December 4th 1969: 40 Years Ago the FBI Murdered a Black Panther
On Dec. 4, 1969, 40 years ago, Chicago police led by Cook County prosecutor Edward Hanrahan as part of an FBI Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) operation stormed into Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton’s apartment at 4:30 a.m. Armed with shotguns, handguns and a .45 caliber machine gun and guided by a floor plan of the apartment provided by an informant, the police killed Defense Captain Mark Clark and critically injured four other Panthers.
They gunned their way through the apartment into Fred Hampton’s bedroom. There he lay sleeping, having been drugged earlier by an FBI informant. As he lay there, the cops stood over him and put two bullets in his brain, at close range.
Other Panthers, including Fred Hampton’s eight month pregnant wife, Deborah Johnson (aka Akua Njeri), were beaten, dragged into the street and charged with assault and attempted murder. Not one officer ever spent a day in jail.
Following this murderous attack – where the police fired 99 rounds in the house and were completely uninjured themselves – Hanrahan brazenly lied that the police were under heavy fire from the Panthers. Among all the many thousands and thousands of actions that show why the Black Panther Party correctly dubbed the police “pigs,” few compare to the viciousness and lies surrounding the assassination of Fred Hampton.
The media took up and spread these lies from the authorities as if they were the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But the Panthers in Chicago – still shocked and grieving from the terrible loss of their key leader and with many of their core members now in jail – refused to give up. Instead, they turned to the people and mounted a defiant political counter-offensive.
The Panthers organized “people’s tours” of the apartment. Thousands came, first from the ghettos and then more broadly. Film crews and reporters were brought in. People saw with their own eyes. And the evidence was clear: All the bullet holes were coming IN. The famous picture supplied by the authorities and run in the Chicago Tribune at the time, showing a door supposedly riddled with bullets coming from the Panthers, was actually a door with nail holes. Even mainstream commentators felt compelled to speak out. Hanrahan had claimed that it was only through the “grace of God” that his men escaped with scratches.
Mike Royko, then a columnist at the Chicago Daily News – and no Panther supporter – wrote in response: “Indeed it does appear that miracles occurred. The Panthers’ bullets must have dissolved into the air before they hit anybody or anything. Either that or the Panthers were shooting in the wrong direction – namely, at themselves.” (See “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther,” page 102, by Jeffrey Haas, Lawrence Hill Books.)
Fred Hampton was a 21-year-old leader of the Panthers who inspired all kinds of people to take up revolution. As Bob Avakian says in his memoir, “Many people throughout the country had been moved by Fred Hampton and had made a leap in their revolutionary commitment because of his influence – the whole way in which, before he was killed, he boldly put forward: ‘You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.’” (See “From Ike to Mao … and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist,” Insight Press.)
In one short year from the founding of the Black Panther Party in Illinois to the time of Fred’s murder, there was a transformation in the culture of society in Chicago. Based on the teachings of Mao Tsetung, the leader of the Chinese revolution, there was a “serve the people” ethos and culture the likes of which Chicago had not seen before.
The Panthers set up free clinics in neighborhoods of the oppressed, where before health care had been virtually unavailable. The Black Panther newspaper was sold everywhere. Posters from the paper were used for political education sessions in the communities and on campuses. Former gangbangers and student intellectuals became revolutionaries. The culture was so widespread in Chicago that conductors on the el and subway trains would announce, “All power to the people!” when calling out the stops where revolutionaries were getting off the train.
Hampton’s assassination was part of a broad campaign to smash the Black Panther Party and the burgeoning revolutionary movement that burst onto the scene in the 1960s. In September 1968, notorious FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and by 1969 the Panthers were the number one target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO operations, which included 233 different documented operations, from assassinations like those of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark to attempts to turn street gangs against the Panthers, efforts to create divisions within the BPP and setting up Panthers on false criminal charges.
Hoover specifically aimed to prevent the rise of what he called “a Black messiah” – that is, he focused on taking out leaders and potential leaders of the masses. Revolutionaries like Malcolm X, George Jackson, Bunchy Carter and John Huggins in LA, and Fred Hampton were either directly murdered by the government or set up. These were counter-revolutionary criminal acts – not only were innocent people murdered by the U.S. government, but the ability of the masses of people to raise their heads and liberate themselves was grievously set back.
Fred Hampton drew out the best from all these sectors of the people, inspiring them with a revolutionary vision and calling on them to rise to being revolutionaries. And many thousands heeded the call. His famous chant, “I am…a revolutionary,” was transformative, as people would take it up, thinking seriously as they did so about what they were committing their lives to when they said it.
Leadership is critical to making revolution. Although revolutionary leaders like Fred Hampton were taken from the people and others capitulated to capitalism and gave up on revolution, the spirit of devoting your life to making revolution and doing all you can to hasten the day when revolution can be made still lives.
