New Book, “The Assassination of Fred Hampton” Discussed on Democracy Now!, December 4, 2009
Had Fred Hampton lived, he would have been 62 years old and possibly ready for retirement. However, the then-21-year-old Black Panther was doing so much and doing everything so fast, it was as if he didn’t have time left in the world.
A natural leader, orator and organizer, Hampton, the son of Louisiana migrants from Maywood, Ill., had quit the NAACP for the Black Panther Party in 1967. In the NAACP, he had organized a group of young activists that observed cops who harassed or sought to brutalize blacks–actions not unlike those of the early Oakland-based Panthers. It’s no wonder that when the Panthers came to Chicago, Hampton found common cause with them. He wasted no time, brokering a surprising truce among black and Latino gangs in Chicago–among them The Young Lords, The Red Guard, The Blackstone Rangers (later known as The Black P. Stone Nation), and The Brown Berets–asking them to unite with the Party to get their race and class issues off the streets and onto the tables of law and government. In announcing the truce, Hampton was the first to coin the phrase, “the rainbow coalition” of the groups and gangs he had united. He organized weekly rallies in the black community, taught political education classes beginning at 6 a.m., instigated many of the organization’s hallmarks in Chicago, including a free clinic and a free daily breakfast for children.
Unfortunately, Hampton’s achievements were also noted by the Chicago authorities and the FBI, who were determined to stamp out any positive black activism, or to malign or kill any potential black leader with the kind of charisma and moral amplitude of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Who knows what would have happened if the coalition between these disparate groups of color and of politics would have held under Hampton’s leadership? The gangs would have been diverted from crime and towards building their communities, something that the powers-that-be didn’t want.
Like with many other “what-ifs”, I am left guessing, because Fred Hampton, at the age of 21, was murdered by the Chicago Police Department at the behest of the FBI along with fellow Panther Mark Clark, in a one-sided “shootout” in 1969. “One-sided,” you may ask, how is that? The cops came in the wee, wee hours of the morning, and shot and killed Hampton and Clark. Everyone knew, when they heard what time the “shootout” occurred, that it was in fact a political lynching. The idea of “a shootout” was to justify the police actions. However, when all was said and done, most of the gunfire came into and not outside the apartment. That fact was established at the trial.
Rather than burnishing the career of Cook County District Attorney Edward Hanrahan who lied up and down about what truly happened, the killings effectively ended it. Even some whites who were not sympathetic to the Panther Party were repulsed at what happened. The Democrats refused to support him in the general election. And the black community united and refused to vote him back into office.
As young as I was at the time of Hampton’s death, I already held an opinion about the Panthers. I did not like some of the lock and load rhetoric spouted by the Panthers, and later, some of their Maoist pronouncements. Their confrontations with the cops frightened me. However, I did agree with their programs feeding and clothing the elderly, the poor, and schoolchildren, and setting up schools and tutoring programs to help black children. I did agree with putting cops on notice–nonviolently–that police brutality was not to be countenanced. Hampton was more than an exception, because he was young enough to be a big brother. I liked Hampton’s ideas about empowerment, of inclusion, and coalition politics and was appalled that someone so young, gifted and black could be wiped out.
When I heard Stevie Wonder’s song, “Big Brother,” from his groundbreaking album, Talking Book, with its closing lyrics–You’ve killed all our leaders/I don’t even have to do nothin’ to you/You’ll cause your own country to fall–I thought about Hampton’s death as well as those of King and Malcolm, and the Attica cons.
On December 4, attorney Jeffrey Haas published his own book about Hampton. Called The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther, it was released forty years to the day of his murder.
The C-Span Book TV video discussion which occurred this past weekend (January 2 and 3), is now available for viewing on the site, but it is not downloadable. Someone gave me a link to the Democracy Now! website which featured another discussion, this time with Amy Goodman as the interviewer with the author, Jeffrey Haas, which is a little more than half-an-hour long, but my video grabber is not compatible with Democracy Now’s set up. I was, however, able to find several pieces of the 35-minute DN interview on YouTube. I hate YouTube when they require people to hack up interviews and films.
Part One is, of course, above.
Fred Hampton, Jr. barely escaped being killed in utero with his mother, Deborah Johnson, also a Panther. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with him, and was sleeping with Hampton when the cops arrived. At one point, she tried to shield the unresponsive Hampton from the bullets with her body. (Hampton, as it turned out, had been drugged by a police informant, William O’Neal, who was close to him; Hampton didn’t know what was happening to him.) The younger Hampton, now 39, is active in black nationalist politics, although some of his actions may not be in the same vein as his father.
Here is one authoritative excerpt about the murder of Fred Hampton from public television. Unfortunately, it cuts off at the point where activists ransacked FBI offices in Media, PA and found out the extent of FBI involvement in the murder, and overall, in the destruction of the Panther Party–COINTELPRO. The Haas interview talks briefly about this.
What a loss. Some of our best are dead, and they might have been able to head off the destruction of our young, and of some of our communities. We need about ten or twenty Fred Hamptons, right now.