Capturing the Beast: Panthers in Pictures

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      A black beret, a pair of dark glasses and a large gun became the uniform of the Black Panther in the media. Photographs of the Panthers tend to show them as a powerful and threatening mob and almost always showed weapons. Scuffles with police were also used frequently as in the Oakland Tribune story entitled, “'Panthers' Invade Capital”. While the article was sensational enough, the accompanying photo showed Panthers being hauled out of a conference by police, who had taken their guns (13). The theme of the photo seemed to be the defeat of the Panthers, shown as powerless to the authorities 

Picture of peace full protest (1)
Free Huey Rally, Oakland (1)
Panthers assembled in a park (1)
      The press' disdain for the Panthers is clear in the New York Times selection of an AP picture showing Panthers in their berets and scowls for their aforementioned story on the California Assembly protest (13). The image of a brooding-faced man with a gun was repeated over and over in the media at this time, so much so that it seemed that all panthers looked like this. However, photos taken by Ruth-Marion Baruch suggest this is not true. Her photographic essay of the Black Panthers published in 1970 (1) shows a different picture. Sit ins, embracing protestors, and mothers with children dispersed among the more arsenal-laden members were all ignored by most of the press. These peaceful images did not, “reinforce the emphasis on guns and the threat of black masculinity”(13) as the typical images selected by papers did.

Still from CBS report, 1969 (3)
      Television followed the pattern of print media, choosing coverage that often glorified the police and highlighted the violence and crime of the Panther Party. A CBS report from 1969 focuses on shots of guns and ammunition and shows the bloody mess of an apartment after a police raid that resulted in the death of Fred Hampton, Panther Leader(3). It includes interviews of at least four police officers and only two Black Panther sympathizers. The unbalanced representation is exacerbated by the conclusion of the broadcast which calls for the Panthers to submit to a lie detector test to see what really happened during the raid while leaving the police officers stories unquestioned.