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The Panther’s Roar

A new black-power group with an old name.

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In the wake of the police killing of unarmed bridegroom Sean Bell, the New Black Panther Party is trying to make its presence felt in Queens. Don’t expect leader-lawyer Malik Zulu Shabazz at Park Avenue radical-chic cocktail parties. “Years have proven that some alliances just don’t work,” Shabazz (real name: Paris Lewis) says of the old Panthers’ efforts to enlist whites to their cause. But the New Black Panthers aren’t really Black Panthers at all, the old Panthers say. According to a letter from the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, the New Panthers are “angry young militants full of fury” who have stolen the Panther name. Al Sharpton isn’t taking the group seriously either, insulting one of their rallies in the Daily News. “Recklessness will only make it look like Sean Bell and his friends were reckless and deserved what they got,” Sharpton said, noting the Bell family’s repeated requests for calm. But Shabazz doesn’t really care. “Sharpton’s tactics are far too nice for myself and many in the streets,” Shabazz says. “In a time of war, when the police are attacking and raiding homes and shooting black men and the people are frustrated, I wouldn’t have run right to the mayor for a public-relations opportunity. When you’re at war, you don’t immediately negotiate with the opposition.” At a recent rally, Shabazz organized gang members from the Bloods and Crips and had them point at police and shout, “Fifty shots for 50 cops.” There were signs saying death to the pigs who kill our kids. So far, he claims to have 5,000 members around the country—about the same number as the Black Panthers had in the late sixties. In response to Shabazz’s rhetoric, the Anti-Defamation League is calling the Panthers “the largest organized anti-Semitic black militant group in America.” (Shabazz says he’s “anti-Zionist.”) The group is initiating a boycott against non-black-owned businesses during the holidays, and is planning more anti-cop rallies. “We have to go further than we’ve gone after previous police shootings,” he says. “Clearly, there is a large swath of territory that is open to those who are uncompromising.”

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