New Black Panthers demonstrate, but not on Duke campus

Staff WriterMay 2, 2006 

— About 40 members of the New Black Panthers for Self Defense were turned away Monday at the gates of Duke University. The group had said it would confront lacrosse players about rape accusations made by a woman hired to dance at a team party.

Chanting "black power" and demanding a guilty verdict against two Duke athletes arrested in the case, the New Panthers then marched past the student hangouts along Ninth Street to rally at the Buchanan Boulevard house where the party was held.

The players charged, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, are white. Their accuser is black.

"This is a hate crime, and we want a conviction," declared Malik Zulu Shabazz, the national chairman of the New Panthers, a black separatist group based in Atlanta that is disavowed by the original Black Panther Party. "We are mad and fired up. We demand justice, and we will have justice, one way or the other."

Dressed in black berets and military-style fatigues, several in the group donned bulletproof vests and ammunition belts and holsters that were empty. At least two wore long knives in scabbards strapped to their legs.

There had been concern that the New Panthers would come armed based on the group's reputation for carrying firearms at its events. A Durham police officer who spotted a Panther wearing a handgun asked him to leave it in a car. The man complied.

Shabazz was flanked by Durham school board member Jacqueline Wagstaff and perennial political candidate Victoria Peterson. A handful of students from N.C. Central University, where the accuser is an honor student, were also in attendance.

The group issued a list of eight demands, among them that the two charged lacrosse players be sent to prison and that all Duke students who attended the party be expelled. The New Panthers also said the the university-owned house where the party was held should be converted into a rape crisis center.

The demonstration Monday was largely peaceful. Duke and Durham police were out in force -- with additional officers, medical personnel and an armored tactical vehicle in a parking lot about a block away in case the protest turned violent. No arrests were made, police said.

Duke allowed the New Panthers to assemble in a university parking lot, but when the group tried to march through the gates to West Campus, it was turned away. Robert Dean Jr., the director of Duke's campus police, told Shabazz it was exam week and the students were "stressed-out enough" without more disruption.

Shabazz said Monday that he had talked at length with Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. Nifong confirmed he had spoken with Shabazz, a Washington lawyer, by telephone.

"I asked him to consider not coming because I didn't feel like his presence here would do anything but aggravate the situation," Nifong said.

As he left, Shabazz pledged that the New Panthers will be in Durham until they are satisfied justice has been served.

"We'll be back," he said.

(Staff writers Benjamin Niolet and Barry Saunders contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 956-2421 or mbieseck@newsobserver.com.

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