Note, King Samir Shabazz had joined the NBPP only 1 month before this article had been published.
"The Cats Came Back: Can the Black Panther Party become a force again in Philadelphia?"
2003-12-17 by Kia Gregory for "Philadelphia Weekly" [http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/cover-story/the_cats_came_back-38373074.html]:
King Samir Shabazz, 35, stands in his bedroom readying for war. He slides on his black military pants, puts on the matching cargo shirt and twists the shirt's buttons top to bottom. He laces his shiny black leather boots and fastens his black artillery belt.
Now in full battle dress, he smoothes over the red, yellow and green patch on the front of his shirt that shows a black panther emerging out of Africa. Around the patch, it reads, "NEW BLACK PANTHER PARTY. FREEDOM OR DEATH."
He angles the black beret atop his long dreadlocks. It is the final crowning.
Now he's a soldier, not a thug; a leader, not a misguided stereotype.
Ready for combat and armed with 300 flyers, King heads for Suburban Station. His mission: to announce the arrival of a new black liberation army.
He positions himself against the flow of pedestrians and targets specific commuters by calling "black man, black man" or "sis."
Some read the flyer immediately. Others fold it in half and tuck it away as King wishes them "peace" or "black power."
When a grungy blond guy sticks his hand out for a flyer, King shakes his head no. When the guy asks for one politely, King looks him in the eye and spits out, "No." The man walks away dumbfounded. King rolls his eyes, purses his lips and mumbles, "Cracker, please."
A black transit cop is also refused a flyer.
A cop, even a black cop, is a pig and cannot be a part of the new liberation army.
Some people stop to ask more about this new army. One man recalls how the original Black Panthers watched over the streets of North Philadelphia in the '60s.
Now there's a new Black Panther Party? To protect us from what?
"Our open enemy," says King, his brown eyes piercing. "The white man."
King Samir Shabazz opens the door to his South Philadelphia home clutching a chicken leg wrapped in a colorful napkin.
The house smells like fried chicken and burning incense. An African national flag hangs between the living and dining rooms. Above the couch, next to the television, hangs a poster of armed Panthers.
The chairman of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense, King is dressed in full Panther regalia (thanks to I. Goldberg, which carries a full line of guerrilla-type threads) for tonight's political education class.
The weekly meetings had been held at a West Philadelphia storefront. But King was told the owner's husband didn't want Panthers there. King, though, says he knows the bigger truth: When Whitey discovers you're serious about revolution, he shuts you down.
"If police ain't fuckin' with me, I ain't doing something right," he says. "When the cops is knocking on your door, now you're doing something right."
Still, score one for the Man tonight. The quick change in venue has dwindled King's usual audience of 10 to two. The meeting starts with a videotaped lecture by Dr. Khallid Abdul Muhammad, the New Panther Party's former national chairman. On the tape, Khallid is at a rally in Harlem. His message: "Revolution is the solution."
King's 13-year-old son wanders downstairs and sits on the staircase to watch. His two younger children are upstairs, laughing and scurrying across the floor. A red tricycle and navy blue stroller sit beside the stairs, both leaning against the wood paneling.
King sits in a chair, his hands folded. He's almost soft-spoken when he talks about the struggle, and he giggles when he feels he's said something profound.
"Our people are lost as hell, very lost, and it's going to take some type of revolution to get our people back," he says, "to mobilize our people for self-determination."
By "back" he means a segregated nation-state, where blacks operate totally independent of whites, a separate world of black schools, hospitals, banks, businesses and churches similar to Tulsa's historic Greenwood District in Hannibal B. Johnson's book Black Wall Street, or the movie White Man's Burden, where it's Whitey who lives in poverty, crime and blight, and black folks rule the world.
Of course, King says, Whitey's not going to let that happen.
"He's never going to let us live inside the Constitution," he says. "Until we realize that, we're going to remain dumb, deaf and blind. I can't wait for the day that they're all dead. I won't be completely happy until I see our people free and Whitey dead."
