Socialist Worker

The assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2432

Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton (Pic: UIC Library / Flickr)


Fred Hampton, leader of the Black Panther Party in Illinois, was gunned down by police on 4 December 1969. He was just 21.

Cops also killed another Panther, Mark Clark, and critically injured four more. 

They claimed they had to storm the apartment the Panthers were in after coming under heavy fire.

It later emerged that the police fired 100 shots, while the Panthers fired one. 

Fred was still lying in bed when police put two bullets through his head at point blank range.

The US was in turmoil in the late 1960s. The increasingly militant movement against the war in Vietnam was coming together with a Black Power movement and there were urban uprisings across the US. 

The rapidly expanding Black Panther Party was at the head of this radical movement.

The assault upon it was part of an FBI anti-subversion programme called Cointelpro (Counter Intelligence Programme). It aimed to destroy the party through a mixture of lying propaganda, infiltration and outright violence. 

The conflict was particularly intense in Chicago, where Panthers were trying to politicise the city’s main black street gang. 

The FBI wrote to the gang leader, pretending to be a black revolutionary, with a fake warning that the Panthers were planning to kill him. 

Pigs

Fred described the times, saying, “We’re being harassed constantly by the pigs, and they’re arresting us as fast as they can on any kind of charge, such as traffic violations, smoking on buses, carrying concealed weapons, just anything.”

Black Against Empire, the history of the Panthers, explains, “What made the stories of Panther repression so compelling to many young blacks in Chicago was not how unusual they were but how common. 

“The summer had been filled with violence, and many young blacks had died in conflicts with the Chicago police.” 

On 5 October police shot dead 16 year old John Soto. His Vietnam veteran brother Michael organised protests. 

Just five days after John’s death police shot Michael dead, claiming he was carrying out a robbery. 

On the night Fred was killed 14 cops burst in firing at 4.30am. They were armed with a Tommy gun, five shotguns, a rifle and 20 pistols. 

A police press conference praised them for their “remarkable restraint”. In truth it was a simple execution. The Panthers organised tours of the apartment to expose the police fabrication. 

Remaining leader Bobby Rush told the media, “This was no shootout. 

“Nobody in the apartment had a chance to fire a gun and we can prove it by the fact that there are no bullet holes outside in the hallways or outside, just big gaping holes in Fred’s bedroom where they fired on him.”

More than 5,000 people attended Fred’s funeral. 

Cointelpro was officially closed down after some of its documents were leaked to the press in 1971. But the level of state repression defeated the Panthers. 

Fred Hampton’s words still offer inspiration in a world divided by racism and capitalism. 

He wrote, “We’re not going to fight racism with racism, we’re going to fight racism with solidarity.

“Even though you think we should fight capitalism with black capitalism, we’re going to fight capitalism with socialism.”


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