The murder of Fred Hampton

March 2, 2012

On December 4, 1969, Chicago police assigned to State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan fired almost 100 shots into an apartment containing seven sleeping members of the Illinois Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Four Panthers were wounded. Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were killed.

During years of criminal and civil court actions, the families of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton attempted to bring to justice those responsible for the murder. The court cases revealed the following information. Fred Hampton's bodyguard was a paid FBI infiltrator. This informant provided the police raiders with a floor plan of the apartment, which included an X marking that "Fred sleeps here."

The raid occurred shortly after a J. Edgar Hoover memo ordering that all FBI offices establish a counterintelligence program aimed at "neutralizing" and "crippling" the Panther Party, to "prevent the rise of a Black Messiah who could electrify and unify the militant Black movement."

On June 20, 1977, a suit brought by the Clark and Hampton families was resolved. After the jury deadlocked, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Sam Perry ordered the acquittal of seven policemen. Judge Perry already had acquitted Hanrahan and various FBI members in April. At this time, Socialist Worker's Ben Blake interviewed Fred Hampton's brother Bill Hampton, who was actively involved in organizing support for the case. This article appeared in the July 1977 issue of Socialist Worker.

WHO WAS Fred Hampton and what was he trying to accomplish?

MY BROTHER was a rising young leader who was killed at the age of 21. Fred had the attitude of caring for people. He wanted to share with people. Even though he was a good student and athlete, he felt the needs of others.

In high school, Fred was president of the Inter-racial Cross Section Committee. He was not just a leader of Blacks but whites as well. Fred became leader of the youth NAACP at the age of 17, fighting for jobs, better recreation facilities, open housing. He led demonstrations for a swimming pool in Maywood.

Fred attended Triton College, Malcolm X College, and University of Illinois Circle Campus pursuing a pre-law course of studies. So Fred had become very busy--he had worked in groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he met people like Stokely Carmichael, Dr. Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory and various other people.

After Fred left the youth NAACP and SNCC and started doing things in the Maywood community, he joined the Illinois Black Panther and they chose him as their chairman. While he was chairman, the Illinois Black Panthers were organizing free medical centers, free breakfast programs, free clothing and free busing to prison programs.

Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton speaks to reporters
Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton speaks to reporters

Fred told the people to fight for their rights by any means necessary. He was organizing hospital strikes. He also founded what he called the Rainbow Coalition of poor whites, Blacks, Latinos, Indians and Chicanos in the city of Chicago to fight against oppression.

Fred took the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican gang, and the Young Patriots, a white gang from the Uptown area, and made all these groups into a political organization because he was trying to get them to see that racism wasn't the only problem--that racism was a byproduct of capitalism. He was going to take these groups to wipe out capitalism and oppression.

During the trial, it was shown that the police and FBI were trying to get the gangs against the Panthers because the Panthers were trying to unite the gangs to fight against their oppression.

IS THIS why States Attorney Hanrahan was after Fred?

HANRAHAN WAS trying to label the Panthers as a gang. He got in office by using the Black community on this law-and-order issue. He was getting together with mothers that had lost sons through gang wars and used the Panthers as a scapegoat.

Hanrahan got in, and Fred was telling people about police brutality and about the police infiltration of organizations. In the trial, all this comes out. It shows how an informant, William O'Neal, was paid some $30,000 to cause disruption within the Panther organization and to keep the Panthers from uniting with various groups.

The system was paying this informant and others to corrupt the Panthers and give it a bad image among the people. The FBI had files on Fred. They had O'Neal who drew the floor plan where Fred was sleeping. During the raid at 4:30 in the morning, it was proven that Fred was shot while he was asleep.

After the murder, the apartment was left open for two weeks, and many people went through there--not only Blacks but suburban whites--and saw how it had to be murder. The Congressional Black Caucus, at that time led by Adam Clayton Powell, came here and examined the apartment and called it murder themselves.

SO HOW could Judge Perry acquit everyone?

PERRY WAS prejudiced. He put a lot of harassment on our lawyers, jailing them for contempt, not letting them say a thing. He really has a lot against young people and Blacks and he hates progressive whites who stand up to fight for Blacks as our lawyers are doing.

So he threw the case out, but we are going to appeal it. We are going to keep getting national support, and we think that this only shows how corrupt the system is getting.

If the Panthers were dope dealers or criminals, they would not be such a threat. But the Panthers, the things they were doing, were exposing the system. When you live in a corrupt system, you can't expect the people who are corrupt to send the corrupters to jail. It is more or less a law of who has the most clout.

You really don't know what was happening in that court until you sit there. Even if you sit there for 20 minutes, you see the injustice. The defendants practically told the judge how to run the trial.

HOW CAN Socialist Worker readers support your efforts?

EVERYONE'S HELP is needed. A victory would not be just a victory for the Clark and Hampton families, but for all the countless working people, Black, yellow and brown people who have been murdered by the government.

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