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Top California Democrat Celebrates Black Panther Accused of Murder

Rep. Barbara Lee attended the unveiling of a bust of Huey P. Newton

Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee / Getty Images
• October 27, 2021 4:00 pm

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A prominent Democrat over the weekend celebrated Black Panther cofounder and alleged murderer Huey P. Newton.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.) on Sunday attended the unveiling of a bust of Newton, who killed a police officer and allegedly murdered a girl who called him a nickname. The Oakland ceremony marked the 55th anniversary of Newton forming the Black Panther Party. The East Bay Times published photos of Lee with Oakland’s mayor at the event.

Lee, who chairs a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, has called for the removal of statues of other problematic historical figures. She cosponsored legislation to tear down statues of members of the Confederate Army.

Lee was affiliated with the Black Panther Party as a community organizer in Oakland. She convened a congressional forum in May with Newton’s cofounder, Bobby Seale, to discuss the FBI’s initiative in the 1960s and 1970s to infiltrate the black nationalist movement.

Newton’s violence against women would seemingly make him a pariah in today’s Democratic Party, though he remains a hero to many on the Left. He was accused of murdering a 17-year-old girl, Kathleen Smith, after she allegedly called him by his nickname, "Baby." One former Black Panther, Ericka Huggins, has claimed she was repeatedly raped by Newton, and that he once threatened to "knock your teeth down your throat" after she questioned his handling of finances from a Black Panther-affiliated school.

Huggins attended the forum convened by Lee earlier this year, though Lee did not ask about the allegations against Newton. Huggins herself was charged in 1970 with conspiring to murder a fellow Black Panther believed to be cooperating with police. While Huggins was not convicted, audio records showed that she was involved in the interrogation and torture of the victim before he was murdered.

Lee has touted her support for the Violence Against Women Act, bragging earlier this year that she introduced a bill on the issue when she served in the California state legislature.

Newton, who founded the Black Panthers in 1966, was convicted in 1968 of voluntary manslaughter in the killing of Oakland police officer John Frey. Newton killed Frey during a traffic stop in 1967. He claimed at trial that Frey hurled racial epithets at him. His conviction was overturned in 1970 because of a jury instruction error. Newton was also an ally of Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones, who guided hundreds of followers in a mass suicide in Guyana in 1978.

Newton died in 1989 after he was shot by a member of the Black Guerrilla Family gang. His bust was erected two blocks from the site where he was shot, according to reports.

Lee’s office did not respond to requests for comment.