Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4, 1969: The Murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by the F.B.I.

(Fred Hampton)

Forty years ago today, December 4, 1969, Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered by the United States Government through the F.B.I., using their local agents in the Chicago Police Department, in a pre-dawn raid.

The F.B.I. gave drugs to an informant they had planted inside the BPP, and the informant put the drugs inside Hampton's food that evening. After he was unconscious, the Chicago Police raided his apartment, shot Clark and killed him, then went into the bedroom and shot Hampton. When the police realized Hampton was still alive, they shot him several more times until they were satisfied he was dead. The autopsy showed he had been shot in the head twice at point-blank range. Although the police originally claimed that the Black Panthers had the police under heavy fire, the evidence showed that the police fired 80 bullets, but the Panthers fired just one.

(Fred Hampton: "You can kill the revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution.")

Does this sound like a story from some corrupt nation without laws? Well, it happened here. And although the Chicago police were immediately exonerated by the Chicago police, eventually the families of Hampton and Clark prevailed in a civil suit and were awarded almost $2.0 million for the wrongful deaths of Hampton and Clark.

Throughout the history of this country, there have been periods of heightened violence and murder by whites against blacks. Generally those murders went unpunished because the underlying belief in civil society has been that white people are entitled to kill black people. Just like today we see the underlying assumption that a Christian nation (as they like to call us) is free to murder the people of a Muslim nation. It's like it's God's will.

Blacks were generally without recourse no matter how many of their people were murdered. They simply had no rights. Any efforts to protect themselves only brought more killings, more lynchings.

In the 1950s, several civil rights leaders and organizations adopted the tactics of Ghandhi, using non-violent protests and sit-ins to demand equal rights for black Americans. The theory was that if people simply gathered somewhere peacefully, and never raised a hand towards the whites, then the non-violent black people would eventually prevail. They were often associated with churches, and their ministers would march and sit alongside them to demonstrate the non-violent good-faith nature of the demands. Of course many of the civil rights leaders were then murdered by white people who had no interest in non-violence, had no good faith, and
had no intention of ever allowing black citizens to have equal rights. So much for Ghandi.

Many groups were inspired by the courage and theory of the black civil rights movement in the U.S. Soon, for example, native Americans were also organizing to demand better treatment. Mexican-Americans (La Raza, hispanics, latinos) began organizing themselves to demand their rights. Women began organizing to demand equal rights and opportunity. Gays followed, demanding the right to live in peace. All of this flowed from the original courage of the black civil rights movements of the 1950s. And of course the Anti-War and Environmental movements came from the same source.

When people saw the resistance by those in power, the refusal to change, then more militant groups formed, and/or people engaged in more militant conduct. When the civil rights marchers were met with police dogs, beaten with batons, thrown into jail, battered with firehoses, and murdered, the next group became more militant. This is the history of the black Panther Party. They saw what happened to the "reasonable" leaders of the black civil rights movement, many of whom were shot down like dogs, and they decided that they would arm themselves for self-defense.

They also invested in organizing at the community level, creating programs to help the people such as pre-school for the children, food banks for the poor. They were trying to create a movement for the long-run, one based on principles of independence, equality, self-determination, and dignity for black people. They were a serious threat because they refused to lay down under the policeman's baton, refused to sit by quietly while their young people were brutalized, murdered, and imprisoned by the state. At the time of his murder, the FBI had a 12-volume, 4000 page dossier or secret file they had accumulated on Fred Hampton, and they wanted to bring him down.

J. Edgar Hoover , head of the F.B.I., targeted the Black Panther Party for extermination through a program called Cointelpro. Most of the leaders of the party were falsely accused of crimes and imprisoned or fled the country to avoid imprisonment; or were enticed into criminal action by entrapment; or were hounded and arrested repeatedly their lives destroyed, until they themselves turned to drugs or alcohol and finished the job. The Black Panther Party was destroyed by a series of illegal, concerted actions by various law enforcement agencies, including murder.

