“If you kill us, we will kill you”—that was the message cops heard from the New Black Panther Party at a rally in front of the 103rd precinct on Saturday. The night before, members passed out flyers at the funeral of Sean Bell, the 23-year-old black man shot to death on November 25 by the police, to gather at Club Kalua. Early Saturday, a throng of media and curious locals converged outside the cop shop with cameras ready for a spectacle. They got one.
The tension began when members of the Progressive Labor Party made a bid for media attention with its chant, “Black power, white power all the same. Racist terrorism is the name of the game.” They were overwhelmed when the New Black Panther Party began a call and response with the crowd, its members pumping fists into the air like exclamation points at the end of the signature “Black Power!” war cry.
Maliki Shabazz, New Black Panther chairman, took the stage and castigated “Uncle Tom leaders” for trying to stop the people and losing touch with the street. He ordered black men to stop killing black men and pointed to the gang members next to him. “I’m not ashamed to have the Bloods on stage with me,” he said and let one of the Bloods make a passionate speech that was muffled by the red bandana over his mouth. What you could hear, loud and clear, was a Panther challenge to police brutality. “Fifty shots! Fifty cops!” they chanted. “Kill the pigs who kill our kids!”
What might have been the empty threats of isolated extremists became a call to action for the 200 people who left the sidewalks to join the march. People in the movement called out to those watching, “Black man, join us. Sean Bell was you, too!” Shabazz pointed at the surrounding stores and targeted them for retaliation. “Fifty shots!” he cried out, “50-day boycott! Stay out of the white man’s department stores!”
The march thundered down Jamaica Avenue as cars and buses veered out of the way. It stopped in front of the 103rd precinct where cops stood behind barricades, watching the rally warily. Speaker after speaker took the microphone and cursed and threatened the police. The audience cheered with ecstatic relief. The event culminated with Shabazz pointing at the cops, promising revenge for any more shootings. “We will kill you!” he roared.
The rally marched to the Mary Immaculate Hospital to show support for Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, who were shot that night along with Bell. Once there, organizers collected names, e-mail addresses, and numbers to call on those who attended. They plan to keep turning out. “When you come next week,” marchers were told, “bring five of your friends. Let’s keep this growing.”