By M. Thompson
December 4 marked the forty-third anniversary of the assassination of Fred Hampton.
Fred Hampton was born in Chicago, on August 30, 1948, and grew up in Maywood, a suburb west of the city. He was a gifted student and graduated high school with honors in 1966. After high school he enrolled in Triton Junior College, majoring in pre-law. During this time he became involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), eventually assuming leadership of the Youth Council of their West Suburban branch.
In 1968, he moved to Chicago and joined the Black Panther Party, it was around this same time that the FBI opened their first file on him in their infamous and then unknown Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a project designed to neutralize political dissent within the United States.
While organizing for the party in Chicago, he and other members worked to ease racial tensions and raise class-consciousness among the city’s working class neighborhoods, allying with such popular organizations as Students for a Democratic Society and the Young Patriots, among others, forming what he coined the “Rainbow Coalition” (unrelated to Rev. Jesse Jackson’s later organization of a similar name).
During his time as a political activist and a civil rights attorney, Hampton managed to make enemies within the establishment of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Chicago Police Department, and the FBI. While looking for a way to infiltrate the Chicago BPP, the FBI came across William O’Neal. O’Neal had recently been arrested for interstate car theft and impersonating a police officer. They offered to drop all the charges against him if he agreed infiltrate the party as an FBI informant in exchange, and he did. Among other things, O’Neal provided the FBI with a detailed description of Hampton’s apartment, including where furniture was located and where Hampton and his pregnant girlfriend slept.
The night before Hampton’s assassination, he and some fellow Panthers as usual were staying the night at his apartment. O’Neal arrived late with a dinner he prepared. Over the course of the evening, following FBI orders, O’Neal laced Hampton’s drinks with a powerful barbiturate so he would not wake during the subsequent raid. O’Neal left at around 1:30 am.
In preparation for Hampton’s assassination, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office organized a fourteen man team for a pre-dawn raid of Hampton’s apartment armed with automatic weapons and an illegal weapons warrant. At 4:45 am, on December 4, 1969 the team stormed the apartment. Mark Clark, one of Hamptons’ colleagues, was asleep in a front room on security duty with a shotgun in his lap when he was shot and killed. He managed to fire one shot before his death; ballistic evidence would later prove this was the only shot fired by the Panthers. Police gunfire was concentrated at the wall at the head of the bedroom where Hampton slept, wounding him in the shoulder.
Two police officers then dragged his unconscious body out into the hallway and after a brief verbal exchange confirming that it was indeed Fred Hampton before them and that he was alive, shot him twice in the head at point-blank. They left his body by the doorway in a pool of his own blood. He was only 21 years old when he died.
His funeral was attended by over 5,000 people, including such notable figures as Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, and Prof. Noam Chomsky. Four weeks later his son, Fred Hampton Jr. was born.
Hampton is now revered in Chicago as local martyr for civil rights. In 1990 the city of Chicago declared December 4th Fred Hampton day in his honor and in 2006 went on to name a city street after him, despite resistance from local police.
The lessons we learned from his death are still relevant today, with the FBI having just released documents revealing their counterintelligence and surveillance operations concerning the Occupy movement at the request of the Partnership for Civil Justice under the Freedom of Information Act, reminding us that challenging institutions of power and exercising our constitutional liberties comes at an all too heavy price.