By "dead," King means socially, economically, politically--and, if necessary, yes, physically.
There was a time when Maurice Austin's only dream was to leave Trenton's dreadful Frazier Homes housing project for sunny California. There, he would report to a white boss, marry a white girl and live in a house with a white picket fence.
All that changed, he says, the morning a white cop stopped him on his way to school, threw him against a truck and pummeled the American dream right out of him.
He went to school, bruised and bloodied, and told the principal and the police what happened. He says no one gave a damn.
He also says no one stopped his gang from beating the hell out of their fellow black rivals, and no one was arrested when his 13-year-old twin brother was shot and killed in a gang war.
After that morning with the cop, his friend Jesse, a diehard Malcolm X devotee, turned him on to true blackness. He read the entire encyclopedia entry on slavery and the tales of black revolutionaries like Denmark Vesey and Marcus Garvey.
He came to realize the school system's whitewashed lessons never taught him anything about himself, except in February when the teachers dutifully dusted off black history legends like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr.
He says his distaste for Whitey grew until beating up white boys became as normal for him as tying his shoes. He and his gang would "just start whippin' their asses" in school and after school, at football games and parties.
He says he was finally kicked out of school for being "very outspoken and active."
"Anything that went wrong in that school, I spoke about it," he says. "Security guards, police brutality, lack of black teachers, lack of black curriculum, whatever. We just started blasting the teachers, blasting the principals and the counselors. We didn't play. We did not play."
The following year, he tried to reregister at school, but the police walked him out of the building. Two years later he tried again at a different school. But he soon grew frustrated like before and left after two weeks.
Just 18, he joined the Nation of Islam instead. He was attracted to the vision of strong black men in military-style uniforms.
He changed his name from Maurice Austin to King Samir Shabazz. King for ruler, Samir for "entertaining companion" and Shabazz for indestructible.
But the run-ins with the Trenton police continued. He says he'd be in a restaurant and police would just appear, or he'd be walking the streets and they'd throw him in the car and beat him with their metal nightsticks.
"They stayed fuckin' with me," he says. "It was coming to the point of somebody was getting ready to be dead, either me or a Trenton police officer."
His mother sensed it too and sent him to live with relatives in West Philadelphia, where he was born.
King first heard Dr. Khallid Abdul Muhammad speak in 1989. By then, he was part of the Nation of Islam security detail.
King was drawn to Khallid's fiery rhetoric and his portrayal of the white man as the devil. As a top aide in the Nation, Khallid preached black self-determination and urged blacks to arm themselves against whites.
Hearing Khallid speak, King decided to emulate his newfound mentor by becoming a black man who would never compromise with the white devil.
"Dr. Khallid was my light, my reflection of what it means to be a black man in America," he says now. "He was my teacher, my guide, my elder, my father, my brother. He woke me up."
Minister Louis Farrakhan suspended Khallid from the Nation in 1994 after he gave a speech at New Jersey's Kean College and referred to Jewish people as "bloodsuckers" and the Pope as a "no-good cracker."
Four years later Khallid was elected national chairman of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense (NBPP), which was founded in Dallas in 1989 to revive the radical legacy of the original Panthers.
In the summer of 1996 the NBPP called on blacks to use shotguns and rifles to protest the Dallas school board chairman who had been secretly taped calling black students "little niggers."
That summer the heavily armed group mobilized after a black church near Dallas was burnt down. Khallid reportedly told the crowd: "You catch a cracker lighting a torch to any black church or any property of black people, we are to send them to the cemetery."
The New Black Panthers gained national attention in 1998 when armed members, led by Khallid, confronted the Ku Klux Klan in Jasper, Texas, after James Byrd Jr. was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death by three white supremacists.
Like the original Panthers, the new Panthers operate on a 10-point program that demands freedom, equality and reparations.
But unlike the original Panther Party, which promoted power to all oppressed people regardless of color, the new party is "African-centered."
