Black Panther Party, COINTELPRO, Dr. Peter Dale Scott (b. 1929), Fred Hampton (1948-1969), Jacobin Magazine, racial residential segregation, yellow journalism, Zinn Education Project
LUMPENPROLETARIAT—Today in U.S. assassination history… If the exact date isn’t seared into your memory, December 4th, then perhaps the image of Fred Hampton’s bloodied mattress or his bloodied, lifeless body is. The TV news, radio, and newspapers of the day reported back in December of ’69 that Fred Hampton, the Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, was assassinated during a night raid by cops, in ‘an intense shootout’.
One of the effects upon the American consciousness of the yellow journalism involving the assassination of Fred Hampton, specifically, and the Black Panther Party, generally, was to create a false image of the Panthers as a violent organization, when the historical record reveals, basically, a peaceful neighborhood watch group, which developed free breakfast programs for underserved communities among other social welfare policies. The Black Panther Party (BPP) had been gaining national political traction when Fred Hampton was assassinated. Most importantly, the BPP had dared to call out what they saw as bullshit in the plainest terms of any of their contemporaries. And the BPP also dared to practice their Constitutional rights to observe, monitor, and document police and state practices in black, brown, and poor communities. It is well-documented that those police practices, which the BPP insisted on monitoring and holding accountable, had been historically abusive toward black, brown, and poor people, especially by enforcing the de facto apartheid state in America’s major cities, such as Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, and Kansas City.
Racial residential segregation, racism in real estate policies, redlining, and other economic assaults against black and brown people were further enforced on the streets by police, for example, keeping blacks east of the so-called “Troost Wall”, east of Troost Avenue, in Kansas City, Missouri. Similarly, in Los Angeles, blacks were confined primarily to South Central Los Angeles; and browns were confined primarily to East Los Angeles. When people of color stepped out of line, for example, by daring to venture out into predominantly white neighborhoods, cops were ready to engage in fascist policing in order to put them back in their place. Even anti-miscegenation laws served to enforce the de facto American apartheid state.
This canary-in-the-gold-mine preview of American fascism experienced by indigenous Americans, by black and brown people, by non-white immigrants, is why people of color are often ahead of the curve in recognizing the failure of the American ship of state, as Chris Hedges (i.e., “Politics of Despair”), and others readily acknowledge today. The people, who have experienced a state’s abuse of power first are also usually the first to recognize when they’re living in a failed state, or a failed democracy.
It was not the Black Panthers, who were violent. They simply practiced their First and Second Amendment rights, among other rights, and taught many other Americans to do the same, at a time when our nation was filled with a repressed and/or oppressed citizenry, who had been quiet, but was now ready to speak out. People, like Fred Hampton, were powerful symbols of that American passion to speak out about the antidemocratic and fascist forces lurking in the halls of justice with the Red Scares, McCarthyism, U.S. imperialism and war profiteering, Jim Crow, de facto apartheid segregation, police abuses, and other ongoing examples of state abuse of power.
Fred Hampton’s leadership of the Black Panther Party, as a charismatic American patriot, was precisely the type of voice America needed to defend democracy, but to which the state was mortally opposed. Or, more precisely, it was the “American deep state”, what Dr. Peter Dale Scott describes as an ongoing political culture and confluence of corporatist, capitalist, and militarist interests, which are advanced and guarded by authoritarian, right-wing intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, and other elites manipulating government. It was the police, the FBI, and the state, from the outset, who were hostile and violent towards the Black Panther Party, towards the series of protests later known as the Civil Rights Movement, and towards any political agency presented by people of color.
The American state, with its intelligence apparatus, never wanted the Black Panther Party to gain electoral traction. That’s why the state surveilled political groups, like the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The state was determined to undermine the Black Panther Party at any cost. By the time, the Black Panther Party had earned national reach, with chapters across the nation, and Fred Hampton began to build the original Rainbow Coalition, which began to unite black, brown, and white people against racism and capitalism across the country, they were poised for meaningful electoral traction. This evidently posed a threat to the state, as we learned from COINTELPRO documents and books, like The American Deep State by Dr. Peter Dale Scott, Giants: The Global Power Elite by Dr. Peter Phillips, and others.
The common narrative painted in the dominant media at the time suggested a violent, bloody shootout between Chicago cops and Black Panthers. The reality is closer to a premeditated massacre by cops of Black Panther Party members, working class activists resisting racism, police state authoritarianism, and capitalist economic oppression. It turns out, the Chicago Black Panther leaders were completely caught off guard during the predawn raid. Fred Hampton and his fiancée Deborah Johnson were sleeping at the time. And, of the nightwatchmen guarding the Hamptons, Black Panther Mark Clark fired only one shot in self-defense. And even that single gunshot blast was likely an accidental shot as Clark fell over after being fatally shot in the heart.
It turns out Fred Hampton didn’t have to die during the predawn raid, despite the nearly hundred shots fired by cops as they stormed the Black Panther Party’s Chicago home, according to attorney Jeffrey Haas, who spoke with Deborah Johnson, Hampton’s then-pregnant fiancée on the morning after the cops’ bloody raid. But, evidently, the state wanted Hampton dead, not alive. Miraculously, Johnson wasn’t shot during the cops’ barrage of bullets, as she lay in bed beside Hampton. When cops found both of them alive in the bedroom, they forced then-pregnant Deborah Johnson out of the bedroom. She then heard two gunshots. Those two gunshots, we now know, were gunshots to Fred Hampton’s head, execution style, as he lay unconscious on the bed, evidently drugged beforehand by a paid FBI informant.
