Black Lives Matter and The Black Panther Party: Understanding Their Similarities, Differences, And Their Impact On Society

Today’s Black Lives Matter Movement and the 1960s and 1970s Black Panther Party have achieved so much progress over the years. Both Movements were conceived 50 years apart, and they have galvanized frustrations with police brutality against Black People in the US and the UK.

Black Lives Matter began in 2013 by Alicia Garza with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in response to the 2012 acquittal of George Zimmerman for shooting and killing Black teenager Trayvon Martin. The Black Panther Party was also created in reaction to the killing of Matthew Johnson, an unarmed black 16-year-old in San Francisco, in 1966. 

Even though similarities exist between the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Black Panther Party of the 1960s, apparent differences exist between these two movements as well.

The Black Panther Party

In 1966, Huey P Newton and Bobby Seale created the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. Formerly known as Black Panther for Self-Defense, Newton and Seale were very clear about what the Party wanted and its beliefs by releasing the Party’s Ten-Point Program.

Important highlights in the Party’s Ten-Point Program include wanting an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people, and ensuring all Black people, when brought to trial, be tried in court by a jury of their peers or people from their Black communities. Overall, the Black Panther Party wanted land, peace, education, clothing, justice, etc.

In 1960, when California relaxed gun laws, members of the Party armed themselves according to these laws and went out policing the police and advising African-Americans who were stopped.

It is also essential to know that the Black Panther Party’s visibility increased after legally armed Black Panther members filled California’s State Capitol building in 1967 to protest the Mulford Bill that would restrict carrying rifles openly in the state.

The Black Panther had so much attention, even from the media, which allowed the Party’s membership to increase. Nevertheless, the Party left a legacy and influence which was felt globally.

Black Lives Matter

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi formed the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2013. A distinct scenario gave birth to the establishment of this movement: the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin in 2013 and the death of another, Mike Brown, in 2014.

However, the aftermath of that incident prompted Garza to write a post on her wall on Facebook, which included the phrase “Our Lives Matter.” The post was shared worldwide, and then Cullors added the comment “#BlackLivesMatter.”

These actions sparked a worldwide conversation on social media, which Wesley Lowery documented for the Guardian. Furthermore, the death of another Black man, Mike Brown, birthed the Black Lives Matter Group.

Mike Brown died in Missouri, circumstances following his death went viral on social media and in the news. Following this, the Black Lives Matter Group organized a ‘freedom ride,’ that transported many protesters from across the United States to Missouri. Black Lives Matter also organized marches and activist sessions, where many volunteers discussed the necessary steps to act upon in their local areas.

No doubt, the protests gave birth to a movement that formally operates online. After the protests, volunteers formed different chapters of Black Lives Matter across the US.

In 2020, the Black Lives Matter Movement in the US protested again due to the death of George Floyd. His death saw a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement in every state in the US. These protests were further escalated following the death of another Black man known as Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020.

Looking Proper At The Similarities And Differences

The Black Panthers party group wasn’t interested in public approval because they had their newspaper designed and illustrated by Emory Douglas. Furthermore, the Black Panther newspaper showcased police brutality depicted in photographs, editorial drawings, and cartoons while also showing Black people protesting against racial injustice.

Black Lives Matter uses videos, phone photographs, and commentary that quickly goes viral on social media.

It is also essential to know that each Movement used the media to stimulate swift action to pass their message to a wide audience.

Messages from the Black Panthers party were instructive, visual, and covered with many ambitions derived from the Party’s ten-point program.

The phrase “Black Lives Matter,” highlights racism, discrimination, and inequality that Black people and other people of color face, which some White People didn’t know existed.

In the past 50 years since racial segregation came to an end and the US tried to “move past,” its racist history, much of that history has been ignored and lost. Today, Blacks and Whites have different perceptions of the success that has been made on racial equality. Polls show that white millennials have the same racial viewpoints as baby boomers.

Hence, the Black Lives Matter Movement aims to present evidence of inequality in the US and the UK, and today, it is disturbing to many whites.

When the Black Panthers party existed, just a few years after civil rights legislation, most Blacks lived penury because everything was substandard- from housing, education to healthcare.  Even though the legislation didn’t agree on what should be done to change it, no one denied that there was a problem.

Disruption And Visual Tactics  

The Black Lives Movement does not appease the public and policy-makers through politeness. However, they know agitation and a rejection of “appropriate decorum,” norms are needed to confront existing racial inequities.

The nature of recent protests by the Black Lives Matter movements suggests that its agitation tactics have made it difficult for the dominant society to continue ignoring the rights of Black communities.

One tactic that is frequently shown in news images is the idea of BLM protesters unflinchingly staring into the eyes of the police. This “Look Back,” tactic demonstrates a refusal to submit passively to police intimidation.

In the meantime, the Black Panther Party was more marginalized and vilified, limiting their main sphere of public operations to just universities and other friendly venues. However, only the most fear-producing images of Panthers appeared in the mainstream press, reiterating the FBI’s claim that the organization was the greatest threat to national security.

Just like the Black Panther Party, BLM protesters use elements of “visual theater” such as light brigades and more theatrical “die-ins,” to convey the threat of violence or death.  Black Panther Party visual tactics readily involved the use of uniforms for members, creating icons for party members that represented strength, purpose, and discipline. The Panthers understood media and the power of visual images. 

The Impact And Success

Police brutality and killings of unarmed black men, women, girls, and boys have continued in our era, long after the Panthers’ heyday. Black frustration with police being given immunity for an endless array of injustice, violence, and death against defenseless African-Americans and other people of color has spurred spasms of grief, anger, and outrage in the US and UK.

Black punishment, trauma, dehumanization, and death are not preordained. However, Black movements to stop mass incarceration often focus on the need for more education, jobs, social workers, drug rehabilitation, and mental health. There is no doubt that Black communities are often too over-policed and uncared for.

Past freedom movements such as the Black Panther Party offered hope for the Black community. The civil rights-era struggles to end racism in public schools and every other sector proved more successful than initially perceived. But, despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, America’s schools remain entrenched in racial segregation, a phenomenon that courts have given up on remedying.

For every policy step toward black dignity and citizenship that black folks have won, there have been counterrevolutions that have hampered the depth and breadth of the progress Black Movements have made. Hence, this should not deter the drive to transform society in our era. Despite making fewer headlines in recent years, the Black Lives Movement has helped to spur the end of racism.

Nevertheless, more work needs to be done in our era. George Floyd’s memory offers more heartbreaking inspiration to achieve the dignity and citizenship we all long for. 


Lawrence Damilola

About Community Movement Builders (158 Articles)
Community Movement Builders (CMB) is a member-based collective of black people dedicated to being a force for creating sustainable self-determining communities through cooperative economic advancement and collective community organizing. Our mission is rooted in Black love and equity. Grassroots Thinking is our newsletter/community blog about our work and movement activity

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