"The New Black Panther Party is not integrationists," says the NBPP national chairman, attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz. "We're anti-white racism, we're anti-white supremacy, we're anti-the white establishment that continues to abuse and discriminate against our people all over the world."
The new party's rejection of all alliances has some original Black Panther members dismissing them as a hate group similar to the Klan or Al Qaeda.
"They're little black racists without the power to implement overt racism," says Bobby Seale, the founding chairman of the original Black Panthers. "They are totally antithetical to what the original Black Panther Party was about. We believed in black unity, but only as a catalyst to help humanize the world."
In 1996 a number of former Panthers filed a lawsuit against the newly formed group for trademark infringement. A year later a judge ordered the new group to stop using the Panther name or logo in the state of Texas.
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the NBPP says it has more than 45 chapters in the U.S. and abroad, including England, Germany and France, and has plans to create 20 new prison chapters throughout the country. The party won't provide membership totals, but national chairman Malik says there are thousands of members.
Malik recently returned from Cincinnati, where Panthers rallied in front of police headquarters to protest the death of Nathaniel Jones, the black man who died after a widely publicized police beating. The party is now calling for a total boycott of the city in response to what they call Cincinnati's widespread police brutality.
Just this past Saturday the organization hosted a daylong conference in New York on how to stop gentrification in black communities.
And the party will soon head to Philadelphia to support Mumia Abu-Jamal, to host black town hall meetings and to develop an agenda to deal with racism, blight and violence.
"We're going to be very active in Philadelphia," says Malik. "We're going to work on the minds and hearts of black people to eliminate the negative habits that keep us in a raggedy condition in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a key city. I see it as being one of our best cities."
The Philadelphia chapter was founded in 1998, but it disintegrated as members quit or were suspended. King, by now suspended from the Nation of Islam, began selling drugs and found himself in and out of the House of Corrections. When Khallid died in February 2001, King decided he would revive the Philly chapter.
"Becoming a Panther was like keeping his flag waving," he says of Khallid.
King, who claims he stopped selling drugs shortly before he became a Panther in September, says he's shocked that original Panther founding members, like Bobby Seale, aren't more supportive.
"Look at this," says King, pointing to the Barbecue'N with Bobby cookbook on Seale's website. "How do you go from being a revolutionary to selling damn barbecue? But I still love him, because he laid the groundwork."
King's "queen," the mother of three of his eight children, is a pharmacy technician at a local hospital. For his part, King raises pit bulls in his basement and creates Public Enemy-style lyrics with his group Coup Da'Ta.
But his first priority is the growth of the Panther Party.
"I love being a Panther," he says, comparing the uniform he wears to Jackie Chan's in The Tuxedo. "I have no fear of nothing in this uniform. It's like, 'Fuck you, cop.' This is my life."
The Philadelphia chapter currently has four members. "All I need is 10," says King. "When you have 10 brothers in uniform, suited and booted and ready for war, white folks know these niggas ain't their niggas. We kick white folks asses. We take it right to the cracker."
In his small North Philadelphia apartment, Reggie Schell, the head of the Black Panther Party's Philadelphia chapter in the '60s, greets King with a hug and a black power salute.
"It was a life-or-death situation almost immediately," Schell tells King of his early Panther days. "The police would raid us, take us and beat our asses. Panthers were being shot to death in this country on a weekly basis. They were trying to break our will."
Formed by two Oakland, Calif., college students--Bobby Seale and the late Huey P. Newton--in October 1966, the original Black Panther Party quickly grew to 5,000 members in 20 to 30 chapters and branches.
They were so powerful that at one point FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover called the Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States."
Schell says when he told his wife he wanted to become a Panther, she called him crazy.
"I told her, 'I can't take this shit no more,'" says Schell. "Blacks getting killed in the South because they were trying to vote, dogs getting sicced on them. My mind just couldn't compute that."
Schell left his job as a foreman at a sheet metal company and joined the party in 1967 as defense captain for the Philadelphia branch. Back then, Panther headquarters was in North Philadelphia, with offices in West Philadelphia and Germantown.
