The Black Panther Party of Self-Defense

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The Black Panther Party of Self-Defense


This paper was written to provide a threat assessment on the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPPSD), later for the Self-Defense would be dropped. This paper will provide a brief history and the ideology of the organization. It will look at the events of the organization, the growth/decline of the organization, their financing, their future, weapons gathering/damage potential, cellular structure, training, target identification methods, vulnerabilities, and consequences of intervention. Then a conclusion will be drawn based upon the information gathered in my research.


Two unlikely candidates for leading a nationwide social movement, a parolee and an unstable day worker, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale would draft the “Back Panther Party for Self-Defense” in less than twenty minutes. The party was one of the first organizations in U.S. history to military struggle for ethnic minorities (Marixists). The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would have a mass explosion of membership and open up chapters throughout the United States. But repression, and disorganization and disorientation membership would decline quickly. FBI infiltration, a fractured party and internal hatred would end the Black Panther Party in 1982.


The goals of the BPP were to empower African-Americans through self-defense and win equality for all oppressed minorities. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale had a ten-point program that had clear goals and objectives (francis).

The ten-point program stated that all African- Americans should be free and determine their destiny. They should have full employment and wanted an end to Capitalism that preys on the African-American community. The Black Panthers also wanted African-Americans to be exempt from military service and all police brutality should end. It called for release of all African-Americans from incarceration and there should be juries of African-Americans. They demanded land, housing, food, education, clothing, peace and justice (francis).

The BPP ideology was based on Socialist principles. They wanted to set Malcolm X’s legacy into concrete action. They wanted to be treated as men and human beings (living). The BPP adapted ideologies from Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, and Mao Zedong. Newton and Seale accepted Fanon’s argument, that embracing violence would allow the dispossessed to recover their human dignity through struggle because they had nothing to lose and everything to gain (living). They incorporated Fanon’s argument into Malcolm’s pronouncement that blacks should defend themselves against mistreatment and protect their political rights by any means necessary (survival).

Mission(s) and Events

In 1967 a conference was held honoring Malcolm X’s legacy, the Panthers used armed men to escort his widow, Betty Shabazz, from the airport. This led a confrontation between the police and the Panthers. In April 1967, the Panthers organized several rallies, in response to a young black teen being killed by the police in Richmond, California. The rallies would pressure police to investigate the murder, but they would determine it to be a “justifiable homicide.”

A highly publicized event would be the Mach of Sacramento, where thirty armed Black Panther members would converge on the state capitol. They were protesting pending legislation of the Mulford Bill that would ban the carrying of firearms. All thirty members would be arrested for carrying concealed weapons or disrupting proceedings of the state assembly (living). In late 1967 the Panthers ambushed three police officers and shoot-out ensued, in which an officer would be killed and Huey Newton would be charged with murder. And in 1968 a shoot-out with the Oakland police would result in the death of the youngest Panther, Bobby Hutton.


John Frey, a Oakland police officer, was shot to death in an altercation with Huey Newton. A backup officer, Herbert Heanes, would be wounded.

From 1967 to late 1970, nine police officers would be killed and thirty-six wounded from confrontations with the Panthers. The BPP also murdered a fellow Panther, from a New York City chapter, who they believed was working with the police (*).

Many Black Panther Party members would also become victims of murder by at the hands of the police.


The BPP grew rapidly going from a small local organization into a national and international party (repos). Although exact numbers are difficult to determine, the Black Panthers had as many as five thousand members and almost forty chapters in the United States (repos). Much of their support came from grassroot support.

The government saw the Black Panther Party as a very serious problem. J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, declared the “Black Panther Party the greatest threat to internal security of the country” (pbs). So the FBI used their counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) to wage a war against the Panthers. They promoted violence between the Panthers and other black organizations; to encourage internal conflict, undermine public support, and promote local police attacks (repos). The FBI used surveillance, harassment, and misinformation campaigns and infiltrated the party (living). Major conflicts were caused among party leaders as a result of the FBI’s determination to disband the party.

Newton was moving the Panther party towards community service programs and many members disagreed. A split resulted from the FBI’s infiltration and the new direction of the party. What was left of the party after the split became involved in criminal activities. Bobby Seale and other prominent leaders would resign.

