History Interviews Long Reads

Assata’s Chant and Other Histories: EP 12 December 4th 1969


Chairman Fred Hampton

This article is based on the episode “December 4th 1969” from Assata’s Chant and Other Histories anthology and the first original series by multipurpose production house Nello, founded by MIP contributor Weyland McKenzie-Witter. The series can be found on all podcast streaming apps (Apple, Spotify, Google, and YouTube via Black Power Media) and for more background on the anthology, read the editor’s introduction on MIP or visit Nello’s websiteOriginally pupblished on December 4th 2021, we’ve brought it back in remembrance of Fred Hampton (August 30, 1948 – December 4, 1969).

In 1969 on December 3, at the age of 21, Fred Hampton was a radical organizer, leader, and chairman of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Illinois and deputy chairman of the national BPP. On December 4, Fred was assassinated along with BPP leader Mark Clark, double-tapped in the dome by the Chicago “Pigs” PD while he snoozed next to his friend and pregnant fiancée, Akua Njeri. It was a fatal hit coordinated by the FBI, part of an illegal covert program called COINTELPRO. A Counter Intelligence Program that used dirty tricks to “‘disrupt, misdirect and otherwise neutralize’ African American organizations and prevent the rise of charismatic and powerful Black leaders” (see “IRON FIRST” for the 21st-century 2.0 program update).

In a sharpshooting interview, Weyland McKenzie Witter goes in with two of Fred’s lawyers who rolled deep with Hampton’s trials and litigation.

Jeffery Hass & Flint Taylor are lawyers for the movement who became legal vets of the movement. Both founding members of the People’s Law Office, established in 1969 by a collective of lawyers committed to figuring out how to deal with the hundreds of criminal cases of people arrested in protests. They decided they wanted to work in, with, and for the social and political change movement and have an office genuinely involved in the movement.

Early on, Bobby Rush and Fred hit up the People’s Law Office to assist with legal beef that the new Illinois Chapter of the BPP was having due to Chicago “Pigs” PD and the FBI’s harassment and targetting. Despite the judge initially promising probation, the Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan prompted the judge to convict and sentence Fred to two to five years in prison for an alleged hit and run on an ice cream truck. Stealing $71 worth of ice cream and handing it out in love and service to the kids on a playground. Later in August 1969, the People’s Law Office got the W for an appeal bond for Fred’s release from prison. He returned to Chi-town to a hype welcome at the People’s Church on South Ashland Avenue. Ultimately, in November 1969, Fred returned to court for final judgment and was sentenced eight days before his death to two to five years in prison for the ice cream truck robbery by Judge Sidney Jones of Circuit court.

Why the merry-go-round of promising probation, sentencing him, releasing him, sentencing him, and then assassinating him? Did they have an evil plan all along?

Half a century on, the tale of Fred’s death is far from history. However, renewed interest over the last year has spread to the broader public with the release of the film Judas and the Black Messiah, co-produced by Ryan Coogler. During the press run for the film, multidisciplinary audio artist, creative producer, and broadcaster, Weyland McKenzie Witter reached out and got to interview Hampton’s lawyers, the real deal, about death after the messiah.

Jeff Haas: My name is Jeffrey Haas. I’ve been a lawyer at the People’s Law Office for over 50 years. And I was along with Flint Taylor and some other people from the People’s Law Office [as] the council for the families of Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, and our civil suit against the city [of Chicago] and the Raiders eventually the FBI. And I wrote the book, The assassination of Fred Hampton, how the FBI and Chicago police murdered a Black Panther.

Flint Taylor: I’m Flint Taylor. I also have been a lawyer at the People’s Law Office for more than 50 years. I’m still here working on police violence cases. And with Jeff, we litigated the Fred Hampton case for 13 years and also continued to represent the Hampton family for decades after that. I’ve also written a book, The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago, that deals with the Hampton case… and our fight here in Chicago to expose that and bring those who tortured African American suspects here to some modicum of justice.

Weyland McKenzie-Witter: Could you tell me what was the catalyst for you joining the movement?

JH: Well, I think the catalyst for me was being in Chicago in the 60s. You had the anti-war movement. You had Dr. King come to Chicago to integrate it. You had the Democratic Convention, the conspiracy trial, I was at the University of Chicago, and the university was expanding into the Black neighborhoods. So there was resistance. So there were just so many things going on. And one of my classmates was Bernadine Dohrn, who was one of the founders of SDS [the Students for a Democratic Society] and the weatherperson. And she actually assigned me to work with a civil rights lawyer in the South one summer. So I think all this. I guess I was liberal coming into law school, but I think these forces made me much more radical. And then hearing Fred Hampton speak kind of put me into the, at least want to be in, the revolutionary category. And he demanded everyone stand up and say, “I’m a revolutionary.” And I wasn’t able to do that the first three times he chanted that, but by the end, I think I was chanting as loud as everyone else.

“Hearing Fred Hampton speak… he demanded everyone stand up and say, “I’m a revolutionary.” And I wasn’t able to do that the first three times he chanted that, but by the end, I think I was chanting as loud as everyone else

Jeff Haas

WMW: And what about you, Flint?

FT: So during that period of time, in 1969, I became radicalized partly by the events that were going on in the country, in terms of the fighting against the war in Vietnam, the shootouts, and that were happening with the Panthers and the police. And I got to know not only Fred Hampton a bit, but also his family and many Panthers whom we represented, and they were very much instrumental in organizing my views in terms of racism and the justice system, or the injustice system…

Fred “Black Messiah” Hampton died fighting for Black liberation. The FBI was behind the design and death of our revolutionary brother. They recruited William “Judas” O’Neal, who was facing criminal charges, manipulated him in exchange for his release, and trained him to act as an informant-provocateur to infiltrate the Chicago, Illinois, chapter of the BPP. O’Neal became captain of security and so had intimate access to Fred. With the organization scaling so fast, it was tough to assess and keep track of new members who were down with the struggle and those who, like O’Neal, weren’t.

