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
In Chicago, “40 Years Later, 40 Years Strong! We Will Never Forgive! We Will Never Forget!”
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.