War week was fifty years ago when the FBI fought the Black Panthers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Omaha

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Fred Hampton, Geronimo Pratt, Ed Poindexter, and David Rice were targets of war week in December 1969 when the FBI attacked the Black Panthers with lethal ferocity. (credits: Haas/Olsen/Richardson)

War week against the Black Panther Party fifty years ago, in early December 1969, took on lethal ferocity with the murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago. The killings were orchestrated by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents under a clandestine counterintelligence operation code-named COINTELPRO. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had declared war on the Black Panthers and wanted them eliminated. Hoover pushed the FBI field offices to get Panthers off the streets using any tactics necessary.

The Los Angeles FBI office sent a memorandum to Hoover that reported the Bureau was providing information to local police. “The Los Angeles office is furnishing on a daily basis information to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office Intelligence Division and the Los Angeles Police Department Intelligence and Criminal Conspiracy Divisions concerning the activities of the black nationalist groups in the anticipation that such information might lead to the arrest of these militants.”

In Chicago, FBI agent Roy Mitchell erroneously informed State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan’s special police unit that weapons had been moved into Black Panther leader Fred Hampton’s apartment.

On December 4, 1969, in a FBI orchestrated pre-dawn raid by Hanrahan’s special squad, Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark 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.

Three years later a report from an independent Commission of Inquiry into the fatal shooting of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark was sharply critical of law enforcement officials. The role of the FBI in the deadly raid was not then known.

“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.”

On December 8, 1969, a coordinated pre-dawn raid in Los Angeles resulted in the arrests of twenty people at three locations. The first-ever SWAT team attacked the Black Panther headquarters only to be repelled by gunfire. A gun battle raged for four hours before six wounded Panthers surrendered. Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt was a target but avoided the gun battle by hiding in a safe house. Pratt was later arrested and wrongfully convicted of murder, spending twenty-seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Attorney Paul Wolf has commented, “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.”

Two days after the raid in Los Angeles, J. Edgar Hoover was unhappy with a lack of action in Omaha. Hoover sent a stern memorandum to Special Agent in Charge Paul Young. “ As long as there are BPP activities, you should be giving consideration to that type of counterintelligence measure which would best disrupt existing activities. It would appear some type of counterintelligence aimed at disruption of the publication and distribution of their literature is in order. It is also assumed that of the eight to twelve members, one or two must surely be in a position of leadership. You should give consideration to counterintelligence measures directed against these leaders in an effort to weaken or destroy their positions. Bureau has noted you have not submitted any concrete counterintelligence proposals in recent months. Evaluate your approach to this program and insure that it is given the imaginative attention necessary to produce effective results. Handle promptly and submit your proposals to the Bureau for approval.”

Hoover’s command to be “imaginative” and “effective”has to be understood in the context of the shootings in Los Angeles and Chicago during that same week. Young would respond eight months later with his own lethal solution, the electric chair. After an Omaha policeman was killed in a bombing in August 1970 the FBI assisted the Omaha police in making a case against Ed Poindexter and David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa). Prosecutors sought the death penalty against the two men who were convicted after a controversial trial in April 1971. The FBI Laboratory withheld a report on the identity of an anonymous 911 caller who lured police into a trap letting a policeman’s killer get away with murder in order to convict Mondo and Poindexter. Mondo died in 2016 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Poindexter remains confined forty-nine years later at the maximum-security prison serving a life without parole sentence.

The FBI war against the Black Panthers was the Bureau’s top priority under COINTELPRO and misdeeds and crimes were committed by FBI agents in dozens of cities until the secret program was terminated in April 1971 after the break-in of an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. Although the war week stands out for its violence, in reality illegal counterintelligence operations were carried out all over the country every day under COINTELRO directives from Hoover.

This article contains excerpts from 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.

Author: richardsonreports

Author of FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two Story.

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