Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December 4

Just before 5:00 a.m. on this date in 1969, more than a dozen Chicago police officers stormed a house on the city’s west side; among their targets was a young community activist and Black Panther Party member named Fred Hampton, whom one of the officers proceeded to kill with a pair of point-blank shots to the back of his head.

During the years leading up to his death, Hampton had migrated from the NAACP -- through which he worked as a youth organizer -- to the Black Panthers, a revolutionary Marxist party whose Illinois chapter Hampton helped found. Although Hampton, like most members of the BPP, believed in the inevitability of socialist revolution, he spent most of his time developing social welfare programs like the Breakfast For Children, which offered free meals to kids in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. And while the Panthers prepared for the international proletarian struggle by arming themselves, they did so while living within the realm of Mayor Richard J. Daley, a genuine thug whose police enforced an Alabama-style racial apartheid.

Not surprisingly, relations between the city’s police and black community were less than warm. Skirmishes between the CPD and the Black Panthers -- most of them provoked by the former -- had become routine during the second half of 1969; with the encouragement of the FBI, which regarded the Black Panthers as a grave domestic threat, the Chicago police sought to completely uproot the organization. Hampton, who quite probably had been drugged the night before his death by an FBI informant named William O’Neill, did not wake up when the special operations unit burst in to the apartment, nor did he stir when his friend and fellow Panther Mark Clark was shot and killed in the living room. Even several bullet wounds to the shoulder -- all fired by the Chicago police -- were insufficient to get Fred Hampton out of bed.

The Chicago police initially claimed that Hampton had been killed in the confusion caused by an intense, 10-minute gun battle between the police and the handful of black revolutionaries sleeping in Hampton’s apartment. As it turned out, only a single shotgun blast -- fired from Mark Clark’s gun as he died -- came from any of the Panthers or their friends. No one was ever charged in the killing of Hampton, though civil suits brought by the families of Hampton and Clark were eventually settled out of court.

Hampton, one of the most gifted community organizers of his generation, was only 21 when he died. Aside from the false claim that a sleeping Hampton and his colleagues had initiated a gun battle, no specific reasons were ever cited for the raid.

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