Words Matter: Correcting the FBI's Extreme Misrepresentation of the Black Panther Party

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In the Federal Bureau of Investigation Records: The Vault, the Black Panther Party is described as such: “a black extremist organization founded in Oakland, California in 1966. It advocated the use of violence and guerilla tactics to overthrow the U.S. government."  
 
The truth is the Black Panther Party advocated self-defense, not violence. Self-defense differs from violence because self-defense occurs as a response when agitated or provoked. Violence occurs on a whim, unprovoked. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale chose the black panther symbol for that reason; a black panther does not lash out if it is not provoked.
 
The truth is the Black Panthers did not utilize guerrilla tactics to overthrow the U.S. government. The Panthers did not seek to overthrow the government! The Panthers sought to make institutional change, especially on the local level. The Black Panther Party, through their Survival Programs, exposed the government’s extreme inadequacies. In 1967, the United States government spent only $600,000 on breakfast programs. By the summer of 1969, the Panthers were feeding thousands of children free breakfast.
 
The truth is that the Black Panther Party was a community-centered organization that provided free breakfast to thousands of children across the nation, advocated for prison reform, escorted elders to their medical appointments, registered people to vote, called for equality, and provided free sickle cell tests, to list a few.
 
The FBI definition is not only inaccurate but an extreme misrepresentation of the Black Panther Party. The FBI definition needs to be changed to reflect the true Black Panther Party: a Party seeking to usher in extreme, positive, much-needed change to their communities.
 
Furthermore, the Panthers’ Survival Programs and their advocacy was for the benefit all. As opposed to hiding and mystifying the Black Panther Party (and their tactics), there is much to be learned and appreciated. We’re not saying the Party was perfect, but to think had the Party been taught truthfully… the change we could have achieved earlier.
 
CORRECTING the FBI definition is necessary because the Black Panther Party’s legacy and our current public memory is surrounded by mythologies. The FBI Records: The Vault serves as a source of historical significance; the FBI definition continues to perpetuate myths, rather than provide the unfiltered truth.