This story first appeared on Revolution, the voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
Accomplishments of the Illinois Black Panther Party
• Breakfast for Children Program – Chicago
• Breakfast for Children Program – Peoria
• Free People’s Medical Clinic
• Free Sickle Cell Anemia Testing
• Political Education Classes
• Community Control of Police Project
• Unified the street gangs of Chicago
• Multi-racial united front among the Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society, the Blackstone Rangers, the Young Lords and the Young Patriots that was called the “Rainbow Coalition,” a phrase later taken by Rev. Jesse Jackson
40th anniversary events
4:30 a.m. – exactly 40 years later at the same address – at 2337 W. Chairman Fred Hampton Way (previously Monroe at Western): candlelight vigil with speakers
12 noon, same place: vigil with speakers
5:30-10 p.m., at Winnie Mandela School, 7847 S. Jeffrey Ave. (enter from parking lot): premier screening of “Chairman Fred Hampton Way,” produced and directed by Ray L. Baker Jr.; keynote speakers Akua Njeri, widow of Chairman Fred Hampton and chairperson of the December 4th Committee; Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee; solidarity statements from Black Panther Party members, POCC Minister of Information JR, POCC New Orleans and other POCC chapters, James Clark of the Mark Clark Foundation and brother of Mark Clark, Pam Africa of the ICFFMAJ, Ramona Africa of MOVE and the Last Poets; panel discussion
For more information, call (773) 256-9451.
In San Francisco, “Fred Hampton Commemorative Film Festival”: Illinois Black Panther Party Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton was killed by Chicago Police and the FBI on Dec. 4, 1969. Commemorate the history and inspiration and the lasting impact of our revolutionary leaders!
7-9:30 p.m. at 522 Valencia St., San Francisco, near 16th Street, one block from BART: a showing of films on Fred Hampton, revolutionary and servant of the people; his enemies: how they murdered him 40 years ago today; and the lessons for today. Chairman Fred Hampton said, “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution!” Sponsored by Collision Course Media, It’s About Time BPP, Freedom Archives, ILPS-Bay Area Grassroots Organizing Committee, Committee to Free the SF 8, Haiti Action Committee, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, BAYAN-USA (NorCal)
Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report: ‘Remembering Fred Hampton, 40 years later’
Bruce Dixon, a member of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1969 and 1970, offers a personal recollection of Fred Hampton, murdered by the Chicago Police Department and the FBI in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 4, 1969.
I wanna make sure that every DJ reading this pays close attention and doesn’t dismiss this. Its all about setting legal precedent so police can take things a step further. This is pointed out in the article.
Every DJ reading this needs to realize that this so-called collection of evidence will eventually start happening when the RIAA and the organizations it backs (I.e. Music First Coalition, Sound Exchange etc) began tracking down DJs who aren’t paying licensing fees for their music, especially if they are rocking at these ‘underground’ parties. This will really happen if they manage to push John Conyers bill HR 848 and make that into law.
For those who don’t know, HR 848 is a performance tax they want to charge radio. Play a song on the air and the artist (translation really the label using the artists as fronts) should get some money. This talk about playing songs for promotional purposes has fallen on def ears as far as the labels are concerned. Once this bill passes they will then use this argument of ‘precedent’ and make the case that since radio is paying a performance license so should deejays and club venues. This argument of ‘precendence‘ is the same scurrilous tactic they are using now to try and pass HR 848, except they are pointing to the highly contested bill that made internet and satellite radio pay similar fees as justification. They are likely to argue that the DJ is making living off the backs of hardworking artists and that there would be no career if it wasn’t for the artist thus an artist should share in a percentage of the revenues. Keep your eyes open..
Lastly I will remind people if you recall when the RIAA started cracking down on mixtapes being sold in open markets they were able to do something that almost every business I know of has not and can not. They been able to come along with law enforcement on those RAIDS as if they were the police themselves. I also want folks to check to see if some sort of tracking devices or software are not being added to the laptops when they are returned.
Controversial tactic of taking laptops even when DJs not charged with crime reportedly condoned by San Francisco’s new chief of police. EEF attorney steps in to help protect DJs privacy, get computers back.
Police seize DJs’ laptops
New police chief apparently condones policy that critics call illegal and punitive
By Joshua Emerson Smith
San Francisco Police Department officers have added a controversial tactic to their aggressive raids on house parties (see “Fun under siege,” 4/22/09): they’re seizing laptop computers from DJs at the events.
While SFPD officials deny the laptop seizures is a new policy, they admit it has been condoned by Police Chief George Gascón, who took over in August and last month told the Guardian’s editorial board he wants to make the SFPD more transparent and accountable to the public (see “New coach, new approach,” 10/14/09).
“The police chief is aware that officers are being proactive in gathering evidence,” Sgt. Lyn Tomioka told the Guardian when asked about a string of laptop seizures by undercover cops over the last 10 months, most of them in cases in which the DJs weren’t even charged with a crime.
