Activists and progressives in every walk of Black life were deeply disturbed when news reports about a fight between rivals were widely circulated. “It reminded me of the rift between the Panthers and U.S. organization in California when John Huggins and Bunchy Carter were killed,” lamented one community leader and former Panther, recalling the murder of the Panthers on the UCLA campus in 1969.
“Back then, we had no idea how much of a role the government and COINTELPRO played in creating the intensity and violence between various militants,” he continued. “It’s a terrible distraction at a time when we should be uniting against the forces of racism and police brutality.”
By now, his reference to the altercation in Atlanta that occurred Aug. 8 that left noted activist and elder Dhoruba bin-Wahad with his jaw broken in three places is being discussed and debated. Attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz was speaking in Atlanta, Ga., on that day, as an invited guest at the New Black Panther Summit on Police Terrorism. A verbal altercation ensued between the lawyer and bin-Wahad.
Shabazz said that bin-Wahad should be removed, and the resulting fracas led to the elder receiving multiple injuries. He underwent several hours of surgery and now his jaw is completely wired shut, allowing only a modicum of conversation.
Since the incident, bin-Wahad and an associate have conducted a press conference offering their version of what happened. Another version, from the New Black Panther Party, has been blasted all over the Internet.
Our first impulse at the paper was to steer clear of any reportage until we had all of the facts, lest we throw more fuel on a situation that, mercifully, could have been much worse. The old African proverb provides us some measure of reflection and concern: “When two elephants fight, only the grass suffers.”
This time is not the time for two brothers to engage in fisticuffs—if there’s ever any time—and we are particularly incensed that one of our beloved elders was the most injured in the fray. At no time should words of disagreement, a critical analysis of a group or individual result in violent behavior.
As you can see, we are still in the process of sorting out the details and difficulties that may have ignited the melee and to figure out how we can help in our words to offset any further outbreak between the groups. With an impending reunion of Panthers in Atlanta, there is a particular urgency to get things in order, not so much to mend fences, but to be alert to any indication of a broader showdown and ways to quell it.
An open summit should not be the occasion to attack participants who have a different philosophy or understanding. You would think that would be a perfect time to clear the air rather than forcibly removing a speaker.
The misdeed has been done, and we can only hope that this incident is the worst of it, though we advise an extensive period to mull over the issues that precipitated the fight. In the meantime, we will keep our eyes and ears open, following the fallout from this as best we can, praying there will be no need for a follow-up story about more attacks and acts of retribution, and hoping for a speedy recovery for Brother Dhoruba.