On the night of December 4, 1969, O’Neal laced Fred’s drink with a sleeping drug and drew a detailed floor plan for the FBI of the BPP West Side apartment where Fred and other members were staying. In an alarming predawn raid, under the advice of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, BPP leaders Mark Clark and Fred were killed in their beds. Taking out the leaders nearly took out the movement with them. However, as Robyn C. Spencer notes in The Revolution has Come: Black Power, Gender and the Black Panther Party in Oakland that women rose in the ranks of leadership – while men were being jailed and killed in great numbers – so that the Panthers were able to continue. In addition, Panther women were active behind the scenes running almost every program and involved in every level of the party, fostering a recognition of the importance of both Black Men and Black women in the community during challenging times.

“Women rose in the ranks of leadership – while men were being jailed and killed in great numbers – so that the Panthers were able to continue”

Like Malcolm X, who predicted his own fate at the claws of the FBI (the Nation of Islam or both), Fred, in a speech, foresaw that he would “die a revolutionary in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle.” He said the same for the rest of the people in the struggle too:

“And I hope that each one of you will be able to die in the international proletarian revolutionary struggle or you’ll be able to live in it. And I think that struggle’s going to come. Why don’t you live for the people? Why don’t you struggle for the people? Why don’t you die for the people?”

Chairman Fred Hampton

WMW: Post December 4. 1969, how did Chicago Police Department and Hanrahan try to cover up the assassination of Chairman Fred?

JH: Well, they charged all the survivors with attempted murder, claiming in their public statements how they had opened fire and continued to fire. As Flint said, the physical evidence didn’t support that. They claimed their crime lab claimed that two shotgun shells came from a weapon they identified as being in the lap of Brenda Harris. So that was the only evidence they had that any of the survivors had ever fired. Upon examination of that more closely with our expert and actually an FBI expert, those two shotgun shells came from a police weapon. And they, in fact, didn’t have any other characteristics. It was not a legitimate mistake. It was an attempt by the crime lab. As we found in many heater cases, the crime lab comes up with evidence that supports the police theory of what happened. But anyway, when that was dissolved, there was no evidence that any of the survivors fired, and so they dropped the charges on December 18.

FT: Early on, Hanrahan was in command of the narrative, and he had a press conference, where he claimed that it was a shootout, that 200 bullets had been fired. The Panthers fired half of them. And there were four newspapers at that time in Chicago. And they all went along with it. It was a major, major, major story and every media outlet in Chicago, and there was a turning point, one among many. And the first turning point was when a reporter from one of the papers at Sun Times wrote an article after he came to the department and saw that it was a shoot-in. And he wrote an article saying that basically, and the Sun Times editors put it on page 43. He quit. And his action and quitting caused the editor of the Sun times to come to the apartment, at night, with his wife dressed out from the opera in her fur, and we showed her and him what really happened. And from that point on, the Sun Times and the Daily News… started to tell the real story or the portion of the real story that was known at that time.

The Chicago Tribune, a historically racist then reactionary republican paper, and its secondary paper continued to trumpet that Hanrahan story. And so Hanrahan fought back by doing an exclusive where he gave the cops stories and let the cops be interviewed by the Tribune. And to kind of gild the lily and the false stories, he gave them pictures. And he gave pictures that they said showed two bullet holes in the back, where Fred Hampton supposedly fired at the police, and a wall, or a door that was riddled with bullets, which they said were fired by the Panthers. Well, we knew those were false. And we knew we could prove it by the apartment itself because the bullet holes were, in fact, nailheads. And the bullet-riddled door was a door that had been up open against a wall where the machine gun bullets went through, and we had put dowels through so we could show that trajectory. So we were able to blow up Hanrahan’s exclusive. And we also had Deborah Akua and others speak to the media about what really happened. So that started to change the narrative in December. And as Jeff said, they continued with the cover-up and other aspects of it. And in fact, as we can talk about later, portions of the cover-up, the true nature of the FBI’s involvement, the depth of the FBI’s involvement were successfully covered up for a few years. And as it turns out, continues to this day…

It was announced earlier this year that FBI records had dropped public (well after Hoover’s passing), ironically on December 4, 2020 (51 years after Fred’s death), through a Freedom of Information Act request. After five years of waiting, the two files and several hundred pages of docs (despite still being partially redacted) point to Hoover’s involvement in Fred’s assassination. Pre-release, there was no official proof of who was closely monitoring what O’Neal and his control agent Mitchell were scheming in Chi-town. The news docs show that the targeting of Fred was at the direct command of the FBI and that Hoover was involved before the raid. The FBI sponsored and celebrated Fred’s death, and Hoover himself was quite congratulatory, with the raid considered a “success.” Willaim “Judas” O’Neal was awarded a bonus of $300 for the Black Messiah’s death, like the 30 pieces of silver Judas Iscariot got for betraying Jesus the Messiah. To top it all off, O’Neal got the bonus on the same day he was acting as a pale bearer at Fred’s funeral. All is further evidence of the conspiracy to assassinate Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

“Before you got to bed at night say ‘I am a revolutionary,’ make that the last words in case you don’t wake up…”

Chairman Fred Hampton

Want more truth? Listen to the episode on Apple, Spotify, Google, and YouTube via Black Power Media.

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