Fred Hampton: The Assassination of a Black Panther
December 6, 2009 8:48 PM   Subscribe

December 4th, 2009 marked the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

Among the activities undertaken by the FBI as part of their Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), the organization of Fred Hampton's assassination by the Chicago Police stands out as one of the most egregious and tragic.

As a charismatic leader and effective organizer, Hampton was an obvious target for J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which was largely responsible for the dissolution of the black political movement by the 1970s (or, as Michael C. Dawson puts it in his book Black Visions, the undermining of "the institutional foundation for the black counterpublic" (36)). His death occurred in the middle of the filming of a documentary about his activities as a Black Panther, which became The Murder of Fred Hampton (Google video link to the full documentary).

Forty years later, Simon Balto hopes that another charismatic black leader from Chicago will pay similar attention to the nation's poor.

Also see: the FOIA request of the FBI's documents on Fred Hampton [PDF], a collection of speeches by Fred Hampton, Jr., and the documentary Death of a Black Panther: The Fred Hampton Story, which features interviews with Hampton's girlfriend Deborah Johnson, police officers involved in the raid, and others.

(Some links reposted with the permission of Mefi user aquathug.)
posted by invitapriore (27 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
posted by orthogonality at 8:58 PM on December 6, 2009

Yeah, this is all over the Internet and elsewhere, but it is hardly inappropriate to recall a time in which the U.S. government declared war on an internal political organization and assassinated its leaders in their sleep. 1969 killed the Summer of Love. The Reagan era, the forty-year reign of Cheney/Rumsfeld...Vietnam and Afghanistan...those of us who lived through these times, or read about them, are not happy about how the twenty-first century is turning out..
posted by kozad at 9:18 PM on December 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Is this the place where I should say that people fighting for civil rights actually want them at the expense of white people and also it turns out that the FBI wasn't wrong about Fred Hampton being violent?

posted by shakespeherian at 9:21 PM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

"You can kill freedom fighters, but you can't kill freedom fighting" - Fred Hampton

Very nicely done invitapriore
posted by aquathug at 9:26 PM on December 6, 2009

Thanks for this. The COINTELPRO project was one of the more fucked up things the US Government has admitted to doing in this country in the past century. Their systematic attempt to discredit popular activist movements was nothing short of obnoxious thuggery. Not that the Black Panther Party was all tea and petitfours, but to go on an all out attack on them to the point where the party was being infiltrated with provocateurs and then this.... the whole thing is just a chilling indictment of America's domestic intelligence system, then and now.

The movie on is well worth watching for anyone who finds this sort of thing interesting. And I know Ward Churchill can be sometimes problematic but his book The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States
posted by jessamyn at 9:41 PM on December 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

The familes of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark won a civil rights lawsuit against the city county and federal government - Hampton V. Hanrahan

There is also a new book about the case - The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas

In this excellent new book, Haas gives his personal account of defending the Panther survivors of the Dec. 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. The civil rights lawsuit lasted for almost 13 years, but ended with a $1.85 million settlement paid equally by the city, county, and federal governments. This battle in the courtroom is a long and complex story, but the 375-page book packs a punch and clearly presents the legal complexities without watering down Haas’ outrage about Hampton’s assassination and the cover up that followed.
posted by readery at 10:10 PM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

shakespeherian : I wanted to flag that for 3 different reasons, but was only allowed one.
posted by scottymac at 1:06 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

For Bay Area people interested in the Black Panthers - you might like to look at the Oakland Black Panther Historical Tour [half maintained website wacked out in Firefox].
posted by benzenedream at 1:44 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

After wondering what happened to the informant, I found this brief article on the Chicago Reader website, The Last Hours of William O'Neal.
posted by marsha56 at 1:47 AM on December 7, 2009

btw, that Chicago Reader article is from January 1990, so when it says "last week", it means last week in January 1990.
posted by marsha56 at 1:49 AM on December 7, 2009

The COINTELPRO project was one of the more fucked up things the US Government has admitted to doing in this country in the past century.

They only admitted it so that people would believe they had stopped doing it.
posted by srboisvert at 3:38 AM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

A black hour for the FBI to be sure. I heard parts of the Democracy Now show on the radio yesterday and I highly recommend it.
posted by caddis at 4:17 AM on December 7, 2009

"I believe I'm going to die doing the things I was born to do. I believe I'm going to die high off the people. I believe I'm going to die a revolutionary in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle."
And you did.
posted by Abiezer at 4:22 AM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

After I commented last night before bed, I felt I needed to add - $1.85M and a 13 year long case for two young men's lives?

That is the final slap in the face.

I have the book on hold at the library and followed the lawsuit at the beginning.
posted by readery at 5:38 AM on December 7, 2009

posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:07 AM on December 7, 2009

I had the privilege of hearing Akua Njeri speak not long after the Seige of St. Petersburg, and it was sad and impressive and heartbreaking to hear her tell of the co-ops, schools, kindergartens, small businesses, and other, less militant but equally important, aspects of the Panther movement that were revolutionizing Black America at that time.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:45 AM on December 7, 2009

posted by yeloson at 7:48 AM on December 7, 2009

Is this the place where I should say that people fighting for civil rights actually want them at the expense of white people and also it turns out that the FBI wasn't wrong about Fred Hampton being violent?

No, it's not actually.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this post.

