Fifty-one years ago today, the Chicago Police murdered Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. The murder happened during a police raid that was orchestrated by the FBI as part of its notorious Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). With COINTELPRO, the FBI went beyond surveillance of political dissent, and using what a Senate investigation called the techniques of war time, sought to neutralize and disrupt political speech that challenged the political and social establishment.
As chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Hampton is remembered as the organizer of the original Rainbow Coalition. He brought together the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, a predominantly Puerto Rican working class organization, and the Young Patriots, a group of working class white Appalachians living in Chicago, to fight for the common class interest and against shared problems like slum lords and police violence.
As part of our Still Spying podcast, Defending Rights & Dissent policy director Chip Gibbons spoke to Jeffrey Haas. Jeffrey knew Hampton and recounted the moment he learned of his death. As an attorney, Jeffrey was instrumental in representing the survivors of the raid and uncovering the hidden hand of the FBI. He wrote a book about his experiences called The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther.
Additionally, more information about the FBI’s political surveillance can be found in our report Still Spying on Dissent: The Enduring Problem of FBI First Amendment Abuse. The following is excerpted from the report:
By 1956, the FBI was no longer satisfied to merely conduct surveillance of dissent. They also wanted to neutralize and disrupt political organizations. As part of its Counter Intelligence Program or COINTELPRO, the FBI escalated from surveillance to full blown harassment. COINTELPRO targeted completely lawful political organizing. In fact, it was predicated on a belief that an increasingly liberal Supreme Court was making it more difficult to convict Communists of crimes, leading “Hoover and his men to use dirty tricks instead of criminal prosecutions to neutralize the party.”
Initially, COINTELPRO targeted the Communist Party, but it soon grew to encompass attacks on the Socialist Workers Party, the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements, the Puerto Rican independence movement, the antiwar movement, and the New Left. Among some of its most notorious victims were Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Designating civil rights activists as “black hate” groups, the FBI tried to blackmail King into killing itself.The FBI was also deeply concerned about the unification of racial justice movements after King’s death and directly wanted to prevent it. They devoted particular attention to the Black Panther Party.
The FBI orchestrated a 1969 Chicago Police raid on the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party after an FBI informant provided the FBI with a map of the party headquarters. During the raid, the police fired nearly a 100 times, killing the party’s charismatic young leader Fred Hampton as he lay sleeping in bed. Fellow Black Panther Mark Clark was also killed. While the police claimed self-defense, “a federal grand jury determined that the police had fired between eighty-three and ninety shots–the Panthers a maximum of one.” A toxicology report showed a large amount of secobarbital in Hampton’s system, leading to allegations that the FBI informant drugged Hampton. Many view Hampton’s death as an execution, murder, or assassination.