In the predawn hours of December 4, 1969, Chicago police, under the direction of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, raided the ramshackle headquarters of the local chapter of the Black Panther Party. When the smoke cleared, Chairman Fred Hampton and party member Mark Clark were dead; four others lay seriously wounded.
Today in Chicago, seven years after the raid, the facts are slowly emerging, as a civil trial crawls through its tenth month. The families of Hampton and Clark, along with the seven who survived the foray, have filed a $47.7 million damage suit. Edward Hanrahan, three former and present FBI agents, an ex-FBI informant, and twenty-six other police personnel stand accused of having conspired to violate the civil rights of the Panthers, and then of covering it up. In essence, the plaintiffs and their lawyers are out to prove that the FBI/police conspired to execute Fred Hampton.
At 17, Hampton was a black youth on the road to “making it” in white America. He was graduated from high school in Maywood, Ill, with academic honors, three varsity letters, and a Junior Achievement Award. Four years later he was dead.
As youth director of the Maywood NAACP, he had built an unusually strong 500-member youth group in a community of 27,000. After his nonviolent, integrationist activities aroused the hostility of Maywood authorities, Hampton moved to Chicago where he organized a local chapter of the Black Panther Party.
As Panther chief in Chicago, Hampton built a reputation as a uniter, bringing together the “Rainbow Coalition” of Puerto Rican, white and black poor people, and engineering a tenuous peace among several warring ghetto gangs. His death was a blow to this multiracial united front.
Within hours of the raid, the authorities offered their explanation of what had occurred. Chicago Police Sgt. Daniel Groth, who led the fourteen police raiders, said:
There must have been six or seven of them firing. The firing must have gone on ten or twelve minutes. If 200 shots were exchanged, that was nothing…. It’s a miracle that not one policeman was killed.
At a press conference that day, State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan issued a statement, saying in part:
The immediate, violent and criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther Party. So does their refusal to cease firing at police officers when urged to do so several times.
On December 11, the Chicago Tribune ran an account drawn from the policemen involved in the assault, and accompanied by a photograph of the apartment on which circles were drawn around what purported to be holes caused by bullets fired at the police.
Hanrahan later had a full-scale model of the apartment constructed so that the participating policemen could re-enact the raid on WBBM-TV, the local CBS affiliate. Each officer acted out his part step by step for the TV cameras as if rehearsing a scene for a SWAT episode in slow motion. One cop said that as soon as he announced he was a police officer, occupants of the apartment responded with shotgun fire. Two raiders demonstrated how as they approached the front room, they were greeted by a woman who fired a shotgun blast at them as they stood in the doorway. Another cop explained how he had fired through a door and then received return fire, presumably from Mark Clark.