Revolutionary brothers kickin’ it in radical vibe, radically resplendent in military-style fatigues, cocked berets and the stain of street mud on Army-Navy Store boots is no new thing in Philadelphia. Neither are dreadlocks, Black Israelites, 2 percenters and a dizzying assortment of fascinating street corner social movements which, in many ways, define a city that is 45 percent African American. Some are, in all candor “perpetrators” posing for a spread in the Daily News or Tribune; others are for real, living it like MOVE in 1985. In fact, one could say that the City of Brotherly Love is a fashion capitol for self-anointed Black Revolutionaries, a hotbed of Black Muslim activity and a cornercopia of as much urban roots and culture as you can stomach (the Ill-Town-based hip hop music ensemble dubbed “The Roots” is no accident). It’s what make the city great, gives it unique sound; it’s also what drags it down. Hence, it came as little surprise to find gritty footage on YouTube of two New Black Panther Party brothers in rigid formation outside a Northeast Philly voting station that historic Election Day 2008. For some reason, political mouthpieces and dogmatic cats in search of audience and beef with city police find the perfect platform in Independence town. It is what it is.
The Philly abstract above is the first step in offering context to the absurd argument that an obscure, fringe band of street philosophers have suddenly, in one moment of staged polemics, been elevated to 21st century icons of voter intimidation. The historic images of white hoods, armed-to-the-teeth mobs of White men supported by billy-clubbing police with German shepherds using all means of force to prevent unarmed, law-abiding and Constitutionally-protected African Americans from entering polling stations seem erased from memory. Let mainstream media run with it and you’ll find poll taxes, illegal Election Board quizzes and mounted institutional assaults on Black voting rights largely part of American mythology. The poster “boy” (slurring Southern twang for effect) of voter intimidation is angry Black man ready to unleash red, black and green onslaught with a baseball bat.
Yet, the cold truth refutes the new reality. The New Black Panther Party, parading in a bite off the originals, is not even affiliated with nor represents the actual Black Panther Party. And while Republican operatives desperately seek innocent brother(s) who didn’t rape Susan, the real story of a lame duck Bush Administration Justice Department that took the case then promptly dropped it for lack of enthusiasm, substance and – get this – witnesses gets spilled in the pre-Election race-bait on tap at the moment.
Speaking of voter intimidation, it’s important to note that the Indiana Supreme Court recently upheld one of the most “stringent” set of Voter ID laws in the country. That case, which could be U.S. Supreme Court bound, deserves closer examination and headlines rather than the ratings race to sensationalize a fractured circle of soapbox activists. The real encroachment on voter rights is not the New Black Panther Party roaming streets with billy clubs. It’s the partisan-fed redistricting tap dance that takes place after every Census and how that changes the balance of power in state legislatures, Governors mansions, Capitol Hill and the White House. It’s the lack of a mandatory and comprehensive civics curriculum from pre-K to high school that robs our young people of a chance to seriously exercise their rights beyond corporate-sponsored voter registration drives every four years. The dreadlocked Black man playing revolutionary is the last thing we need to worry about.