Forty five years ago this morning, lawyers, law students and staff from the four month old People’s Law Office were summoned to a west-side Chicago apartment to bear witness to unmistakable evidence that one of their most respected young clients – – – the charismatic Black Panther leader Fred Hampton – – – was murdered in his bed by the Chicago police. In what was later termed by an independent Commission of Inquiry as a “search and destroy” mission, Hampton and Peoria Black Panther leader Mark Clark were slain in a hail of police gunfire from a machine gun, shotguns, and handguns, while several other young BPP members were wounded, and all seven of the survivors were arrested on bogus charges of attempted murder.
After spending almost two weeks at the apartment gathering evidence of the crimes, the PLO embarked on a crusade to discover and expose the full truth about the murders, a sobering odyssey that continued for the next 13 years. Pursuing a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the Hampton and Clark families and the survivors of the raid, the PLO unearthed evidence which conclusively established that the raid was orchestrated by the FBI’s secret and highly illegal Counterintelligence Program which was designed to “disrupt,” “discredit,” and” destroy” the Black Panther Party and its leaders. After an 18 month trial which was dubbed the “trial of the decade” by the Chicago Reader, and that saw PLO lawyers Jeff Haas and Flint Taylor jailed for contempt, and an appeal that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the PLO obtained, in 1982, what was then the largest settlement of its kind on behalf of the Hampton and Clark families and the survivors of the raid.
Similar to the wanton police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Eugene Ellison, Roshad McIntosh and countless other victims, the killer cops who murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were never charged with murder or attempted murder, and never spent a day in jail. We can only hope that the current nationwide uprising against racist police violence will be successful in having a lasting impact on how police – – – and the entire criminal (in)justice system – – – deals with people of color.
See more information on the assassination of Fred Hampton below:
The Columbia Chronicle, November 24, 2014: Hampton’s death not quite forgotten: 45th anniversary of the death of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton calls the party’s legacy into question
HuffingtonPost, December 05, 2012: ‘Nothing but a Northern Lynching’: The Assassination of Fred Hampton
In These Times, November 24, 2014: Darren Wilson Wasn’t the First: A Short History of Killer Cops Let Off the Hook