Black Panthers

In 1966, the national Black Panther party was created. Their platform and it’s ideals
struck a chord with blacks across the country, especially in the inner cities of the north. The
Panthers were able to organize and unite these blacks. This alarmed the federal government.
They instituted many controversial, illegal programs of harassment, infiltration, and instigation
which led to the deaths of many Panthers.
From their inception, the Black Panthers were treated with disdain and contempt. The
Panthers wrote out a platform called “What We Want, What We Believe.” There ideas and
methods appealed greatly to blacks. The past few years had seen the civil rights struggle rise, and
had left many blacks with the feeling that not enough was being accomplished. Many Blacks
shared the view of the Panthers in that violence was needed to defend themselves until true
equality could be achieved. Aside from being militant, the Panthers did things that helped the
community. They set up breakfast, and helped people to clean up their neighborhoods. The
Black Panthers gave many urban black communities a sense of unity and identity that they hadn’t
had before.
The Panther’s rhetoric of violence alarmed the government. In March of 1968, the
Panther newspaper printed this warning to police, “Halt in the name of humanity! You shall make
no more war on unarmed people. You will not kill another black person and walk on the streets
of the black community to gloat about it and sneer at the defenseless relatives of your victims.
From now on, when you murder a black person in this Babylon or Babylons, you may as well give
it up because we will get your ass and God can’t hide you.”1 This gave the government cause for
alarm, and they stepped up their “efforts” accordingly. The government went through great
lengths to keep up the status quo. They began campaigns of disinformation against the Panthers
in order to stop any support for the Panthers. The Panthers were continuously harassed by police.
Panthers were followed and arrested on minor, sometimes fabricated charges. For Example, in
Oakland California, the headquarters of the Panthers, police would randomly arrest any Panthers.
In 1967, the FBI arrested 21 Black Panthers for “conspiring” to blow up department stores and
botanical gardens in New York.2
Not only was it local law enforcement that tried to destroy the Panthers, but the FBI was
very actively involved. The FBI had begun using their COINTELPRO program towards the
Black Panthers in November 1968. They had many agents working to surveil, harass and
infiltrate the group. One of the first major actions the FBI undertook was to create a violent
confrontation between the Panthers and the US group. The FBI used different methods, such as
sending satirical cartoons to members of the Panthers under the pretense they were from US.
These cartoons served to further agitate the already volatile situation. An FBI agent said of the
cartoons, “The BPP members...strongly objected being made fun of be cartoons being distributed
by the US organization (FBI cartoons in actuality)...[Informant] has advised on several occasions
that the cartoons are, “really shaking up the BPP.”3 Later on, the FBI forged a Panthers name,
and sent a letter to another group of Panthers. This later was intended to spark more hatred and
confrontation between the two groups, which it did.
The FBI’s efforts continued, and were escalated. Their work with the Black Panthers
came to a head on cold December morning in 1969. The FBI had gathered a large amount of
information on the leader of the Chicago Black Panthers, Fred Hampton. Through their sources
within the Panthers, they knew the layout of Fred’s apartment, and when he would be there. At
4:45 in the morning, fourteen police burst through the door, and began shooting the interior of the
apartment. The police wounded four people and killed two. Soon after the Illinois State
Attorney issued a statement that it was the Black Panthers who had mounted the attack on the
police, who had been “carrying on a search for illegal weapons”. Flint Taylor wrote of the State
Attorney’s statement, “Hanrahan had a story that Fred was up and firing away at the police in the
back part of the apartment. Well the bed that he was sleeping on had blood all over it - at the
head and at other places. So obviously, that totally disproved the theory that Fred was up, about,
and firing away.”4Upon later investigation, it was discovered that the Panthers had only