Black Panther leader Fred Hampton
On December 4, 1969, Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were gunned down by police in their Chicago, Illinois apartment. About a hundred bullets had been fired in what police described as a fierce gun battle with members of the Black Panther Party. However, ballistics experts later determined that only one of those bullets came from the Panthers' side.
In addition, the bullet holes in the front door of the apartment, which police pointed to as evidence that the Panthers had been shooting from within the apartment, were actually nail holes created by police in an attempt to cover up the attack. Four other Black Panthers were wounded in the raid, as well as two police officers. The raid, which had been led by Cook County State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan, was only one of many attempts by the government to weaken the Black Power movement. Under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had been battling civil rights activists and other minority leaders for years. Although the FBI was not responsible for leading this particular raid, a federal grand jury indicated that the bureau played a significant role in the events leading up to the raid; Hanrahan had utilized information provided by FBI informant William O'Neal, who was third in command of the Chicago Panthers, to plan the raid. There was also a conscious effort by the FBI to use aggressive and imaginary tactics to prevent the rise of a leader who could unify the militant movement. They apparently considered Fred Hampton to be one such person, he was an outspoken chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party. Hampton became involved in the civil rights struggle at an early age, organizing a chapter of the NAACP at his high school, and he became chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party when he was twenty.
Although most media coverage of the Black Panthers focused on their violent rhetoric and the fact that they carried guns, the Panthers were involved in many nonviolent community-organizing activities. They provided food and medical care to the needy, preached political empowerment, crusaded against police brutality, and started a school. As Fred Hampton himself said shortly before his death, "There have been many attacks made upon the Black Panther Party, so we feel it's best to be an armed propaganda unit. But the basic thing is to educate." Unfortunately for Hampton and the other Panthers targeted by the FBI, being armed did not help to protect against governmental repression. In fact, it may have even made matters worse by aiding the FBI in legitimizing their aggressive tactics. Despite the evidence provided by ballistics experts showing that police had fired 99 percent of the bullets and had falsified the report on the incident, the first federal grand jury did not indict anyone involved in the raid. Furthermore, even though a subsequent grand jury did indict all the police officers, the charges were dismissed. Survivors of the attack and relatives of Hampton and Clark filed a lawsuit against Hampton and other officials, which was finally settled in 1983.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: