Author(s:Megan Tench, Globe
Staff Date: September 18, 2002
After the police shooting in a crowded Roxbury neighborhood Monday night, a group calling itself the New Black Panther Party took center stage and spoke to confused and frustrated residents.
One member, Jamarhl Crawford, grabbed a microphone and told the crowd that the police can't be trusted, and it is time for the community to finally do whatever it takes to reclaim the neighborhood. . Some say his message was inflammatory, but Crawford makes no apologies. "When this happens on the corner of my street, I feel like I have to come out," he said yesterday. "I wasn't giving a sermon; it wasn't a prearranged speech. It was a gut reaction, and it was the truth."
This, says Crawford, is what the New Black Panther Party is about: echoing the rhetoric and the black wardrobe of its 1960s predecessors to try and create black empowerment. The Panthers seek to fill a painful void in Boston's black community, stunned by a sudden surge in violence. But for some in the community, the group's antipolice, and often antiwhite, message speaks more to fear than hope.
"We will not be a part of any group that espouses bigotry or hatred or antiwhite sentiments," said Leonard Alkins, head of the Boston chapter of the NAACP. "Anybody who wants to work in an honest and fair way to bring about the closure of senseless crime is welcomed - but we cannot be supportive of that kind of organization."
The group of about 20 community residents ranges in age from 21 to 35, said Crawford. It follows the original Panthers' 10-point program, which includes full employment for blacks, reparations for slavery, guaranteed housing and education, and "national liberation in a separate state or territory of our own."
Crawford himself was made an official Black Panther in May by the national organization, based in Washington D.C. It grew out of the original Black Panther Party, whose rebellious message inspired and inflamed many young blacks after its founding in California in 1966. Accused by the FBI of inciting riots, it gradually disbanded in the early 1970s.
Crawford said he is aware of the party's history, but stressed that his group is rooted in the here and now. The Boston chapter emerged as a response to the increasing incidence of violence in the city's black neighborhoods. With 43 homicides reported in Boston so far this year, and Boston police having fatally shot eight people in the past 22 months, Crawford said returning to the Panthers' message of empowerment through protest is needed.
"Too many people are worried and scared, so they don't do anything," said Crawford. "But if we go out there together - the cops can't harass us."
So far, members of the Panthers have been seen providing security at the memorial service for 10-year-old Trina Persad, who was fatally shot in front of a playground by a member of a local gang. On Monday, Crawford addressed an impromptu crowd of nearly 100 residents at the scene of the police shooting.
"I want violence in my community to end. I want my brothers to stop killing brothers, and I want police to stop killing brothers," said Crawford. "I believe in what the Black Panthers stand for. I could've joined the NAACP or the Urban League, but those organizations have proven themselves ineffective."
Crawford frankly acknowledged that when it comes to the well-being of his community, he is antiwhite and antipolice.
"It's not like I just don't like white people, but history has shown us that blacks and Latinos have been most often hurt by white people," he said. "I believe cops have an unwritten policy - shoot to kill - because dead men tell no tales."
Community leaders, however, say the propaganda of the New Black Panther Party only serves to divide the community.
"I am a product of the '60s, and what these guys are doing has already been done," said Darnell Williams, president and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. "The numbers of black people whose lives are being cut short are beyond rhetoric. It is not that we are antipolice; we are pro-citizen safety."
Indeed, the Urban League, along with groups such as the Black Ministerial Alliance and the Ten Point Coalition, have worked with the police and city officials to curb violence. Those efforts have been lauded as a national model.
Williams defended the work of his organization, calling it an interracial, nonviolent approach. But he also offered a forum for the New Black Panther Party to come to the league and discuss strategies for ending bloodshed.
Megan Tench of the Globe staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org