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Back in black

A couple of weeks ago my editors -- inspired (I think) by the Trayvon Martin aftermath -- asked me to see what the New Black Panthers were up to. So I checked it out and I wrote a story -- and it goes something like this:

Yet this small fringe group has a remarkable knack for making headlines, most recently when a Florida New Black Panther announced a $10,000 bounty on the head of George Zimmerman, the gunman in the racially charged Trayvon Martin case.

Before that, the Philadelphia NBPP was at the center of a national brouhaha over the actions of Shabazz and another party loyalist on Election Day in 2008, when Shabazz stood outside a polling place in Fairmount brandishing a nightstick. Conservatives insist that after the Obama administration took office the next year, Shabazz and two other New Black Panthers got off with an inconsequential slap on the wrist over alleged voter intimidation.

The party gets a lot more attention on popular bastions of conservative radio than in the cities like Philadelphia where its small chapters are located. In March, America's most-listened-to talk-radio host, Rush Limbaugh, insisted in the middle of a rant about Obama that the president is "a supporter of the New Black Panther Party."

So are the New Black Panther Party and its undeniable hate speech a threat to the broader society that should be taken seriously? Or is it an inconsequential fringe group of attention-seekers that conservative pundits are using as a "dog whistle" to voters on the far right by mentioning Obama and a radical black party in the same breath?

Please read the whole thing. One other comment, which is that a number of people have emailed me to complain that they can't comment on the article on I agree -- it's a shame, although it's been their policy for a while now not to allow comments on racially charged stories. Why? Because those stories generate some good comments and a slew of offensive ones, and it takes people power -- i.e., paid employees -- to remove those. To give someone that job would mean one less reporter trying to report actual news, and this less stuff worth commenting on. That's reality, and reality bites.