On the evening of December 3, 1969, William O’Neal, who was employed by the FBI to infiltrate the BPP, slipped a powerful sleeping drug into Hampton’s drink then left. Officers were dispatched to raid his apartment.National Archives, African American Heritage, Fred Hampton (August 30, 1948-December 4, 1969)
Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, mounting evidence is painting an even grimmer picture than the official narratives usually cited. The killing of Fred Hampton was likely a cold-blooded execution, rather than an unfortunate outcome in a heated gun battle. In his book, An Act of State, attorney and personal friend of Dr. King, William Pepper described how Dr. King was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he was still alive. A surgical nurse named Shelby was the last person to see Dr. King alive in his hospital room, before two men in suits entered the room. According to an actual quote from actual deposition statements, sworn under oath, one of the men said, “Stop working on that nigger! Get out and just let him die.” Pepper included deposition transcripts in his book. Granted, Dr. King may have died anyway from his gunshot wounds. But the fact that this evidence was suppressed should be of great concern to all Americans, who remember the assassination of Dr. King and commemorate his legacy.
Similarly, as we learn more about the assassination of Fred Hampton, we learn more about the dangerous and antidemocratic forces, which predominate the American state. One such antidemocratic force was the FBI’s illegal COINTELPRO program, which had identified Fred Hampton, as a “radical threat” for effectively organizing black, brown, and white people against racism and capitalism.
In 1990, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed a resolution, introduced by then-Alderman Madeline Haithcock, commemorating December 4, 2004, as “Fred Hampton Day in Chicago”. The resolution read in part: “Fred Hampton, who was only 21 years old, made his mark in Chicago history not so much by his death as by the heroic efforts of his life and by his goals of empowering the most oppressed sector of Chicago’s Black community, bringing people into political life through participation in their own freedom fighting organization. We commemorate December 4, 2004 as “Fred Hampton Day in America”.
ZINN EDUCATION PROJECT—On the morning of December 4, 1969, lawyer Jeffrey Haas received a call from his partner at the People’s Law Office, informing him that early that morning Chicago police had raided the apartment of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton at 2337 West Monroe Street in Chicago.
Tragically, Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark had both been shot dead, and four other Panthers in the apartment had critical gunshot wounds. Police were uninjured and had fired their guns 90-99 times. In sharp contrast, the Panthers had shot once, from the shotgun held by Mark Clark, which had most likely been fired after Clark had been fatally shot in the heart and was falling to the ground.
Haas went straight to the police station to speak with Hampton’s fiancée, Deborah Johnson, who was then eight months pregnant with Hampton’s son. She had been sleeping in bed next to Hampton when the police attacked and began shooting into the apartment and towards the bedroom where they were sleeping. Miraculously, Johnson had not been shot, but her account given to Haas was chilling. Throughout the assault Hampton had remained unconscious (strong evidence emerged later that a paid FBI informant had given Hampton a sedative that prevented him from waking up) and after police forced Johnson out of the bedroom, two officers entered the room where Hampton still lay unconscious. Johnson heard one officer ask, “Is he still alive?” After two gunshots were fired inside the room, the other officer said, “He’s good and dead now.”
Jeffrey Haas’ account of this conversation with Johnson jumps right out from the inside cover of The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. In this excellent book, Haas gives his personal account of defending the Panther survivors of the December 4 police assault against the criminal charges that were later dropped, and of filing a civil rights lawsuit, Hampton v. Hanrahan, on behalf of the survivors and the families of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton. [Description from full review by Hans Bennett on TowardsFreedom.com.]
This book of the assassination of a sleeping Fred Hampton by Chicago police working for a mad state’s attorney is more important NOW than it was THEN. It is a revelation of how the powerful of our city use power to keep truth distant. The hard truth is that this is a remarkable work. — Studs Terkel
ISBN: 9781569767092 | Published by Lawrence Hill Books.
Learn more at ZINN EDUCATION PROJECT.
Democracy Now!, 4 DEC 2009, featured an interview with Jeffrey Haas, author of The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther (2009).
The Murder of Fred Hampton, posted to YouTube as “Fred Hampton (Documentary)” by TheBlackestPanther, circa 2016
THE NATION—[25 DEC 1976] Was Fred Hampton Executed? Seven years after the shootings of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by the Chicago police, a civil suit reveals the sordid details behind the assassination.
In the predawn hours of December 4, 1969, Chicago police, under the direction of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, raided the ramshackle headquarters of the local chapter of the Black Panther Party. When the smoke cleared, Chairman Fred Hampton and party member Mark Clark were dead; four others lay seriously wounded.
Today in Chicago, seven years after the raid, the facts are slowly emerging, as a civil trial crawls through its tenth month. The families of Hampton and Clark, along with the seven who survived the foray, have filed a $47.7 million damage suit. Edward Hanrahan, three former and present FBI agents, an ex-FBI informant, and twenty-six other police personnel stand accused of having conspired to violate the civil rights of the Panthers, and then of covering it up. In essence, the plaintiffs and their lawyers are out to prove that the FBI/police conspired to execute Fred Hampton.
At 17, Hampton was a black youth on the road to “making it” in white America. He was graduated from high school in Maywood, Ill, with academic honors, three varsity letters, and a Junior Achievement Award. Four years later he was dead.
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Learn more at THE NATION.
[4 DEC 2020]
[Last modified on 4 JAN 2021 at 08:55 PST]