Civil Liberties

Black Panthers vs. the FBI


In the new documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, director Stanley Nelson captures the calculated destruction of the radical Black Panther Party by federal officials, including the literal destruction of its members under a barrage of police bullets. The film illuminates the racist roots of gun control laws, the early militarization of cops, and how the FBI manipulated local police departments (and media) to see the Panthers as nothing but violent thugs.

The documentary doesn't discount the party's flaws, from disorganization to its founder's "maniac" side (as one former Panther put it), though it does gloss over some members' more egregious acts of violence. But it also showcases the Panthers' (unfulfilled) potential for subverting racist power structures via community-level self-governance and serves as a reminder of authorities' interest in keeping Americans pitted against one another rather than them rallying together against a corrupt state.