Huey Newton would begin to abuse drugs and alcohol, and become prone to violent outbursts. He would ultimately flee to Aruba to avoid prosecution for murder charges. But he would return in 1977 and take over the Panthers again, but they would quickly decline again into violence, criminal activities, and financial mismanagement. In 1982 the Black Panther Party would come to en end.


The BPP relied on the sales of their newspaper, Black Panther speaker’s fees, and donations from organizations and individuals for financial support. Many donations came from white allies such as churches, students, and political sympathizers (suru). They donated thousands of dollars, raised thousands of dollars, also assisted with credit cards, rent free offices, bail money, and can for food distribution (Sur).

The Panthers also raised money by selling buttons, posters, badges, and literature; as well as leaders getting fees for making speeches.

The Panthers raised money this way because they refused to receive any government funds.

Future of the Group

The Black Panther Party dissolved in 1982. They are no longer an organization and they therefore cease to function. Although there s a group called the New Black Panther Party, members of the original Black Panther Party claim they are illegitimate and there is no new Black Panther Party.

Many former members published newspapers, The Commemorator, and The Black Panther: Black Community Service. The papers were designed to keep the party’s legacy alive ad n the public eye (repos).

The greatest legacy if the Black Panther Party is a cultural icon, a symbol of black liberation and the black power (repos).

Weapons Gathering/Damage Potential

The BPP had a reputation for violence and carrying weapons. Richard Aoki, a Japanese American would be the party’s main supplier of weapons. Although no rallies led to violence, most violence came from confrontation with police. Most, if not all, interactions with the police lead to shoot-outs, which either to death, being critically wounded or both.

Gatherings did not lead to violence or damage to any property. Most rallies were peaceful even though the Panthers would be carrying weapons.

Cellular Structure

The Black Panther Party developed a there-tiered organizational structure. At the top level was the Central Committee, the party’s governing body. It consisted of formal positions: chairman; chief if staff; communications secretary; prime minister; minister of defense; information, education, justice, foreign affairs, religion, culture, and finance.

The second tier was “regional” and consisted of state chapters ran by chapter leaders, who were appointed by the national chairman.

The third tier was local, generally consisting if city branches headed by branch leaders. Rank and file would flow rough branch and chapter leaders, to the national organization, ultimate authority resided at national level (repos).


Most of the BPP’s training used standard practice used in the Army (trainers). Many members of the Panthers were highly trained in the United States Army.

Panthers in training were required to attend PE classes, sell newspapers, work in survival programs, and memorize the ten-point program and platform (Suru). They also received weapons training from the Vietnam.

There was really no other training involved besides self-defense tactics.

Target Identification Methods

The Oakland police and government were the primary target of the Black Panther Party. They wanted freedom and an end to police brutality. They initially began with police patrols to make sure that blacks subjects were not being mistreated while being detained. They also targeted the state of California and the government because they wanted total liberation.


The Black Panther Party was vulnerable because of the numerous chapters they had nationwide, as well as number of members. That made it hard to make sure everyone was practicing the same rules. Also, dug use among leaders caused several problems within the Party. Due to the large number of members the government was able to use counter intelligence and cause conflict within the BPP. And when they split I 1971 due to disagreements it made them extremely weak and vulnerable.

Consequences if Interventions

The interventions would probably be the switch in ideology and the party moving towards community programs and away form the militant image. Most members believed in the goals that the BPP was built on and wanted to continue the guerilla warfare.

Also the FBI could be considered an intervention in continuing their popularity within the public.


The Black Panther Party went through a rapid rise and decline in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was a political phenomenon among the African American community (Marxists).

The BPP was founded to fight the oppressions of the African American communities. They wanted self-determination, jobs, and end to police brutality, education, and their basic needs. Disorganization would eventually lead to their downfall, by allowing the FBI to infiltrate and a split within the party.

The Panthers legacy is different depending upon whom you ask. To the white establishments, they are seen as small time criminals by self-interest. African American see them as a cultural icon of black power.

Many movies, plays, and books have been devoted to the Panthers, their memory, and their continuing relevance to the politics of black liberation (repos).

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