Fred Hampton was 21 years old when he was murdered. He was a high school graduate and had attended a local two-year college. He started doing organizing and political work with the NAACP, but later joined the Black Panther Party, working with its Illinois chapter.

In 1968, the FBI made a deal with a criminal they had arrested named O'Neal. The deal was that the FBI would pay him money every month and would drop several pending felony charges against him, in exchange for him infiltrating the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers and becoming an FBI instigator and informant. He did.

In an effort to isolate the Black Panthers, the FBI began a disinformation program by which they would spread rumors, attribute certain conduct or statements to Black Panther members, leading many other groups to disassociate from the Panthers. In May of 1969, Hampton was criminally charged with having stolen $71 worth of ice cream. The judge sentenced him to 2-5 years for that "crime." Hampton denied he took the ice cream. But the more interesting question is why would a judge send somebody to prison for 5 years for stealing some ice cream bars.

The FBI began telling local police departments that the Panthers were responsible for various crimes, even though none of them had been charged for those crimes. The FBI also told the local police that the Panthers could be expected to engage in a gun battle if the police went to arrest them. This set up an environment in which the police raided Hampton's apartment and murdered him and Clark. The informant had allegedly told the FBI that there were many weapons being stockpiled in Hampton's apartment, illegal weapons. The FBI gave O'Neal a barbituate and told him to put it in Hampton's food on the evening of December 3.

According to Hampton's girlfriend, who was there at the time, the police came in at 5 a.m., 14 Chicago PD officers heavily armed, and shot Mark Clark dead, then wounded the drugged Hampton while he was still in his bed. One of the officers asked if Hampton was dead and another said no, then two more shots were fired and an officer was overheard saying "he's dead now." The autopsy showed Hampton had been shot twice in the head, point-blank, which was consistent with the girlfriend's testimony.

5000 people attended Hampton's funeral. Among the speakers at the funeral were Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy. Later a Commission of Inquiry was held by civil rights leader Roy Wilkins and Ramsey Clark, in which they alleged that the Chicago police had murdered Hampton without justification. Despite the fact that both Hampton and Clark were murdered, and several other Panthers were wounded during the assault by the 14 members of the Chicago PD, only one shot was fired by any Panther, and that appeared to have been a shot fired by Clark as the police broke in the door and killed him. The shooting was done by the police. The bleeding and dying was done by the Panthers.

The families of Hampton and Clark filed a civil lawsuit against the city, state and federal governments for the wrongful raids and deaths of Hampton and Clark. There was 18 months of testimony in that lawsuit. The case eventually settled for almost $2.0 million.

Over time, the truth of the Cointelpro program and the F.B.I.'s illegal targeting of groups, and planting instigators to create situations of violence, slowly emerged due to freedom of information demands and the investigative work of many people, as well as records seized by Anti-war groups.

In 1990, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution declaring "Fred Hampton Day" in honor of the slain leader.

See "The Legacy of Fred Hampton," at The Nation, November 24, 2009 on-line by Jeffrey Haas, civil rights attorney who was involved in the original investigation of the murder: Mr. Haas at the time was a young lawyer, representing Black Panther Party members in Chicago on various issues. He is the author of a book titled The Assassination of Fred Hampton. From "The Nation" article:

"I was the first person to interview the survivors in the police lockup, where Hampton's crying and pregnant fiancée told me that after she was pulled from the room, police came in and fired two shots into Hampton and said, 'He's good and dead now.' The autopsy showed he had been shot twice in the head at point-blank range." ....

(Bobby Seale, 1968)

"Noam Chomsky has called the murder of Fred Hampton 'the gravest domestic crime of the Nixon Administration.' It is hard to imagine a more serious abuse by a government than the deliberate assassination of a citizen for his political beliefs and activity."