Schell tells King how he helped develop "survival programs," the cornerstone being a free medical clinic and a children's breakfast program. He and other Panthers would go to mom-and-pop stores to collect eggs, bread and milk for the program. If the owners balked, Schell said he would threaten to tell people how the merchants refused to feed their children.
Back then, he says, most of the stores complied. But Schell tells King to expect more resistance today.
"Those Koreans will be a tough nut to crack," says Schell, referring to Korean grocery stores in black communities. "We'll have to deal with them eventually. They don't care about the black community. All they want to sell is beer and cigarettes."
Back then, Schell says, it was easy to organize people around social issues, like police brutality. The more police beat up on blacks, the more blacks become Black Panthers.
In their police patrols, Panthers would stand on the sidelines to ensure blacks weren't brutalized and to make sure they were informed of their rights.
Panthers also chased drug dealers off the corners. Schell imagines the dealers wanted Panthers dead even more than the cops did.
Schell recalls the notorious early-morning raid on Panther headquarters in the summer of 1970, after Philadelphia Police chief Frank Rizzo had ordered a crackdown on black militant groups.
Two days before, a policeman was shot to death in his guardhouse in Fairmount Park and Rizzo blamed the Panthers.
Schell says the police cordoned off the street and told neighbors to "get the fuck out of the window" and "close your fucking doors."
He says police raided Panther headquarters at 29th and Columbia streets and led members outside, telling them, "If you fall, you're dead. If you stumble, you're dead."
Fourteen Panthers were lined up against a wall and strip-searched on the street in front of TV and newspaper cameras. A photo of the buck-naked Panthers appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the country.
The original party's downfall in the '70s has been widely attributed an aggressive FBI counterintelligence operation geared to "neutralize" the group. But Schell says the party's own internal rift poisoned the party faster than Rizzo or J. Edgar Hoover ever could.
Newton and Seale wanted to adopt a nonviolent approach and focus on increasing the party's survival programs, but Eldridge Cleaver, the party's minister of information, urged urban guerrilla warfare.
In 1971 Schell walked away. He says he didn't become a Panther to battle other Panthers. Today he says he remains part of the struggle.
Above his mantel hangs a red, black and green leather medallion that reads, "Fight the Power." On the wall facing the couch hangs a Black Panther logo etched onto pale blue satin, in between a black canvas painting of Malcolm X and a wallet-size photo of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Schell's minister of information back in the day.
"Struggle is what I feel," Schell tells King. "As long as I'm alive or halfway healthy I'm going to help it move forward. There's a lot of unfinished work to do."
Thursday is military training night for the New Black Panthers. King goes over how to pat someone down for weapons and how to enforce security for high-ranking officials at public events. Arms training, CPR and guerrilla warfare are reviewed.
This also happens to be National Revolutionary Day, so there's a moment of silence for Fred Hampton, founder of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party, perhaps best remembered for the phrase "You can kill a revolutionary, but you can't kill a revolution!"
Hampton was killed in a police raid in 1969 when police fired a barrage of bullets at him while he slept in bed.
King goes into a litany about police brutality, and how operations that supposedly target violent crime are just a tactic aimed at eliminating black youth. And then he seriously amps up the rhetoric.
"Police brutality is still rampant," he says, citing the Cincinnati incident. "Right now, as we speak, a pig is whipping a nigga's ass--right now, right here in Philadelphia, whether we hear about it or not. The police don't give a fuck. They will never give a fuck. The pigs' ass whippings are never going to stop until we start whipping the crackers' asses. So the next pig or pigs that beat on a brother or sister in Philadelphia, they gonna have a major problem. The New Black Panther Party will be right on their asses."
The meeting ends around 10. As King stands in the doorway facing a rush of cold air, he notices a tower of smoke and the red lights of a fire engine up the block. He runs back in the house for his black flak jacket and quickly marches up the street, past the scattered garbage, past the abandoned lots and houses, and past the "Stop the Violence" mural.
