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


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.



Photo Jul 12, 3 06 47 PM.jpgThreatened by expansionary urban renewal, redevelopment policies, and slum clearance, historic structures in Detroit during the 1970’s faced erasure from history. Representing the ethos of building a new Detroit out of the ashes of the 1967′ Rebellion, Wayne State University, the largest public urban university in Michigan, expanded its campus by condemning, destroying, and building over the historic apartment buildings, houses, and storefronts surrounding campus.

A story of mid 20th century university expansion articulated well by scholars such as LaDale Wingling, Wayne State’s expansion was contentious and tenuous, and reflected the relationship between white controlled urban institutions and the growing black population around them in previously industrial cities. Seen as the solution to the inequities and urban crisis, institutions such as universities, hospitals, sports, and corporations were sanctioned by the city to rebuild and revive, ignoring the malign effects this policy had on the mostly Black working class residents.

Photo Apr 26, 2 00 23 PMAs Wayne State embarked on its expansion, the Cass Corridor, a working class mostly black, immigrant, and student composed neighborhood, lay in its cross-hairs. The university saw the potential of expansion in the quickly deteriorating neighborhood, but some of Detroit’s most valuable and historically important housing stock remained intact there, including the home of Wayne State University’s founder, David Mackenzie.

Long forgotten as the home of one of Michigan’s most famous educators, the building suffered disrepair under Wayne’s administration, and in 1972, it was slated for demolition to build a sewer pipe to the Forest Apartments, a now demolished student apartment complex. This plan, along with Wayne State’s disregard for the historic structures that made it up its university, urged a group of historically conscious students to form Preservation Wayne, Detroit’s first historic preservation group.

1977-2-24 Mackenzie House Faces Demolition Next QuarterA struggle ensued from the year 1975 to 1982, and through repeated gainsays by the university, the group preserved and managed to secure a victory; preserving, and restoring, and using the David Mackenzie House as the center for historic preservation in Detroit for the next four decades.

Through an internship with the Walter P. Reuther Library, I am one of the first contemporary historians to study and document the intricate history of the founding of Preservation Wayne and its fight for historic preservation on Wayne’s campus. This research tells the long forgotten history of a group of young, historically conscious, and determined students forged a group that would be the juggernaut of historic preservation in Detroit. This is a history of urban renewal, of a university’s identity and relationship with its surrounding community, and the exacting struggle that it took to establish historic preservation in Detroit; and in Detroit’s atmosphere of redevelopment and development, this history becomes a mirror.

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