Things I Learned from My Visit with Darryl “King Rick” Farmer, Leader of the Black Panthers of Milwaukee
“The laws and attitudes of America were never designed to protect the people it oppresses.” — King Rick
I first learned about Darryl Farmer (a.k.a. King Rick) and the Black Panthers of Milwaukee through Paul Lemenager, a producer with Dogsnose Media, which I wrote about here. Their team had produced a show titled No Justice, No Peace: The Original Black Panthers of Milwaukee which was accepted into the Catalyst Content Festival. What struck me was his statement that No Justice, No Peace was one of the most interesting projects he’d worked on his entire life.
King Rick and his bodyguard Quodo came to Duluth last week to attend Catalyst, whereupon we made arrangements to meet. On Friday the three of us met at the hotel where they were staying. What follows are notes stimulated by our exchange. First off what really struck me was the feeling I had that in our core we were just three guys sharing life experiences.
The original Black Panther Party was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966. It was a movement of high impact, though relatively short lived. When we say “Black Panthers” it forms an image in many peoples’ minds, usually associated with violence.
This is not surprising when you look at the 150 years of violence perpetrated against Blacks since the end of the Civil War, not only in the Jim Crowe South. In researching for this meeting I learned that Huey Newton was raised in Ouachita Parish, Louisina where there had been 37 lynchings from 1877 to 1950. Hence, the motivation to take action against injustice.
Black Panther chapters formed in numerous cities in the late 60s. King Rick said, “I was born, bred and educated at the table of a Panther in Milwaukee.”
One day, when he was in Head Start at age five, an Open Housing March took place in Milwaukee. As the march went past his school, he left class to go participate.
He described himself as an inquisitive youth, waking up to issues around age 10. He was also growing up physically, and played basketball in high school. “Our school won the state championship,” he said. He later went on to play pro basketball overseas for a spell. His career was in education, teaching French while also coaching a successful high school basketball program.
King Rick talked about political prisoners who were unjustly sent away — Geronimo Pratt, Dhoruba Bin Wahad (Richard Moore) and others. Then he briefly outlined the history of the Black Panthers in Milwaukee. After the Black Panthers disbanded in the early 1980s it went underground. “In 1990 Commander Mike McGee Sr. decided to bring back the Black Panther militia. I was his bodyguard.”
The non-violent Milwaukee Panthers whom King Rick leads are community-minded activists. “If anyone is a detriment to the community we will hold you accountable.”
He stated that Milwaukee is the most segregated city in America, and the worst place to raise black children. “It’s a modern Tammany Hall.” King Rick sees Mayor Tom Barrett as Boss Tweed. “We’re not a hate group. We’re just against these things.”
He described the manner in which the group exposes injustice. “Everything we do is strategic. We plan ahead of time, but don’t tell when we’ll show up.” Stealth is a part of the modus operandi. And even though they are opposed to violence they will use it if necessary to protect their families. “The complete village is our family.”
There’s another side of the Black Panthers that is equally important.
“We do a lot of community activities, neighborhood clean-ups and giveaways,” he said. “For example, we do an annual Mother’s Day giveaway each year for 5 moms who lost kids to violence. We do a book bag giveaway. At Thanksgiving we give away 100 new coats, hats, gloves and turkeys. On December 28, Kwanzaa, we give gifts to 5 kids who lost parents through violence.”
As you can see the community activities help people while also raising awareness regarding serious issues. There are at least 15 chapters of the Black Panthers across the country and it continues to expand, he said, because the work is not done.
Quodo, King Rick’s bodyguard, was also on hand. He’s served two tours of duty overseas, Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Quodo shared details about these experiences which included service in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, support for helicopters.
Today the Panthers are active on social media, on YouTube and Facebook. They also have a website. “Social media is a blessing and a curse,” Farmer said.
King Rick still believes in democracy and the power of the people. “When people (in power) are afraid of change, we can vote them out of office.”
“When we challenge people we don’t let them know we’re coming. The element of surprise is important to us.”
I asked what they see as the biggest current issues. “Donald Trump and education are one and two. Oppressive beliefs is a close third.”
The next thing King Rick said was something I’d heard three decades ago from a friend. “The laws and attitudes of America were never designed to protect the people it oppresses. The original police force was formed to catch slaves.” We have a heinous history, he noted, adding, “It’s only going to change if we make it change.”
Currently the Black Panthers of Milwaukee holds weekly meetings. One recent issue they dealt with had to do with a man who killed the mother of a family of four. “We persuaded him to turn himself in.”
For King Rick the work he is doing comes from a sense of calling that is rooted in his ancestry. Speaking truth to power is a non-violent political tactic that takes courage and resolve. The purpose of confrontation is illumination.
Next year the Democratic National Convention will be held in Milwaukee. In light of the times we live in, I suspect it won’t be just another political event. The Black Panthers of Milwaukee will be there.