Radical Chic: PBS Marks Black History Month by Lauding Cop Killer Assata Shakur

Your tax dollars at work — to laud violent Marxism and a cop killer for Black History Month.

PBS News Weekend on Sunday devoted its semi-weekly “Hidden Histories” segment to praise the militant Marxist-black power group the Black Panther Party, founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland.

How is this “Hidden Histories”? PBS (and the rest of the media) have lionized the Black Panthers for decades. 

Via voice-over, Yang proved an encapsulated history of the Black Panther Party, admitting “Their 10-point program leaned heavily on Marxism. They saw black American struggles as part of a global liberation movement.” Fact check: Marxism is not about “liberation.” It’s about dictatorship.

Yang soft-pedaled the Panther’s radicalism, gushing over “free food, especially breakfast for schoolchildren, free health care, and voter registration drives” and clashes with J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. The group disbanded in 1982, but according to Yang, “many see parts of its legacy living on today in groups like Black Lives Matter.”

That lead into his interview with Rutgers University history professor Donna Murch, author of a book on the rise of the Black Panthers in Oakland. Murch soon got into Marxism and one dubious BLM heroine in particular.

Murch pivoted to valorize a left-wing heroine and cop killer, Assata Shakur, an inspiration for Black Lives Matter, now exiled in Communist Cuba. Murch wrote a book about Shakur, Assata Taught Me.

Marxist Shakur (real name Joanne Chesimard), a member of the 1970s radical group Black Liberation Army, was convicted of the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster during a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973. She escaped prison in 1979 and fled to Communist Cuba to spout against American tyranny from an actual dictatorship.

Murch skipped all that, and journalist Yang said nothing, merely concluding, “Donna Murch of Rutgers University. Thank you very much.”

This offensively evasive segment on a cop killer was brought to you in part by Consumer Cellular.

PBS News Weekend


7:16:04 p.m. (ET)

JOHN YANG: In the 1960s, civil rights movement, some concluded that non-violence and the focus on integration had failed. Rather than integrating society, they wanted to fundamentally change it, and they didn`t renounce violence and self-defense. Their cry was Black Power, rather than we shall overcome.

One of the most prominent of these groups was the Black Panther Party. It was also perhaps one of the most misunderstood and most vilified by the white establishment for Black History Month. That`s the topic of tonight`s Hidden Histories.

JOHN YANG (voice-over): The Black Panther Party was revolutionary and both its goals and its tactics. It began in 1966. In response to both the assassination of Malcolm X, a leading advocate of black separatism, and the killing of an unarmed black 16-year-old named Matthew Johnson during a San Francisco police stop. Founders Bobby Seale and Huey Newton were college students at the time.

HUEY P. NEWTON, Co-Founder, Black Panther Party: We have a Black Panther Party. As long as the evil Tetra and corrupt officials, as long as the oppressor makes the laws the people are not bound to respect them, we are bound to transform society and erect a system where people will receive justice.

JOHN YANG (voice-over): Their 10 Point program leaned heavily on Marxism. They saw black American struggles as part of a global liberation movement.

HUEY NEWTON: In America, Black people are treated very much as the Vietnamese people are any other colonized people because where you were brutalized, the police in our community occupy our area our community as a foreign troop occupies territory.

JOHN YANG (voice-over): They provided community services called Survival Programs to promote self-determination, free food, especially breakfast for schoolchildren, free health care and voter registration drives. They established schools in nine cities.

MAN: I cannot stand you these oppressor foreign troops in our community.

JOHN YANG (voice-over): Women made up roughly half of the Panther membership of about 2,000, and they often held leadership roles. From 1974 until 1977, Elaine Brown was the head of the National Party, but it was the group`s paramilitary displays that drew the white establishments, attention and alarm.

Members patrolled neighborhoods and black jackets and black berets, openly and legally carrying weapons. For many white Americans, a photo of stern looking Newton holding a rifle and a spear became their image of Black Panthers.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the party the greatest threat to internal security in ordered surveillance to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the Black Panthers.

Tensions with local police led to deadly clashes. In Chicago a police raid killed rising party star Fred Hampton and party member Mark Clark. In 1982, the federal government paid $1.8 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the FBI had a role in the Chicago raid.

Plagued by internal disputes and power struggles the party was essentially defunct by the late 1970s. It was formally disbanded in 1982.

