So says former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown. Here’s the money quote:
“When it first formed, armed BPP members patrolled Oakland neighbourhoods – in their iconic blue-shirt, leather jacket, black beret combo – to keep an eye on the police. They were caricatured as violent militants, but they were standing up for rights as old as the Constitution itself. Newton, a law student, made himself an expert on gun law. Whenever the cops piped up, he’d blast them with the Second Amendment, Supreme Court judgements, chapter and verse: ‘I will observe you carrying out your duties whether you like it or not!’
By Tom Slater
“I don’t know what Black Lives Matter does, so I can’t tell you how it compares to what the Black Panther Party was. I know what the BPP was. I know the lives we lost, the struggle we put into place, the efforts we made, the assaults on us by the police and government – I know all that. I don’t know what Black Lives Matter does. So if you can tell me, I’ll give you my thoughts.’
So says Elaine Brown, activist, singer and former chairwoman of the Black Panther Party, talking to me from her home in Oakland, California. She doesn’t like my question. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary, socialist, black-power organisation formed in Oakland by then college students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. And, as journalists scrabble to pen pieces about ‘what’s changed’, cack-handed comparisons abound.
I ask Brown about Black Lives Matter, the movement that erupted in the wake of the shooting of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. This nebulous hashtag-come-protest movement has been compared – both by its supporters and detractors – with the BPP; it’s either hailed as a continuation of the struggle or slammed as a resurgence in ‘divisive’, ‘militant’ black nationalism. Talking to Brown it becomes clear that both sides give BLM too much credit.
‘There is no comparison’, she says. ‘The next wave of young people running out here, who are complaining and protesting about the murders of young black men and women by the police all over the country, they will protest but they will not rise up in an organised fashion, with an agenda, to create revolutionary change… We advocated community self-defence organisations to be formed, so that we would not be assaulted by the police, so that we would bear arms and assume our human rights.’