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C. A Radical Approach

Despite these recent advances, many were not content with the slow progress of state-sanctioned citizen oversight. In the 1960s, as the cacophony of calls for traditional civilian review boards met with political intransigence, radical groups found a more immediate solution. One of the more famous, or perhaps infamous, of these groups is the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers instituted a program in which armed and uniformed members took to the streets of Oakland, California to monitor police activities. Co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton, explained, “We hoped that by raising encounters to a higher level, by patrolling the police with arms, we would see a change in their behavior.” The primary goal of these patrols was to counter police brutality in black communities through surveillance and confrontation. Bobby Seale, who co-founded the Black Panther Party with Newton, stated:

We have to defend ourselves against [the police] because they are breaking down our doors, shooting black brothers on the streets, and brutalizing sisters on the head [sic]. [They] are wearing guns mostly to intimidate the people from forming organizations to really get our basic political desires and needs answered. The power structures use the fascist police against people moving for freedom and liberation. It keeps our people divided, but the [armed patrol] program will be what we unite the people around and [use] to teach our people self-defense.

The Black Panthers were not alone in radical action. Militant Puerto Rican civil rights activists formed the Young Lords Party of East Harlem in New York City. This group was motivated by police brutality, dilapidated housing, and inequality of access and engaged in attention grabbing acts of protest throughout East Harlem. Active in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Young Lords Party piled garbage across Third Avenue and set it on fire to block traffic. They occupied the First Spanish Methodist Church, established a free breakfast program, seized hospital equipment and transported it to impoverished areas, and traveled through neighborhoods testing for lead paint poisoning and tuberculosis.


Although both of these organizations have long since disbanded, in no small part due to internal discord fostered by the FBI program COINTELPRO, a comparable movement known as the Nation of Islam survives and continues similar practices to this day. The Nation of Islam is a controversial militant black Islamic group founded in 1930 and most famous for the thoughts and actions of its civil rights era leaders, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. Under its current leader, Louis Farrakhan, the Nation dispatched hundreds of unarmed black men in suits and bow ties to quell gun violence on the streets of Chicago in July 2012. Ignoring Farrakhan's history of anti-Semitic remarks, Chicago's first Jewish mayor and former Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, welcomed the actions of the Nation. Alderman Carrie Austin appealed to the organization to patrol her ward as well. The organization has been active in other cities too; street patrols by a group with close ties to the Nation of Islam were part of a 2008 crime-fighting initiative organized by the city of Miami. While these patrols are justified broadly as attempts to neutralize gun violence, an inspection of Farrakhan's recent speeches indicates the strong possibility that the targeted gun violence originates not only from civilians, but from police:

I want Black youth to hear this message, because police authorities are the same today as they were during slavery. In fact, this is how policing began. Police were formed to catch runaway slaves, bring them back to their masters and make examples of them to throw fear into other slaves. It's the same today. Police authorities are trained to kill, as well as to protect. But where Black people are concerned, police legitimize their mob attacks under the name of ‘back up.’ Police back up is often no different than the lynch mobs 100 years ago. The killing of our people, shooting them with many bullets when one would have done the job. And then, that deliberative body which is to discuss the brutal murder of our people by looking into the facts, comes away calling it ‘justifiable homicide.’

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