(See the rest of the article for tie-ins to today. After Watergate, a Senate commission was established to reign in government abuses both at home and abroad. Among the strongest opponents to any limitations on government intrusion into people's lives were Five-Deferment Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Antonin Scalia). Our current problems flow from our history, and our failure to confront and stop the government in the past when other people's rights were invaded, when other wars of aggression were pursued.

(Bobby Hutton's funeral. Bobby Hutton was another young member of the Black Panther Party who was murdered by the police. That's Marlon Brando on the right.)

It's no wonder young black people often grow up with such a sense of helplessness and despair. If they learn about their history, they will see that every time strong young black leaders emerge, the citizens or the government, using the police, murder the black leaders. Instead of leadership, the black community is given unemployment, gangs, and drugs.

J. Edgar Hoover was probably a sociopath, gathering files of personal constitutionally-protected information about citizens and politicians, prying and probing into people's sex lives to get dirt that he could use for his twisted purposes, launching attacks against various groups in this country based on his own paranoia without government approval, authority, oversight or supervision. He was a sick and dangerous man, hiding his own sexual and personal interests (he liked to dress up in women's clothing and he was gay) from a conservative government world in which such things would land him in jail, and certainly out of work. So he obsessed over other people's secrets, used the power of the government to destroy lives, spread rumors and lies, even murdered those he targeted.

But just because Hoover is dead does not mean that his policies and practices were ended. To the contrary, the U.S. government now spies on all citizens and non-citizens all the time through the super-agency NSA, with satellites collecting phone calls, faxes, e-mails, all forms of communications. Luckily they do not yet have the equipment to use this information, but eventually they will. Then everything any person says will be recorded, everywhere a citizen goes will be photographed, the details of everyone's lives from what they eat, what they buy, what they spend, when they go to the bathroom, when they have sex and with whom, all will be recorded electronically and available for ready use against any errant citizen that the state wants to bring down -- imprison or murder. Sound like science fiction? I just wish it was.

The only defense against this type of Big Brother, 1984 police-state intrusion into everyone's life is a solid legal system and lawyers, judges and politicians devoted to upholding it. We're not doing well in any of those categories. Too many lawyers are more devoted to using their degrees to refine their ability to lie cheat and steal than they are devoted to principles of law. Too many judges are right-wing conservatives, exactly the type who want a police state to spy on everyone else. All of our politicians are corrupt, on the payroll of corporations, and many of them have secret vices such as promiscuity, drugs, alcohol dependence, and they can easily be cowed into accepting the police state intrusion on citizen's lives. If they object, their own secrets will be exposed.

There was a documentary being made of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party right at the time that Hampton and Clark were murdered. It is titled "The Murder Of Fred Hampton." You can watch it below, and can buy the DVD on-line. The first part of the documentary is simply a record of speeches and other activities of the Party. The second part of the documentary is a reaction to the police pre-dawn raid and the murders, and the controversy that followed.

(Part 1)

(Part 2)

(Part 3)

(Part 4)

1 comment:

  1. The Panthers and every other potentially "radical" organisation were thoroughly infiltrated by the FBI and all the local spy shops encouraged by the times.
    Masai Hewitt, Minister of Information of the Panthers,(I think that was his office), had a girl friend later shown to be an FBI agent.
    Among the Viet Vets, which was my stomping ground, we automatically suspected any fool advocating violence. This was the main "tell" of a member in the service of the spies and nazi goons.
    The Panthers painted themselves into a corner so far as public image went, with the guns and militancy being the only thing the nightly news would cover.
    Even after all these years, I still meet "liberals" who are genuinely surprised that the Panthers had social service programs which were very extensive.
    I see the minorities as the main hope of reasserting the laws and principles which this nation now only gives lip service.
    They do not have to be convinced of the injustices which are systemic in the present society, they have been going to jail and starving in the land of plenty for many generations, it is not a shock to them to find that most of the "leaders" of the nation are crooks.
    Don Smith