Today marks the 50th anniversary of the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Hamtpon and Clark were activists with the Black Panther Party. Chicago police killed both men during a police raid ostensibly ordered by the Cook County state’s attorney. Subsequent revelations uncovered the role of the FBI in the raid. In our recent report, Still Spying on Dissent: The Enduring Problem of FBI First Amendment Abuse, we discussed the raid and how it is part of the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO.
By 1956, the FBI was no longer satisfied to merely conduct surveillance of dissent. They also wanted to neutralize and disrupt political organizations. As part of its Counter Intelligence Program or COINTELPRO, the FBI escalated from surveillance to full blown harassment. COINTELPRO targeted completely lawful political organizing. In fact, it was predicated on a belief that an increasingly liberal Supreme Court was making it more difficult to convict Communists of crimes, leading “Hoover and his men to use dirty tricks instead of criminal prosecutions to neutralize the party.”
Initially, COINTELPRO targeted the Communist Party, but it soon grew to encompass attacks on the Socialist Workers Party, the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements, the Puerto Rican independence movement, the antiwar movement, and the New Left.162 Among some of its most notorious victims were Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Designating civil rights activists as “black hate” groups, the FBI tried to blackmail King into killing itself.The FBI was also deeply concerned about the unification of racial justice movements after King’s death and directly wanted to prevent it. They devoted particular attention to the Black Panther Party.
The FBI orchestrated a 1969 Chicago Police raid on the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party after an FBI informant provided the FBI with a map of the party headquarters. During the raid, the police fired nearly a 100 times, killing the party’s charismatic young leader Fred Hampton as he lay sleeping in bed. Fellow Black Panther Mark Clark was also killed. While the police claimed self-defense, “a federal grand jury determined that the police had fired between eighty-three and ninety shots–the Panthers a maximum of one.” A toxicology report showed a large amount of secobarbital in Hampton’s system, leading to allegations that the FBI informant drugged Hampton. Many view Hampton’s death as an execution, murder, or assassination.
For more information on the FBI’s history of political surveillance, what the FBI’s been up to more recently, and how to rein them in, check out Still Spying on Dissent: The Enduring Problem of FBI First Amendment Abuse.
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