Five fire engines are haphazardly parked outside a fiery two-story brick house, which is wedged between a trash-strewn lot and an abandoned variety store. The scent of burning wood is thick as gray hoses spray a long arc of water toward the flames.
King walks up and shakes his head in disgust as two firemen throw a burnt couch onto the sidewalk.
"You see the shit we go through," he says. "This is why the Panthers are here. This is why I wear this uniform. I'm tired of living like this. It sickens me. It sickens the shit outta me."
King says that when he looks out his front door he sees families living among drug dealers and addicts. Prostitutes earning their money. Squatters hiding out in abandoned houses. Blaring police sirens, screeching fire engines and the clap of gunshots.
"The ghetto is not how we're supposed to live," he says as smoke fills the sky. "We defend the ghetto like it's where we're from. The white man don't care about our 'hoods. That's why he leaves these abandoned houses and brings drugs and guns into our community."
King asks a fireman if anyone was inside. "Not as far as we know," the man replies.
He stares at the burning house. "This is sad shit," King says. "This is why we need a black liberation army."
On Dec. 23 the New Black Panther Party's Philadelphia chapter will host a rally under the banner of "Fuck Whitey's Christmas."
Armed with a megaphone and a sheaf of propaganda fliers, King will be at West Philly's 52nd Street shopping district, telling black folks to reject the materialism of the white man's Christmas. It will be his first public rally as party chairman.
In the meantime, he's trying to secure a place on South Street to hold the group's weekly public meetings. He says his immediate goal is to build membership and organize a free clothing drive next month.
King says he longs for the halcyon days of the '60s, when Panthers seethed with black power. He says he can't go back to being Maurice, even if he wanted to.
"I killed that slave a long time ago," he says of his former self. "That house nigga is dead. He don't exist and won't ever again."
His two tattoos, one under each eye, on his chocolate brown skin serve as a reminder of the decision he's made. On the right are two black teardrops for his two friends who were murdered by street violence. On the left is "7OD." The seven represents the mathematical equation for God, which he says is to remind him that the Asiatic black man is the god of the universe and the white man is evil. (The "7" takes the place of the "G" in "God.")
"I'm proud to be a Panther," says King. "We don't ease up. We're going to keep putting our foot up the white man's ass until they understand completely. We want freedom, justice and muthafuckin' equality. Period. If you ain't gonna give it to us, muthafucka, we're gonna take it, in the name of freedom."
He takes a breath. "You can't hide from the revolution. It's impossible. There's nowhere else to go."
New Black Panther Party For Self-Defense 10-Point Program and Platform,
What They Want and What They Believe -
1) We want freedom. We want the power to practice self-determination, and to determine the destiny of our community and THE BLACK NATION.
2) We want full employment for our people, and we demand the dignity to do for ourselves what we have begged the white man to do for us.
3) We want tax exemption and an end to robbery of THE BLACK NATION by the CAPITALIST. We want an end to the capitalistic domination of Africa in all of its forms: imperialism, criminal settler colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, sexism, Zionism, Apartheid and artificial borders.
4) We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings, free healthcare (preventive and maintenance). We want an end to the trafficking of drugs and to the biological and chemical warfare targeted at our people.
5) We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this devilish and decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history/herstory and our role in the present day society.
6) We want all Black Men and Black Women to be exempt from military service.
7) We want an immediate end to POLICE HARASSMENT, BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black People. We want an end to Black-on-Black violence, "snitching," cooperation and collaboration with the oppressor.
8) We want freedom for all Black Men and Black Women held in international, military, federal, state, county and city jails and prisons.
9) We want all Black People when brought to trial to be tried in a court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by white law of the Constitution of the United States.
10) We demand an end to the racist death penalty as it is applied to black and oppressed people in America. We demand freedom for all political prisoners of the black, red and brown nation!
For a complete version of the New Black Panther Party platform, go to [www.newblackpanther.com].