'The Panther Invasion': Creating a Man Killer

      The mainstream press was devoted to the singular image of the Black Panther as a fighter, a killer and a ruthless beast. The Oakland Tribune called the rise of the party an “invasion” (13), setting the precedent for coverage focused on violence. During a protest of a gun bill at the California Assembly on May 2nd, 1967, armed men and women gathered in a silent crowd and though no violence occurred, a wire service story said the protestors “roamed” “barged” and “shouted” (6). The scene could have been just as easily described with the words, “marched”, “assembled” and “demanded” as other protests had been described in the past (13). But the real story wasn't in the protest at all, journalists were reporting on the threat that the Panthers represented to the status quo, and through their word choice it is clear they meant for this “threat” to be viewed negatively.

Television  focused on violence and conflict between races, especially in groups (10)
     The same story gave little mention of what the Panthers were actually protesting that day, leaving readers with a narrow view of the movement. This shallow view of the movement is a definite trend. An examination of mainstream Seattle papers from 1968 well into the 1970's yields no stories about the positive efforts of the Black Panthers, yet the Seattle alternative presses, The Afro-American Journal and The Medium, are full of stories about their free breakfast for children program, clothing distributions, boycotts and Sickle cell anemia testing. The mainstream press of Seattle, and indeed around the whole country, was filled with only coverage of violent outbreaks and murder scandals. The Panthers were, “fit into narrow, un-dementional frames that told the public little about why the organization existed, it's appeal to black youth across the nation, or it's relationship to the nation's radical crisis”(13). The media simplified the Panther's motivation to hatred of whites and lawless abandon, ignoring the grievances that called the group to action, namely police brutality.

      Black leaders became synonymous with violence. In May1967, The New York Times ran an article entitled “A gun is power, Black Panther says,” an interview with Huey Newton, main leader of the Panthers. It went on for paragraphs describing him in a shroud of ammunition, describing his body guards holding their weapon menacingly and brandishing their power. A similar article in Time read “'thinking black' is Huey Newton and his rage—a rage so blinding he can look on white America comfortably only through the cross hairs of a gun”, clearly showing how the Panthers became animals, reduced to primal anger. While there is no denying the militancy of Newton, there is also no justification for such a one sided view of his character.

      To a white readership, cut off for the most part from the alternative Black press, the effect was damaging. Bobby Seale, Panther leader, said whites were “at the mercy of the new media” (13)., which perpetuated an inaccurate view of the party “sure to spread a wave of panic in white suburbia” (13). It can be said that the violent image surrounding the Panthers can be attributed, at least partially, to their staging of pseudo events (6), which naturally diverted the press' attention. Nevertheless, the effect was a media unable to differentiate, “between what the Panthers meant to the nation symbolically and the real threat they posed” (6).