In 1966, the national Black Panther party was created. Their platform and it’s ideals struck 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 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 to rise, and had left many blacks with the feeling that not enough was being done 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 radical, 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 Panthers 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 for 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 survey, 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 pretence 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 in 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 end on a 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 the State attorney’s statement, ” Taylor 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 a other places. So obviously, that totally disproved the theory that Fred was up, about, and firing away.”4 Upon later investigation, it was discovered that the Panthers had only fired on shot out of the hundred or so that were fired . It was also discovered that the police had fabricated evidence to make it appear as if the Panthers had fired upon the police.
In conclusion, the Black Panthers united the black communities within the inner cities of the United States. This unity threatened the control the government had on these people. The government used illegal and unethical methods in order to destroy the Black Panthers. Their deception led directly to the deaths of several Panthers. The Black Panthers moved on though and stayed strong , by opening their first overseas office in Algiers in 1970. Just another step in the quest for civil rights.