“You can kill the revolutionary but, you can’t kill the revolution.”: The Extrajudicial Killing of Fred Hampton

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On December 4th, 1969, at about 1:30am, Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old Chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), fell asleep midway through a conversation with his mother. At 4:30am that same day, 14 officers from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) broke into Hampton’s West Side apartment, fired dozens of rounds, and killed several BPP members, including Hampton. According to Deborah Johnson, Hampton’s girlfriend and survivor of the attack, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, two officers walked into Hampton’s room, and soon after one of the officers said, “he’s still alive,” two gunshots were fired. They returned to the living room and announced “Fred Hampton, the Panther chairman, is dead.”

220px-Fred_Hampton_murder_scene_bedroom_bloody_mattressPlanned police slayings of Black men, especially those in the Black Power movement, were common in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the raid on Hampton’s apartment and subsequent killing is not another case of police violence on Black communities. The assassination of Fred Hampton had been a long-planned act of violence to disrupt the Black Panther Party, reduce militancy amongst radical political groups in Chicago, spread fear amongst Black activists, and be a spectacle of violence that implicitly expresses the governments condemnation of the Black Power Movement without expressing it in explicitly racial terms. This paper argues that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the CPD resorted to explicit violence when infiltration and disruption tactics no longer sufficed to destroy the BPP. Both worked in tangent to orchestrate an attack on Hampton, utilizing inside informants, and afterwards using the media to portray the raiders as selfless heroes practicing self-defense as they attempted to implement “law and order.”

This paper uses Fred Hampton’s assassination as a case study to better understand U.S. domestic state terrorism. The commonly accepted definition of domestic “terrorism” are created by states, thus they exclude state actors from being considered terrorists. However, Jonathan Matusitz argues that terrorism can be committed by undercover personal that serve their government. Even if the FBI is not a “terrorist” organization, the tactics that its operatives used, such as using fear as a weapon, infiltration and espionage, and public spectacles of violence to promote a specific goal, in this case weakening social movements, are all strategies utilized by terrorist groups. In addition, this paper also argues that to understand the assassination of Hampton and state terrorism more broadly, we must understand the perception of those effected by these tactics. The BPP and surrounding community viewed the FBI and CPD assassination of Fred Hampton as a case of domestic state terrorism, whereby the FBI and CPD were the terrorists, and the BPP were the innocent victims.

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