Looking Back: The Black Panther Party

By Maura Mulholland

The 1960s were a time of upheaval in U.S. history. The decade seared the idea of freedom into the American psyche, with the hippies, feminist movement, and civil rights campaigns enjoying immense public attention. But many of these attempts to rectify the wrongs of the American condition failed to achieve their loftiest goals, and more extreme groups rose to spread their own truths and directly address the problems they saw in the world. 

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) emerged in 1966 in Oakland, California. It was the brain-child of Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, two students at Merritt College. The organization formed around the ideas of socialism and Black nationalism, particularly opposed to the scourge of police brutality on the Black community. The BPP had many enemies during this era, largely because of their focus on armed self-defense against oppressive figures. Many felt this outlook was extreme, but the BPP saw it as the only way to establish Black communities as an independent force, and to reverse the sidelining of Black opinions and narratives in the media and government. 

While the Black Panthers were admirable in their concern and advocacy for the Black community, there was and is a great deal of controversy surrounding the philosophies and actions of the group. One frequent accusation is that the Panthers were unfair and sexist toward the Black women in their midst, perpetuating misogynoir. While early publications of the BPP were centered on the Black male experience, by 1968 two-thirds of the Party was made up of women, and their leadership pushed a more egalitarian “womanist” narrative. Throughout the 1970s, the Panthers worked to promote women to leadership roles within the organization. 

The ideas that the Black Panthers pushed brought into the mainstream continue to power progressive activism today. Their unflinching focus on racism and police brutality in the North, which was largely ignored by traditional Civil Rights groups, inspired the formation of modern groups like Black Lives Matter. In addition, the Panthers dedication to mutual aid as the foundation of both community and organization has been copied by a wide array of modern activists. The Black Panthers’ community work has been replicated nationwide, with the installation of community fridges, mutual aid funds, and survival networks in cities all over the country. While the Black Panthers were often portrayed as violent radicals, their contributions to modern activism and neighborhood charity provide a more balanced perspective on their racial platform. 

Jennifer Rourke Remains Strong Despite Both Physical and Political Attacks

By Maura Mulholland

On June 24, 2022, Jennifer Rourke, a Democratic candidate for the Rhode Island State Senate, was physically assaulted at an abortion-rights protest in Providence. Video evidence shows the scene unfolding as pro-choice activists surrounded an anti-abortion counter-protestor. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Rourke escorted the counter-protester out of the crowd and into a less packed area. Moments after this occurred, a man attacks the counter-protester, the camera jostles a bit, and then focuses on Rourke, recognizable in a bright pink shirt, being punched twice by another man. 

The man who assaulted her, Jeann Lugo, was her opponent in the state Senate race. A police officer aligned with the GOP, he dropped out of the race the day after the incident. He was arrested, but released on personal recognizance. His actions are currently being investigated by the police department, and he has been placed on administrative leave. 

Lugo was only the first candidate with a questionable background to run against Rourke. The Tuesday after Lugo dropped out of the race, Michael C. Carreiro, who helms the Warwick, Rhode Island firefighters’ union, filed to oppose Rourke in the race for the District 29 State Senate seat. Some recent revelations in Carreiro’s Facebook history have revealed a troubling past. In 2009, Carreiro, a white man, attended a themed event dressed as Black singer James Brown. Pictures were posted online of him in brown face paint and a wig, an evident attempt at Blackface. In addition to this racist garb, images have emerged of Carreiro posing and smiling next to well-known conservative television host Tucker Carlson, a man who he apparently admires despite Carlson’s divisive political commentary and personal life. 

In the midst of Rourke grappling with her controversial opponents, she reached out to the Democratic committee of District 29 in an attempt to earn their endorsement and support. The committee has declined to speak regarding any of the candidates in the race, and according to Rourke, will not even return her calls. Rourke’s candidacy, and the inadequate response of Democratic leadership to her concerns for her safety, has catapulted a local Senate race to the national stage and reveals how inhospitable U.S. politics are to Black women. Women of color who seek to run for public office unfortunately face a daily double-edged combination of misogyny and racism.