listen to reason, but the Black Panthers wanted a change in the way things were done in the poor and impoverished neighborhoods of cities like Oakland, Chicago and New York.

Howard stressed how the political nature of that time was so uncertain and strained and there were so many obstacles on the path to equality. The Panthers brought affordable food for children to schools and communities. They started police rides to keep police in check and accountable because the police had a J. Edgar Hoover attitude. A lot of the activities the Black Panthers started were met with huge resistance.

Panthers always held the constitution in the highest respect and held to it rigorously.  The Panthers believed in the right to bear arms but not for the reasons one might think. Panthers had the mindset of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful protest over violence in any confrontation.

There was a march Howard and others took to the California State Capitol, carrying firearms in favor of the constitutional amendment.  When the group walked in to the Capitol, they saw members of Congress and then Governor Ronald Reagan ducking for cover thinking their intentions were to cause mayhem.  But their cause was about rights, not violence.

Back in the 1950-70’s race tensions were on high and quelling violence.  There were constant problems between the African-American community and white police forces, as well as the FBI, all over the country.

A lot of Howard’s friends and acquaintances were either thrown into jail or killed.  Howard himself was jailed for standing up to adversity.  Drugs were sometimes used to keep poor communities from growing and expanding their knowledge of the world.  One of the reasons for overcrowding in jails was because of small drug charges.

The job of a Panther was to change the perception of people who joined the Panthers for the sole purpose of violence and retaliation. Panthers tried to squash this out of young men and lead them towards a path of education and service to the community. The government would do anything to keep the status quo so no one would question the law.

The Panthers worked in every way that was peaceful and respectable so people were held accountable but the government wanted everything controlled and measured, whether it was white activist groups in support of the African-American rights or speaking against the Vietnam War.  The Panthers were a driving part in ending the war because they felt it was unjust and sacrificial to young people.

Agencies like the FBI and local jurisdictions would plant people in these Panther groups to systematically destroy the leadership.  The last thing the government wanted was someone questioning what the police did to oppress African-Americans.

At that time the Black Panther Party would today be considered a terrorist organization because they questioned the way things were done. Howard stressed, “Don’t let the government tell you what to do just because they said so.  Always fact check the information that the government gives you and do your own research on any topic because governments aren’t always truthful.”

The Occupy Wall Street movement was also mentioned throughout the speech when Howard talked about young people being at the head of these marches and groups saying they have had enough with the way things have been and want to see change.

Howard sees potential in college students to get organized and develop a plan to end the country’s political and corrupt processes. Howard knows we are the future and it’s okay for to stand up and be heard.