May 11-17, 2006
City BeatPower Planted
The New Black Panthers put their boots on the ground in the Badlands.
: mike m. koehler
"Are they the Black Panthers?" someone asks. "I feel protected."
Though this call doesn't amount to much, members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (NBPP) plan on being around more often since they recently opened their headquarters near Sixth Street and Allegheny Avenue.
"This is our first official home," explains local chairman King Samir Shabazz, a former Nation of Islam member who says he was expelled from Rutgers University in 1992 for being a Black Nationalist. "The first day we went from the top to the bottom of the block handing out information, and the neighbors are ecstatic about us being here."
Judging by the community reaction, he's not exaggerating. Dorothy Felder, who has lived here for nearly 30 years, has witnessed much of her community's crime-and-drug-induced downward spiral. "If they are coming into the area to clean up some of this mess, then they are more than welcome," she says. "A lot of people are afraid to say anything, afraid for their life, to get fire-bombed."
Like the recent resurfacing of the Guardian Angels, Shabazz's group wants to bring more oversight to the streets, specifically to help African-Americans. Their mission is to rebuild and empower the black community, with the ultimate goal of establishing a separate nation. (The NBPP's methods have drawn major criticism from the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation and the Anti-Defamation League, which calls them "counselors of hate.")
"I want to stop these young brothers on this corner from selling drugs and killing each other," Shabazz says. "Just because you got boot-licking Toms in office doing the Harlem Shake for the white man doesn't mean we went anywhere. We need to be able to fight against gentrification in our communities, by any means necessary."
Shabazz explains that the NBPP differs slightly from the original Black Panther Party, which was "not African-centered."
"I'm a Black Nationalist and we are not interested in integrating," Shabazz explains. "We as a people don't even support our black businesses. Integration has ruined our black minds."
Reggie Schell, who led the local Panthers in the 1960s and early 1970s, agrees there are differences. Back then, the BPP opened a free clinic, organized gang prevention and had a bussing program to Graterford prison for visitors.
"We had issues against the system because it was racist," says Schell, who doesn't advocate total separation. "Once we were organized, our programs, information and education were for all races."
Today, Shabazz is working hard to recruit new members by, among other things, distributing flyers on the streets and in the subways for their weekly meetings. One flyer, prominently featuring a member holding a gun, reads, "Come hear the raw truth delivered by the baddest, blackest, boldest, most non-compromising young Black man in the city of WHITE brotherly love!!!!"
He won't get specific when asked how many local members there are, but there were at least a half-dozen people at the new headquarters one recent afternoon. He says, however, that branches in the United States, London and Ghana are growing.
"We have to teach our people: Death to homelessness, poverty, welfare, injustice, to the disrespect of our elders, that nigger in us, that slave in us," he says. When asked about the city's witness-intimidation/stop-snitching issue, Shabazz concludes, "We do not and will not support the snitch program because it causes more division in the community, [but] these niggas committing homicides need their asses kicked!"
But if what former BPP member Barbara Easley says holds true, they'll need some help.
"It will take more than one organization to make changes," she says, "so they will need to make allies."