While developing plans for a revolutionary organization, Newton considered every detail, including the uniform his cadre would wear. The Panther leader desired for the group’s image to serve as a “plus factor” that distinguished them from an ordinary street gang. According to historian Ula Taylor, Huey P. Newton “didn’t want people to see the Panthers as thuggish, gun-toting brothers without an organized agenda. He came up with the idea that all Panthers should wear neat, polished uniform–black slacks, ironed powder-blue shirts, black tie or turtleneck, black leather sports jacket.” Seale explains the Panther uniforms importance below.
That uniform represented a heck of a lot more to the community than just a uniform. It represented organization. The racist power structure recognized us as being organized and they hated it. But the Black community, even the elderly mother would say “Lord, them young men show is sharp. Them young men and young women sure are sharp and clean and organized.” This is one thing Black people needed. It’s a safety valve for developed consciousness. To the brother on the block, the lumpen, “Man, them dudes show is sharp. Baby, I show wish I had me some knows and some pimp socks like that,” you know what I mean? But at the same time, it gave us a chance to talk with people about the ten-point platform and program really what we were about.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers, their attempt to differentiate themselves from street gangs and hoodlums failed to increase their membership numbers significantly. Nonetheless, the moment that Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Lil’ Bobby Hutton emerged from their vehicle, they caused a significant buzz throughout the Bay Area.
According to Elaine Brown, fear was the greatest obstacle the African-American community faced on its path to liberation.
The first question for black people is to get past fear, to see past the monolith to the man. That’s why we started using the word ”pig,” a detestable image that takes away the image of omnipotence. A pig, whether running loose in the ghetto with a gun or sitting on Wall Street or in the White House, is a man who can bleed like a man and fall like a man.
Panther leaders hoped to wield the Panther Patrols as an Excalibur that slew Bay Area African-Americans perception of law enforcement officers’ omnipotence.
Newton realized that theory alone was incapable of trumping African-Americans fear of Bay Area officers. Ironically, fear prevented local Blacks from moving toward liberation. Newton speculated that only public confrontations held the potential to remove the veneer of omnipotence that simultaneously cloaked officers and convinced Black urbanites that joining the Panther Party was suicidal.
Huey P. Newton recalls the Panther Patrols initial purpose below.
Out on patrol, we stopped whenever we saw the police questioning a brother or a sister. We would walk over with our weapons and observe them from a safe distance so that the police could not say we were interfering with the performance of their duty. We would ask the community members if they were being abused. Most of the time, when a policeman saw us coming, he slipped his book back into his pocket, got into his car, and left in a hurry. The citizens who had been stopped were as amazed as the police at our sudden appearance.
I always carried law books in my car. Sometimes, when a policeman was harassing a citizen, I would stand off a little and read the relevant portions of the penal code in a loud voice to all within hearing distance. In doing this, we were helping to educate those who gathered to observe these incidents. If the policeman arrested the citizen and took him to the station, we would follow and immediately post bail. Many citizens came right out of jail and into the Party, and the statistics of murder and brutality by policemen in our communities fell sharply.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017
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