BLACK PANTHERS The "Black Panther Party for Self Defense" was founded in Oakland, California in October 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Both Newton and Seale had become convinced that black Americans, especially those trapped in innercity ghettos, were being subjected to continual police harassment and brutality. Both believed that the typical police officer was a "racist-fascist pig" acting as a tool for greedy ghetto merchants and landlords whose exploitation of innercity blacks assumed extreme proportions. The Black Panther Party, therefore, was established to act as a self-defense counterweight to this alleged police harassment and brutality.
Regarding themselves as the champions of the black masses against the police, Newton, Seale and other Panthers systematically undertook to survey police practices and actions in the Oakland area, patrolling through the innercity with cameras and loaded weapons. According to Seale, the Panthers had no intention of provoking confrontations with police officers performing their officially assigned duties. Their only intent was to establish a mutual tolerance between the police force and the black community in order to protect the latter. "We will change this society," Newton once said. "It is up to the oppressor to decide whether this will be a peaceful change. We will use whatever means is necessary. We will have our manhood even if we have to level the earth." Despite these professions of self-defense and in large part the result of continual verbal assaults by the Panthers against the police, confrontations between the two groups became commonplace during the late 1960's. In 1967, for example, Newton was wounded and charged with the murder of a white policeman during an Oakland Shootout. Then, in 1968, the unarmed Panther national treasurer, Bobby Hutton, was killed in another Panther-police shootout which also involved Eldridge Cleaver, former convict, noted author of Soul on Ice and Panther minister of information. Cleaver, on parole at the time, fled to Algeria to avoid prosecution. By 1970, the leadership hierarchy, as well as the general membership of the Black Panther Party had been depleted as the result of such incidents.