It's so sad that, as toodleydoodley noted above, the Black Panthers were actually into all sorts of community building practices, but so many people -- minorities and whites alike -- think of them primarily as violently angry proto-gangsters.

A black hour for the FBI to be sure.

I'm reading the last volume in Taylor Branch's excellent America in the King Years trilogy, and I've gotta say that the entirety of the 60s comes across as a bad time for the FBI. And the Democratic pusillanimity in the face of Hoover's tyranny and strong-arming perfectly presages what we see in their infuriating tendency to roll-over for bullying Republicans today. There will be more Fred Hamptons.

posted by lord_wolf at 9:53 AM on December 7, 2009

"They ain't gonna send us campin' like they did my man Fred Hampton."

Thanks for the refresher.
posted by Eideteker at 10:15 AM on December 7, 2009

Her father's a political prisoner (free Fred)
Son of a panther that the government shot dead
Back in twelve four nineteen sixty-nine
Four o'clock in the morning
It's terrible but it's fine
'Cuz Fred Hampton Jr. looks just like him
Walks just like him
Talks just like him
And it might be frightening the feds and the snitches
To see him organizing the gang brothers and sisters
So he had to be framed, yo
You know how the game go
Eighteen years because the five-o said so
They said he set a fire to a arab store
But he ignited the minds of the young, black and poor

posted by jckll at 12:06 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Related doc: HUEY! by Agnes Varda and the Black Panther Party.
posted by mike_bling at 12:49 PM on December 7, 2009

Is this the place where I should say that people fighting for civil rights actually want them at the expense of white people and also it turns out that the FBI wasn't wrong about Fred Hampton being violent?

Sure, if you really feel like it, but neither of those things come even close to justifying assassination. For instance, what do you mean by "violent"? That he committed acts of violence? Or simply that he espoused them? If it's the latter, well, that's protected by the Constitution. If it's the former, then that's what the justice system is for.

As for your first argument: what's your point, exactly? That because you think that's what Black Panthers wanted, his assassination was justified?
posted by lunasol at 3:09 PM on December 7, 2009

One of my closest friends used to have a place about four doors away from where the assassination (there is no more correct word for it) occured. The orignal building was torn down. What went up in its place is a CHA scattered site housing project. The end of the street at Western Ave is blocked off to try to slow the parade of of people driving in from the suburbs for drugs. I like my city just fine, and the only mayor round here I have ever voted for has been named Daley, but there are also moments like this that make you ashamed. For Christ's sake, the guy was feeding poor children breakfast before they went to school. He should have been showered with praise, not bullets.
posted by timsteil at 11:57 PM on December 7, 2009

The (Original) Rainbow Coalition
Looking back, was there enough basis for unity? Hell, yeah! When I went to Uptown Chicago, I saw some of the worst slums imaginable. Horrible slums, and poor white people lived there. However, two organizations prepared the way for the Rainbow Coalition, without them there wouldn’t have been a chance of forming one. Rising Up Angry (rua) and join Community Union. The uptown neighborhood was prime recruiting zone for white supremacists. Most of the cats who were in the Patriots also had at least one family member in the Klan. Cats like Mike James and Jewnbug, and Tappis worked hard to fight that mentality. Mike James and rua drove a wedge in that bullshit, that white supremacist bullshit, their groundwork was just amazing, out of this world.
posted by Abiezer at 3:23 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's been a busy few days and I'm a little late to the conversation, but I wanted to note that, as with almost all things related to the civil rights movement, the popular image of the Black Panthers has little to do with their actual legacy. The impression that I grew up with -- that they were a group of racist and violent thugs -- is the result of an over-emphasis on the violent actions of a few members and, later, hysteria over both their socialist-leaning ideologies and their effectiveness; there's an example of this in Abiezer's link, where Bobby Lee remarks that "once the party departed from the “hate whitey” trip and got serious about building real politics, we were a threat—plain and simple." As a whole, they were not seeking civil rights at the expense of the rights of white people.

One of the unfortunate effects of the BPP's demise is that the Nation of Islam took over as the main community builder in a lot of poor black neighborhoods. While the BPP deserves scrutiny of and criticism for the rampant sexism of its members, it never enshrined those views in its official literature; the NOI enshrined sexism and many other frankly disgusting ideological positions besides. The Black Panther Party had the potential, with some internal reform, to become an inclusive and positive force for helping oppressed people of all genders and races. I think it's a tragedy that it ended the way it did, and I hold J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI responsible for doing real and lasting damage to black people in this country as a result of their actions.
posted by invitapriore at 7:23 PM on December 8, 2009

Also: this is a bit of a digression, but I sometimes wonder if the Black Panthers' emphasis on interracial alliances might have given black feminism a good foothold to combat sexism against black women. Black feminism has often been marginalized in the black community by associating it with "white interests" -- see the Clarence Thomas hearings, where his remark that he was the victim of a "high-tech lynching" effectively cast Anita Hill as a pawn of his white oppressors, with no legitimate grievances of her own*. This is purely speculation, but it seems that the popularization of an ideology emphasizing racial conciliation might have limited the viability of that kind of tactic.

* I came across this idea in Kimberle Crenshaw's essay "Whose Story Is It, Anyway? Feminist and Antiracist Appropriations of Anita Hill," which is part of a compilation called Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power, edited by Toni Morrison.
posted by invitapriore at 7:35 PM on December 8, 2009

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