This December marked the 50th anniversary of the police killing of Black Panther party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in the city of Chicago.Panther leader Hampton, headquartered in the city, and Panther Clark, who hailed from Peoria, Ill., were shot to death Dec. 4, 1969 in a West Side apartment. Chairman Fred, who headed the Panthers in Illinois, was in bed with his pregnant girlfriend Deborah Johnson, now known as Akua Njeri.
Police hit the apartment early, aided by a floor plan laid out by an informant and, many believe, with the occupants drugged in a drink. While the young Panther leaders were martyred, others in the apartment were injured by the 90-round hail of police bullets.
The Cook County state’s attorney authorized the raid and later lied, saying officers were attacked. In truth the Panthers never fired a shot, but the “official” story was repeated and supported by the city’s White owned daily media.
While the government’s lies were eventually uncovered, no one was ever convicted in connection with the killings. But, later the Hampton and Clark families and others wounded were able to obtain a $1.85 million settlement.
“Fred Hampton was a dynamic and charismatic young leader. He was a political visionary who, with his BPP comrades, was spearheading the formation of the original Rainbow Coalition–the BPP together with the Young Lords Organization, the Students for a Democratic Society, Rising Up Angry, the Young Patriots, and Chicago’s street organizations or gangs. The BPP was revolutionary in its programs and its actions, and its 10-point program was a model for social change and resistance that still resonates today,” said Flint Taylor, a founding member of the People’s Law Office, which worked for over a decade to try to obtain justice and accountability for the Chicago Police Dept.’s deadly assault on the Black Panther Party. Claudia Garcia-Rojas, of Truth out, interviewed Mr. Taylor about the Panther murders and his new book “The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago.” The book covers his five decades of fighting for those victimized by police. The interview was published online Dec. 4.
“It is important to understand the threat that Hampton and the BPP presented to government, both local and national, and to its police enforcers at a historical point in time where the very legitimacy of those governing forces was under a withering attack. It also teaches us how far those governing and policing forces will go to suppress a Black liberation movement and its leadership when it perceives and fears the power of that movement–employing brutally racist tactics that include political assassination,” said Atty. Taylor.
“People were outraged by the murders of Hampton and Clark, particularly in the Black community. Thousands of people walked through the apartment where the murders took place, on tours conducted by the Panthers, and could see the cold-blooded truth with their own eyes. Then the feds refused to indict the murderers, and that caused further outrage and organizing, which in turn led to the appointment of a special prosecutor. He indicted Cook County State’s Attorney (and Richard J. Daley protÃ©gÃ©) Edward Hanrahan and the raiding cops not for murder, but rather for obstruction of justice. When a machine judge (there’s that word again!) acquitted Hanrahan on the eve of the 1972 election, the outrage fueled a movement that voted Hanrahan out of office, and is widely thought to be the genesis of the political movement that elected Harold Washington–Chicago’s first Black mayor–in 1983,” he added.
The murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were part of the federal government’s Counterintelligence program, which aimed to infiltrate, coopt, discredit and destroy Black organizations and prevent the rise of a “Black messiah,” who could unite militant and other groups.
As troubling as the killings of Panthers Hampton and Clark are, police targeting of Black organizations and leaders has not stopped. The FBI’s focus on a nebulous group designated “Black Identity Extremists” versus proven killers in the White extremist movement is an example of continued government misdeeds and targeting based on race and the desire to crush movements for justice and Black liberation.
Alongside such targeting is a green light for cops to abuse and kill Black people. Donald Trump, early in his presidency, questioned why cops handled suspects gingerly and urged already abusive officers to get a little rougher.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the highest law enforcement official in the land, sparked anger when he recently said populations that disrespect law enforcement could find themselves lacking police protection.
Speaking Dec. 3 at a Justice Dept. ceremony saluting law enforcement, Mr. Barr said: “They have to start showing more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. If communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
Such gangsterism at the highest levels of government must be condemned. It is intimidation aimed at Black, Brown and Native communities who have rose up against police murders and criminality.
Such harsh truths prove once again that policing remains the deployment of occupying forces in our neighborhoods, not the assignment of those devoted to our protection and defense. We must organize among ourselves and make our communities safe and decent places to live. Our oppressors will never do that for us and it is a fitting tribute to the martyrs in the cause of freedom, justice and equality.