Prelude to a Murder | The Nation


Prelude to a Murder

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

The government's campaign to get Fred Hampton began long before it finally succeeded in killing him.

About the Author

A few minutes before dawn on June 4, Merlin Nygren, Assistant Deputy Superintendent of Chicago police and the officer in charge that morning, got the word from his dispatcher: "The FBI has informed us they are going to raid the Black Panther headquarters on Madison Street. They request that all Chicago police cars stay out of the area." The message came through loud and clear; this was going to be a performance by the Feds.

The first thing they did was to seal off the area surrounding the ghetto building at 2350 W. Madison Street nestled solidly in the heart of the riot-ravaged West Side. One police car swooped down on the intersection of Madison and Western to reroute traffic. An FBI car did the same thing a block away. By sunrise, the operation was under way.

FBI cars with revolving red Mars lights blinking moved in on Panther headquarters and disgorged an array of agents. On their left arms, they had safety-pinned white armbands with red letters: "U.S. Department of Justice." Across their chests, they wore light olive-green bullet-proof vests, harbingers of an expected shoot-out.

Marlin Johnson, special agent in charge of the Chicago FBI office, came dressed in a dark brown suit, white shirt and a wide-brimmed hat, like a businessman. His business was to lead a raid on the black revolutionary organization which is developing a nasty habit of unsettling local, state and national defenders of the status quo.

Several G-men quickly clambered up a fire escape of the building next to the Panthers', jumped to the roof of the headquarters, spread out for escape attempts and in perfect gun position for any action that might occur on Madison Street. Down in the street, more agents took cover behind cars and glued their eyes to the doorway leading to the sec-ond- and third-floor offices of the Panthers. Their weaponry included heavy firearms, machine guns, shotguns and tear gas.

When efforts to coax the Panthers out of their offices failed, the G-men took the sledge-hammer route, rushed the headquarters and took into custody--without resistance--eight Black Panthers, two of them female. By the time the G-men left, revolutionary posters had been torn from the walls, lists of names of Panther lawyers, contributors and other supporters had been confiscated. Office equipment and some weapons were carted out and petitions with more than 9,000 signatures seeking an appeal bond for jailed Illinois Panther leader Fred Hampton had disappeared. Cash--something more than $1,700--was taken. Food for the Panthers' breakfast for poor children program had been trampled and slung around the office. At this writing, only the money had been returned. The FBI raided the Panther headquarters without a search warrant. They carried only an arrest warrant for George Sams, Jr., whom they described as a Panther wanted for murder in New Haven.

Sams was nowhere to be found in the Chicago Black Panther headquarters. But the eight Panthers arrested were charged with harboring a fugitive. Sixteen days later, the charges against the eight were dismissed.

After the Chicago raid, the FBI or police conducted in rapid succession raids on Panthers in Des Moines, Indianapolis and Denver. Panthers have been arrested in Seattle, Eugene, Ore., New York City, Newark, Baltimore, Salt Lake City, numerous California cities, to mention a few incidents of recent weeks.

The nation-wide harassment of Black Panthers, which includes extraordinary means of trying to keep the Black Panther newspaper from being distributed, has reached such proportions that the Panthers scheduled a Revolutionary Conference for a United Front against Fascism in Oakland, Calif on July 18-21. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were to gather for what could be one of the decade's most influential meetings

On the day after the Chicago raid, Black Panther Party chairman, Bobby Seale, said that more than forty Panther leaders and more than 100 members had been arrested across the country in two months. In Seale's words, the arrests are "nothing more than Richard M. Nixon's operations of attempting to destroy the national and state level Black Panther Party leaderships." Describing the G-men as "Fascist FBI pigs," Seale said the reason behind the alleged plot to destroy the Panthers is the federal government's horror of Socialist programs, which the Panthers advocate. He said US officials are employing local law-enforcement agencies in their conspiracy to remove Panther leaders from the streets and thereby kill off the movement. In his annual report, released July 15, J. Edgar Hoover singled out the Panthers as being, among Negro militant groups, the "greatest threat to the internal security of the country."

The Panther party's top leadership has already been skimmed off, each with a different kind of spoon. Minister of defense Huey P. Newton is in prison, convicted of killing an Oakland, Calif., policeman. Panthers view him as a political prisoner. Bobby Hutton, the party's treasurer, was killed by police a little more than a year ago. The Black Panther newspaper declares that "from that point on there have been some twenty Panthers murdered by the nation's pigs and their running dogs."

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.