To the combustible mix of race, politics, and protest — add guns. The militant New Black Panther Party reportedly plans to bring guns to the Quicken Loans Arena, site of next week’s Republican National Convention.
Hashim Nzinga, chairman of the New Black Panther Party, described the action as defensive.
“If it is an open state to carry, we will exercise our Second Amendment rights because there are other groups threatening to be there that are threatening to do harm to us.”
“If it is an open state to carry, we will exercise our Second Amendment rights because there are other groups threatening to be there that are threatening to do harm to us,” he told Reuters.
Nzinga could not be reached for comment by LifeZette, but he disputed the Reuters story on Twitter: “The #Reuters article is disingenuous, I have not told anyone to bring any type of weapons to the Republican National Convention.”
Regardless, the prospect has some observers fearing violence.
“#NewBlackPanthers have been inciting violence,” tweeted Jim Hanson, executive vice president of the Center for Security Policy, a Washington think tank. “Carrying weapons is legal. #DomesticTerror is not.”
It is not the first time that the New Black Panther Party — labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center — has sparked controversy related to the U.S. election system. According to media reports, weapon-brandishing Black Panthers led by King Samir Shabazz showed up dressed in paramilitary outfits at a polling place in Philadelphia during the 2008 election and intimidated voters.
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The Department of Justice filed a voting rights lawsuit in against the party, Shabazz, and other party members. The civil complaint alleged that Shabazz stood about 8 to 15 feet from the entrance menacingly tapping a club against his other hand while shouting racial insults at both black and white voters.
According to a Philadelphia Inquirer story, Shabazz has a long history of racist statements — including a video in which he said black people should create militias to exterminate whites, skin them alive, pour acid on them, sic pit bulls on them, and raid nurseries to “kill everything white in sight.”
Yet, a few months into the Obama administration in 2009, the Justice Department dropped the case. The watchdog group Judicial Watch later obtained internal documents indicating that political appointees in the Justice Department shut down the suit, over the objections of the department’s career attorneys. J. Christian Adams, the Justice Department lawyer who filed the original lawsuit, later accused the department of racial bias in dropping the action.
The Black Panthers also are no strangers to arming themselves in public. As California governor in 1967, Ronald Reagan signed a law banning the open carry of loaded guns in public — a law some say was a reaction to the original Black Panther Party’s habit of armed self-defense demonstrations.
Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said he has no problem with Black Panther members having guns outside of the Republican convention — as long as they follow the law.
“It goes without saying, if they’re talking about a peaceful protest, there’s no concern,” he said.
Pratt said his bigger concern is that people with valid permits to carry concealed guns will not be allowed to take their weapons into the convention hall. That is because of state law that allows private property owners to ban concealed guns — as the Quicken Loans Arena long has — and per order of the Secret Service.
“Permit holders are the safest segment of our society,” he said. “That’s why we so strongly believe in people’s right to defend themselves.”
Audrey Scagnelli, national press secretary for the Committee on Arrangements for the GOP convention, told LifeZette via email that the party is confident about security.
“For the past year, planners have been working closely with the Secret Service, the Cleveland police, the FBI, and additional state, local, and federal partners to make sure delegates, attendees, and residents of the city of Cleveland are safe during the convention,” she wrote.
Steve Loomis, the head of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, told Reuters the city’s policies outlining law enforcement coverage for the even are condescending.
“We have no shields because they think it is too offensive,” he said. “But a brick to the head is offensive to me.”