Fred Hampton, head of the Chicago Black Panther Party, and Mark Clark, of the Peoria chapter, were shot to death in a December 1969 bloody, pre-dawn police raid on Hampton’s apartment. Hunted by police in the deadly raid, Hampton remains a target for those opposed to his Black Panther advocacy. Hampton’s tombstone is bullet riddled by unknown vandals.
Hampton had been targeted for elimination under a clandestine counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In Chicago, FBI agent Roy Mitchell falsely informed State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan’s special police unit that weapons had been moved into Hampton’s apartment.
On December 4, 1969, in a FBI orchestrated raid by Hanrahan’s special squad, Hampton and Clark were shot to death. Fourteen handpicked policemen, armed with twenty-seven firearms including a Thompson submachine and shotguns, converged on Hampton’s apartment at 4:45 a.m. The police fired a barrage into the quiet apartment killing the two Panther leaders and wounding all of the other occupants.
Attorney Paul Wolf has commented on a nearly identical raid in Los Angeles. “Four days after a similar raid on a Panther apartment in Chicago, forty men of the Special Weapons and Tactics squad, with more than a hundred regular police as backup, raided the Los Angeles Panther headquarters at 5:30 in the morning.”
“The similarities between the Chicago and Los Angeles raids are undeniable, with a special local police unit closely linked to the FBI involved in both assaults, spurious warrants seeking “illegal weapons” utilized on both occasions, predawn timing of both raids to catch the Panthers asleep and a reliance on overwhelming police firepower to the exclusion of all other methods. Both raids occurred in the context of an ongoing and highly energetic anti-BPP COINTELPRO, and—as in the Hampton assassination—bullets were fired directly into Pratt’s bed. Unlike the Chicago leader, however, Pratt was sleeping on the floor, the result of spinal injuries sustained in Vietnam.”
In May 1973, a report from an independent Commission of Inquiry into the fatal shooting of Fred Hampton was issued. Chaired by Roy Wilkins and Ramsey Clark, the Commission was sharply critical of law enforcement officials.
“The fact that neither the state’s attorney nor the police have been indicted for their roles in the planning and execution of the raid…raises disturbing questions about the degree to which improper police or prosecutorial conduct is presently subject to any orderly system of correction and control.”
“It is very difficult legally to justify the vast amount of shooting throughout the apartment by police when only one shot can be ascribed with confidence to any occupant.”
“The police who removed the bodies received their instructions from the State’s Attorney’s Office….By moving the bodies in the apartment from the locations in which they died, and then removing them from the premises entirely, the police on the scene severely hampered the coroner’s ability to perform his duty of determining the immediate and underlying cause of death. The inference is compelling that the State’s Attorney’s Office simply did not want a contemporaneous on-the-scene investigation by the Coroner’s Office.”
The role of the FBI in the deadly raid was not then known. Documents later released under Freedom of Information Act litigation revealed agent Mitchell gave the police a diagram of Hampton’s apartment and that Hampton’s bodyguard, William O’Neal, was a paid FBI informant. O’Neal has been suspected of drugging Hampton at supper before the raid to immobilize him.
Over the years there has been growing recognition of the potential that Fred Hampton had to offer the public. A charismatic leader, Hampton had the ability to reach out to others. Sadly, a walk in the cemetery where Hampton is buried reveals that the racism that he opposed is still alive and virulent.
The article is excerpted from my new book, FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, in print edition at Amazon and in ebook. Portions of the book may be read free online at NorthOmahaHistory.com. The book is also available to patrons of the Omaha Public Library.