December 4, 2010

The Long Shadow of December 4, 1969

FBI targeting of government critics: 

The long shadow of December 4, 1969 extends to the present day

It has been more than four decades now, but no one who was politically active then will ever forget the anguish and the anger we felt that morning. On December 4, 1969, the terrible news spread quickly: Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Black Panther Party had been killed in a police raid.

At 4 a.m., police officers detailed to the Special Prosecutions Unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office raided an apartment on Chicago’s West Side. There were 14 officers carrying 27 guns, including 5 shotguns and a submachine gun. They were led by Sergeant James “Gloves” Davis, an African-American officer notorious for brutalizing black Chicagoans.

The raiders fired about 90 rounds. Shot through the heart at the moment that Davis broke open the front door, Mark Clark of the Peoria chapter of the Black Panther Party fired one round as he fell dead. Four other members of the BPP received serious wounds.

Davis’s crew directed a pattern of cross-fire, mostly from an M-1 carbine and a Thompson submachine gun, from the front room through the rear bedroom wall, at a specific location. They were aiming for the head of the bed in which Fred Hampton and his eight and one-half month pregnant girlfriend, Deborah Johnson (Akua Njeri), were sleeping.

Fred Hampton never woke up. At least one bullet from the M-1 carbine hit him, although the fatal shots apparently came from a handgun. One of the officers fired two .45 caliber rounds, downward at close range, into Hampton’s right forehead and right temple. The officer then dragged the body out into the dining room. The two bullets exited below Hampton’s left ear and through his left throat.

There was a reason why the raiders knew exactly where to fire.

The FBI had been involved in the raid during the planning stages, and during that phase, an FBI informant within the Black Panther Party – William O’Neal – helped his control agent, Roy Mitchell, sketch out a floor plan of the apartment. The sketch clearly marked the location of the bed.

O’Neal was a captain of security in the Chicago chapter of the BPP and at one point one of Hampton’s bodyguards. He ultimately pocketed some $30,000 of FBI money from 1969 until 1972 in salary and perks.

Less than a month before the raid – on Nov. 19, 1969 – the FBI had placed Fred Hampton’s name on its “Rabble Rouser Index” and had sent FBI agent Roy Mitchell to the state’s attorney’s office with the sketch of Hampton’s apartment. Documents which only came to light years after the raid establish clearly that the Chicago office of the FBI had worked to persuade the Chicago Police Department to conduct the raid. This was an important factor in why State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan finally agreed to it.

FBI agents had gathered information about the Black Panther Party from the time of the group’s first public protests in California. By June 1969, the FBI was investigating all 42 chapters of the BPP. In Chicago, FBI disruption took especially vicious forms, such as the FBI’s mailing of a phony letter to Blackstone Ranger leader Jeff Fort claiming that the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party was trying to kill him.

The FBI’s relentless assault on the Black Panther Party was part of a systematic campaign it waged during that era to disrupt, divide, and neutralize any organization that showed the potential to challenge the government’s policies. While the FBI went after the BPP with a vengeance, its campaign of harassment and intimidation extended to many other organizations, including student groups, the anti-war movement, and even trade unions and community groups that were speaking out against injustice.

It is difficult to convey in words how much the world changed on December 4, 1969. Fred Hampton was brave, eloquent, dynamic and absolutely committed to the unity of the dispossessed of all nationalities in this country. To have him murdered at the age of 21 was an immeasurable loss. After World War II, the victims of fascism in Europe put forward a slogan which applies to December 4, 1969We forget nothing; we forgive nothing!

This year, it’s especially important that we remember what happened at that apartment on Monroe Street in 1969. This year, we can turn our hatred of what happened there into energy. We can take a stand against the latest round of the FBI’s efforts to silence the critics of U.S. government policy.

Just weeks before the anniversary of the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, on September 24, FBI agents raided the homes and an office of 14 anti-war activists in Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan, confiscating many boxes’ worth of documents, artwork, photographs and personal effects. On Dec. 3 — one day before the anniversary of the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark — the FBI served subpoenas on some of those activists in an attempt to force them to testify against their friends – something the activists have vowed they will never do. The FBI is up to its old tricks again, aiming to disrupt those struggling for justice today, just as it disrupted such efforts in the past.

This year, one way to honor the memory of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and all those who endured harassment from the FBI in the past would be to speak out against the recent FBI raids against anti-war activists. We can pay our best homage to the struggles of the past by demanding that the repression of today’s activists cease, that their belongings be returned, and that no grand jury proceedings be instituted against them.

It has been said that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. We must learn every one of the lessons of December 4, 1969.


That day must never be repeated.


— Chris Mahin

Committee Against Political Repression, Chicago

[email protected]