Reactions to ‘The Assassination of Fred Hampton’

The Assassination of Fred Hampton

I’ve been going through books almost every weekday throughout the entire quarantine period (I promise I finish all my work first @ my boss who’s currently reading this!) and I can usually read one book per day depending on how busy I am. All of the novels, short story collections, and autobiographies my sister let me borrow (here’s a summary of my favorite one I’ve read so far—In the Dream House) were quick and beautiful reads with prose so consuming I couldn’t put them down. However, as I attempt to read through my own literature collection, it’s taking me a little more time to finish my non-fiction picks such as The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas.

The Assassination of Fred Hampton is an extremely dense and meticulous read focusing on every detail of the December 4, 1969 FBI and CPD raid on the Black Panther apartment where Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were executed and several other Panthers—including Hampton’s pregnant girlfriend Deborah Johnson—severely injured. The author, Jeffrey Haas, was Hampton and Clark’s original attorney who worked alongside a handful of other lawyers in the case against CPD officers, former Chicago State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan (who ordered the hit), Assistant State’s Attorney Richard Jalovec, Assistant State’s Attorney James Meltreger, Assistant State’s Attorney Sheldon Sorosky, FBI informant William O’Neal (who set up the Panthers and drugged Hampton before his death), Special Agent-in-Charge of Chicago office of the FBI Marlin Johnson, Supervisor of the Racial Matters Squad of the FBI Robert Piper, and Special agent of the FBI Roy Martin Mitchell.

In The Assassination of Fred Hampton, Haas painstakingly describes how the FBI’s clandestine counterintelligence program “COINTELPRO” was established in order to neutralize and destroy any and all political organizations they considered threats, which were labeled “Black Nationalist Hate Groups” such as the Black Panther Party. COINTELPRO eventually was used to target Hampton specifically as he was becoming an essential leader of the party at only age 21. Hampton was brilliant, poised, and passionate about the liberation of Black people in America and across the world. He quickly moved from organizing high school student protests against racism to becoming arguably the most promising young person in the Black Panther Party. Hampton himself brought groups of people from all backgrounds—including many feuding gangs—together in favor of unity against tyrannical politicians and systemic oppression. He also helped organize the original Free Breakfast for Children program that the U.S. government dismantled and then adopted as their own. Hampton’s leadership and inspirational struggle against fascism is perfectly encapsulated in this speech he gave four months prior to his execution (he was shot twice in the head by CPD officers while he was drugged and unconscious):

“If you ever think about me and you ain’t gonna do no revolutionary act, forget about me. I don’t want myself on your mind if you’re not going to work for the people. If you’re asked to make a commitment at the age of twenty, and you say I don’t want to make a commitment at the age of twenty, only because of the reason that I’m too young to die, I want to live a little longer, then you’re dead already. You have to understand that people have to pay a price for peace. If you dare to struggle, you dare to win. If you dare not struggle then damn it, you don’t deserve to win. Let me say peace to you if you’re willing to fight for it. I believe I was born not to die in a car wreck or slipping on a piece of ice, or of a bad heart, but I”m going to be able to die doing the things I was born for. I believe I’m going to die high off the people. I believe that I’m going to be able to die as a revolutionary in the international proletarian struggle. And I hope that each of you will be able to die in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle or you’ll be able to live in it. And I think that struggle’s going to come. Why don’t you live for the people? Why don’t you struggle for the people? Why don’t you die for the people?” (Haas 4-5).

The majority of The Assassination of Fred Hampton actually concentrates on everything after the organized raid (here’s a 1971 documentary about the murders), especially as Haas’ People’s Law Office uncovered COINTELPRO and suffered through many absurd trials. Haas does an excellent job of showing just how many people and agencies were against the Black Panther Party and the PLO attorneys representing the killed and wounded as he details not only the preposterous power the Defendants’ attorneys had throughout trial (hiding FBI documents, refusing to reveal witnesses or informants, conspiring to price the PLO lawyers out of obtaining transcripts and other essential documents), but also the explicit bias of Judge Joseph Sam Perry who constantly stood up for the Defendants’ attorneys in court and repeatedly insulted PLO lawyers, told them to shut up, and held them in contempt for no reason. I won’t spoil the book’s ending, but I was regularly pissed off by how unjust the entire trial period was and how easily people will power can get away with their unjustified actions.

Haas’ writing is thorough and precise and I wanted to read even more about the early stages of the Black Panther Party and Hampton’s life in particular (there’s a small anecdote about Hampton’s connection to Emmett Till that made me cry when I read it). Although the book took me a little while to read, it wasn’t difficult to grasp and only made me angrier at the fucked up criminal system we still operate under. I already knew the basics of Hampton’s murder (this is my most recent post about him), but Haas’ book delves further into every component of the setup, raid, execution, coverup, and trial. The Assassination of Fred Hampton should be read by every person in America, especially those who believe that bad cops, prosecutors, and politicians aren’t in the majority. In order to achieve true justice, we can’t continue living with the same systems of racist capitalism and American imperialism. Like Fred said before his death, “You can jail a revolutionary but you can’t jail revolution. You can lock up a freedom fighter, like Huey Newton, but you can’t lock up freedom fighting. Time is short, let’s seize the time,” (66). Power to the People.