Many of the raids have occurred in SoMa, and were spearheaded by undercover officers who penetrated the parties and were followed by uniformed officers. San Francisco Entertainment Commission member Terrance Alan called the crackdown a “disappointing and dangerous trend.”
Tomioka said it’s a judgment call for officers to seize laptops as evidence of an illegal party, but Alan said the tactic is a punitive measure that proves nothing: “Taking laptops [is] not necessary to prove the underlying crime, and in many cases damages people’s ability to earn a living.”
One of the most recent raids happened on Halloween. It was about 2:30 a.m. and music was pumping out of a warehouse party on Sixth Street. The people throwing the party had hired a doorman, and attendee Eric Dunn was standing in line waiting to get in.
“We were right at the front of the line,” Dunn told the Guardian, when, he said, two plainclothes officers drove up on the sidewalk, jumped out of an unmarked car, and rushed up to the doorman. “[The officers] pretty much started demanding entry right away. The doorman was really polite. He basically told them that you have to know somebody to get into the party.”
Dunn said the officers waited until an exiting guest opened the door from the inside and then made their move. “One guy barged in, and the other guy followed. They never asked permission or received permission to enter the building,” Dunn said.
Inside, the two undercover officers immediately shut down the event. Justin Miller, a DJ at the event, said she remembers it very clearly. “The cops at that point were telling everybody to leave the party, telling me to turn the music off. I turned the music off. Everyone was quietly leaving.”
But Miller said it didn’t stop there. One of the undercover officers approached her and asked if she had a laptop. She said she did. “I was a little confused at this point because I didn’t know what my laptop had to do with anything. I was playing CDs.” She said she pulled her computer out from underneath a table and unzipped it from a case. The officer then “grabbed it from me.”
The undercover police officer — later identified by witnesses and the evidence receipt as Larry Bertrand — instructed Miller to follow him down to the street to get a property receipt for her laptop.
At this point there were uniformed officers on the scene as well. Miller started to cry. “I begged him. I said, ‘This is my livelihood. You’re talking my laptop. This is my livelihood. I hope you realize that.’ He said, ‘This is how you’re going to learn then, I guess.’”
Miller said Bertrand (who did not return Guardian calls for comment) then told her he was “going to take it upon himself to shut down every illegal party in San Francisco.”
She said he then opened the trunk of his car, revealing several other laptops. A person at the party pointed out that one of the laptops belonged to a friend of his, and asked if he could get the property receipt for the laptop. Miller said Bertrand turned to the inquiring person and said, “You will never see this laptop again.”
She continued: “He then looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to make sure your paperwork gets so tied up that maybe you won’t see this laptop until December, January, February, who knows when.’ I felt so violated.”
Miller has been working as a DJ in the Bay Area, under the name DJ Justincredible, for more than 10 years. She says she’s never had any of her equipment confiscated by the police before. But at that party, three DJs had their laptops confiscated, even though none were charged with a crime.
Shortly after the Halloween incident, Miller and the two other DJs who were at the party contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group specializing in technology and privacy issues. Jennifer Granick, a civil liberties lawyer with EFF, said most people haven’t heard about this because few of these DJs, if any, ever get convicted of a crime.
“DJs and the police department know that sound equipment and laptops are being unlawfully seized. But the public and the courts haven’t heard much about it because every time a DJ asks for a hearing, the cops just give them their property back rather than show up and defend the practice in open court before a judge,” she said.
Sean Evans has been working as a DJ in San Francisco, under the name DJ 7, for more than 10 years. He said that over the summer he had his laptop seized by police during an after-hours party in SoMa. He was given no property receipt, and his case was dismissed. But it took him three months to get his computer back.
“To lose our sole means of income, it’s a huge setback. It puts us out of work. In this recession, we’re struggling, and we need our laptops to get by,” he said. Evans grew up in the Bay Area and he said has never had anything like this happen to him before.
Granick argued it is illegal for police to seize property without issuing citations or arrests. She also said there are serious privacy issues at stake. “If we were to find out that the police were doing something else with the laptops, like searching through them or copying the data, we would definitely go to court,” she said.
SFPD Sgt. Wilfred Williams said he could not say what was currently being done with the laptops. In general, he said, private events that emit “extraordinary amounts of sound” need permits. And if they don’t have the proper permits, he said, property can be seized as evidence, “be it the speakers, be it the laptops, be it a mixer.”
Both Tomioka and Williams say the seizures aren’t a new policy. “If you look back in time, laptops haven’t been used for music,” Williams said. “There used to be old types of equipment that was taken in the past. But now laptops are being used. So yes, today, laptops [are] being seized.”
Entertainment advocates have called on Mayor Gavin Newsom and Gascón to come forward with an explicit policy concerning these raids and seizures. The Mayor’s Office did not respond to Guardian inquiries. Critics of the policy say it’s having a chilling effect on nightlife in San Francisco.