Since 1969, the deaths of prominent Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark have been shrouded in mystery with claims that the Panther leader and his fellow member, respectively, were assassinated. Over the years, details regarding the case reveal an insidious plot by the FBI and Chicago police aimed to tear down Hampton’s and the Panthers’ powerful reach among Blacks in the city.
Hampton rose quickly in the ranks as part of the Black Panther Party, discovering the group as a youth organizer for the NAACP as a college student in the West Chicago suburbs. Attracted to the message of upliftment and empowerment, Hampton became a vocal advocate for the Panthers and took up position in Chicago to continue his call.
Because of his ability to lead and create his own “rainbow coalition” of cooperative Chicago gangs, Hampton attracted the attention of legal authorities curious as to how he was able to corral warring faction to a peaceful truce. The FBI sparked an investigation of the Panthers and Hampton under the guidance of director J. Edgar Hoover.
The COINTELPRO plot hatched by Hoover, who saw the Panthers and other Black nationalist movements as a threat to the U.S. Government, saw the Panthers get infiltrated by an inside informant. William O’Neal’s effective rise in the Panthers led him to becoming Hampton’s bodyguard, feeding intelligence to the FBI. Contrary to Hoover’s fears of the Panthers being a violent group, the FBI was willing to forge information to paint the Party as villainous.
O’Neal’s efforts eventually split the Panthers and the Blackstone Rangers, one of the gangs that Hampton helped with the truce. Tensions arose in the city between other groups and the Party, due majorly in part to the FBI’s meddlesome ways. The government agency’s systematic take-down of the Panthers involved all manner of trickery, including racist propaganda in the form of cartoons the Bureau created under the Panthers’ name.
Hampton met with BPP leaders in California in November of 1969, where he was then offered the position of Chief of Staff for the Central Committee. While he was away, a shootout took place between Chicago Police and the Panthers, leading to the death of two officers. Hungry for vengeance, Chicago authorities aligned themselves with the FBI and undertook an arms raid on the apartment of Hampton.
It has been reported that O’Neal slipped a drug into Hampton’s drink after a December 3 meeting with the Panthers. While at his Monroe Street apartment, Hampton was fast asleep while his girlfriend Deborah Johnson, pregnant with son Fred Hampton, Jr., and seven others slept with Clark guarding the door. At around 4:45 a.m. December 4, police barged in and killed Clark instantly. For seven minutes, the police unleashed a barrage of bullets.
After painting the gun assault as a defense against an attack from the Panthers, investigations led to the discovery that the Panthers only fired one shot in the entire exchange, which was a reflexive action from Clark who was holding his shotgun. Cops fired a reported 82 to 99 shots largely aimed at Hampton’s bedroom, who was discovered dead on a mattress with his girlfriend. Other Panthers were then dragged and beaten before they were arrested.
Despite the curious nature of the outburst of gun violence, a federal grand jury cleared the officers in the raid of any wrongdoing, and Cook County State Atty. Edward V. Hanrahan was cleared of all charges with 13 other law enforcement officials on charges of obstructing justice.
A $4.7 million lawsuit against the city was brought by the Hampton and Clark families, but it was thrown out of court. Ten years later, the families reignited the suit, and won a $1.85 million settlement. O’Neal admitted his role in setting up Hampton and the Panthers, and later committed suicide.
The 1971 film, “The Murder Of Fred Hampton,” was initially meant to be a profile of the leader. It stands as one of the most-viewed pieces of media regarding the explosive case.