UPDATED 6:00 a.m. EDT, Dec. 4, 2020 —
Fred Hampton, one of the major figures in the original Black Panther Party that rose to prominence during the civil rights era in the 1960s, was assassinated on Dec. 4, 1969. Friday marks the 51st year since he was killed by police in an example of the politics of law enforcement using unnecessary force against Black men — an unfortunate trend that has lingered for centuries in America and continues to thrive in 2020.
Hampton was only 21 at the time of his death, but his accomplishments and contributions to empowering Black people in America have lasted for decades. But it was because of those very advances that united minorities in opposition to the police state in which many of them lived that ended up getting him killed. Law enforcement began “heavy surveillance” of him before the fateful police raid in Peoria, Illinois, where he died and other Black Panther members were injured.
Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and Mark Clark, a 22-year-old Peoria Panther leader, were murdered by Chicago police officers working with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. At the time of the attack, Hampton and Clark were not inciting violence, nor were they standing off with police. Conversely, they were both asleep inside their Chicago home.
Driven by Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, the deadly raid of the local BPP chapter—which left four other BPP members severely injured—was one of multiple attempts to attack the Black Panther Party amid Cointelpro’s mission to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership and supporters,” as written in a FBI document.
Though the FBI is said to not have been responsible, a federal grand jury did indicate the bureau played a notable role in events leading up to it. Specifically, FBI informant William O’Neal—third in command of the Chicago Panthers—supplied Hanrahan with information to aid in planning his attack. The families of Hampton and Clark, along with the seven survivors, filed a $47.7 million damage suit.
Along with being chairman of the BPP’s Illinois chapter, Hampton was known as a charismatic leader. Some of his other accomplishments include organizing a student chapter of the NAACP in Maywood, Illinois. Hampton also brought together poor Black, white and Puerto Rican people as part of the “Rainbow Coalition” and inspired peace among several gangs in rivalry with one another.
On the anniversary of Hampton’s death, we remember the life of an inspiring revolutionary, as well as the other lives lost on that date 51 years ago.
Join us in remembering the politics of Fred Hampton’s assassination by watching the documentary below about his wife.