According to declassified government reports, at 4:45 a.m. on December 4, a team of US-trained paramilitaries took position outside the home of a local insurgent leader. An informant had provided them with a detailed floor plan of the house and, evidence suggests, had given the insurgent leader a sedative, to ensure that he would be asleep when the raid began.
The raid was executed flawlessly. While initial government reports stated that the US-backed paramilitaries had asked for the insurgents to surrender several times, and only reluctantly stormed the house after being rebuffed by small arms fire, an NGO of independent forensics experts later concluded that the insurgents had fired at most two shots in response to the hundred or so rounds that had penetrated the building, almost all of them concentrated on the room where the insurgent leader — and his partner, pregnant with their child — slept. The insurgent leader was neutralized.
Is this Iraq? No, this is Chicago, 1969. The insurgent? Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, 21 years old. His crime? Allegedly stealing $71 worth of ice cream and distributing it to poor children.
Hampton’s personal bodyguard, William O’Neal, had drawn the floor plan of the house for the police. “It is felt,” an FBI agent wrote after the killing, “that this information is of considerable value in consideration of a special payment for informant requested in re Chicago letter.” O’Neal was paid $300 by the FBI after the Hampton murder.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a paranoid white supremacist, had branded the Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and initiated a counterintelligence program to annihilate them: COINTELPRO.
“Prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement,” Hoover ordered. He then unleashed his storm troopers to conduct a vicious campaign of intimidation, sabotage, slander, and murder, raiding Panther offices and arresting Panthers by the hundreds. Not, as the media believed at the time, because the Panthers had guns, but because, as Hoover wrote in a secret memo, of their Free Breakfasts for Children Program.
The Black Panther Party gave away free groceries and shoes, ran free health clinics and schools, assisted the elderly and fought for prisoners’ rights. Far from being violent thugs — creating this false image of the Panthers was an integral part of COINTELPRO — the Panthers were lovers of humanity who sought to realize the Social Gospel: to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, comfort the broken-hearted, and set the prisoners free.
They had to be stopped.
In 1982, the government paid the survivors of the raid and the families of its two victims, Mark Clark and Fred Hampton, $1.85 million. The cost of the raid to black America was considerably higher. Had Hampton lived, we might not see today such blight in Chicago and other cities. The police brutality that the Panthers sought to stop has led to billions of dollars in damages from riots.
The murder of Fred Hampton and the eradication of the Panthers, thanks to COINTELPRO, have led directly to the current, pitiful state of African-American leadership. From Jesse Jackson and Harold Washington to Barack Obama, we see a steady decline in the willingness of black leaders to stand up to racism or police abuses, to the extent that a white cop can arrest a black Harvard professor simply because the latter is in his own home, and the black president of the United States all-but-apologizes — to the cop.
On December 4, 1969, black America lost something precious. Not the hope for change:
The courage necessary to make it.
Jonathan David Farley is a Teaching and Research Fellow at the Institut für Algebra of Johannes Kepler Universität Linz in Linz, Österreich.
Republished with permission from the Black Commentator.