But many see parts of its legacy living on today in groups like Black Lives Matter.

JOHN YANG: Party members are among the first to openly challenged police violence often converging on the scene when officers stopped young black men on the streets.

Donna Murch is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University and the author of “Living For The City, Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California.”

Donna, from your perspective, what is the greatest legacy of the Black Panther Party?

DONNA MURCH, Author, “Living For The City”: I think the greatest legacy was a youth movement, a young organization composed mainly of people in their late teens and early 20s working class youth that had migrated from the south, who found themselves having unprecedented access to high school and college in California.

And out of that, they helped form a study group and create a new type of organization and youth movement that was focused on serving the community. It started with confronting police violence, because that`s what the community saw as its single biggest problem.

This is the era of the urban rebellions, you know, the party is formed a year after Watts, and they were willing to perform a form of activism in order to empower others. But very quickly, after the police patrols, the Panthers shifted into something called Survival Pending Revolution, which meant founding free breakfast programs, Freedom Schools, and the longest running institution of the Black Panther Party was a school in Oakland that ran for almost a decade.

JOHN YANG: Can you put the Black Panther Party in sort of the context of the civil rights movement of where they stood, what role the organization filled what their contributions were?

DONNA MURCH: I think one of the best ways to understand the Panther Party is to think about the Black Freedom Movement, as having a large geography and time period. So the party is formed year after the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

But you know, the dismantling of legal segregation in the South did not dismantle the problems of economics, and access in the north and in the West. And one of the central issues about this was both police violence, and people not having equal access to the social welfare state.

So, I would describe the Panthers as emerging in this moment, post-civil rights after the accomplishments of the civil rights movement of the successful passage of the Civil Rights Act, and also the Voting Rights Act.

But I would be remiss to not talk about the global link to the Panthers. They`re formed in 1966. And this is after over a decade of decolonization of African countries winning their independence. And also very importantly, they look to Asia. The Panthers are formed in Northern California, and they were adamant in their opposition to the Vietnam War and American imperialism.

They identified with the Vietnamese, the Viet Men and with Ho Chi Minh, and they actually looked a lot to Vietnam, to China, and to a vision of anti- colonialism and a socialist state that would serve the people. So, I think that`s one of the most important contexts.

The other thing I really want to stress because the popular representations of the Panthers is wrong. So many people find out about the Panthers through Forrest Gump, they`re represented as anti-white black militants.

But the truth is, is that the party of all the 60s organizations, they had the strongest ties to creating a multiracial coalition, what was called in this period, the rainbow coalition that Jesse Jackson later picks up on. So they united with white radical youth who they called Mother Country Radicals to oppose the Vietnam War.

And this was incredibly threatening to the government of the time, you know, to J. Edgar Hoover in particular, because you basically saw multiracial coalition uniting to stop anti-communism and violence in the global south. So I think that would also be the Panthers legacy, a model of multiracial coalition building.

JOHN YANG: You mentioned the free breakfast program that they ran in communities, which is not that far, apart from the federal free breakfast program that`s being run now. But there was also a political vision. And that wasn`t there.

DONNA MURCH: Yes, that`s such an important point. They were arguing that the social welfare state as it existed was not serving the people and that they as teenagers could provide free breakfast. And when they started their freedom schools, so many of the low income children who went to Panther schools had not had breakfast, and they couldn`t learn.

And so they were shaming the state. And although we don`t have the direct documentary evidence, it is thought by many scholars, that that shaming of the state prompted the issuing of free school lunch.

JOHN YANG: Are there groups today that you see as direct descendants of the Black Panther Party that can draw a direct line from them to today?

DONNA MURCH: Yeah, I would say, you know, my first book was about the party`s Genesis in Oakland. It`s called Living For The City. But my second book is about the last 10 years, and it`s about the Black Lives Matter movement and why they chose Assata Shakur, who was a rank and file Panther member from New York City.

So she`s not from Oakland, where the Panthers were formed. She`s from New York, and she wasn`t part of the traditional male leadership, and especially over the last 10 years in the fight against state violence and murder and mass incarceration, Assata has become the best known of the Panthers. And it`s from a poem that she wrote in Cuba in the 1980s that so many of these movement organizations opened their meetings.

It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

JOHN YANG: Donna Murch of Rutgers University. Thank you very much.

DONNA MURCH: Thank you. It`s truly my pleasure.

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