The apartment building at 2337 W. Monroe St. where Fred Hampton was killed in a police raid on Dec. 4, 1969 has been razed. The block is tree-lined, quiet and neatly landscaped, much of it dominated by the backside of Pete’s Fresh Market, an upscale grocery store, which anchors a fenced-in shopping center that includes a Chase Bank and a Subway.
Deborah Johnson, Hampton’s common-law wife at the time of his death, said her husband sent her out to find a place to live that was close to the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party’s West Side office, 2350 W. Madison St., just around the corner from the apartment.
“There was a lot where there were abandoned cars and the homeless would congregate,” she said during a recent commemoration of Hampton’s killing held in front of the site of his murder. Each year on Dec. 4, she and her son, Fred Hampton Jr., gather at this spot, along with a crowd of supporters, to remember the event that has come to be known by some as the Massacre on Monroe.
“If you could come through [that lot] back then, people would say, ‘Power to the people! Black Panther!’ They’d have boxing matches and be carrying on. There was a little bar called Ray’s on the corner. While I was pregnant, Chairman [Hampton] would call me over to Ray’s because I could make him look good while dancing,” she said, grinning warmly at the memory.
These days at one corner of Madison and Western, high-priced condominiums compete for streetscape prominence with a Cricket retailer and a pawn shop. Catty corner, the Black Panther Party’s office is gone, replaced by a non-threatening Walgreens.
But as times change, they stay the same, according to some former and current Black Panthers.
“I now feel like it’s 1969 all over again,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed recently, referencing the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke last October.
Van Dyke shot McDonald, who had been armed with a knife but presented no immediate threat to officers, 16 times. He might have let off more rounds had his fellow officers not stopped him.
According to a Chicago Tribune analysis of the police reports from the McDonald shooting, Van Dyke is described as a victim who was shooting “in defense of his life.” The teenage McDonald is the offender who, as he lay on the ground, his body shaking and literally smoldering from Van Dyke’s barrage of bullets, is still a threat (“O [offender] appeared to be attempting to get up, still holding knife”).
After the police department was forced to release the video of the murder to the public, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) called McDonald’s death an “execution.”
No quarter for wild beasts
Roughly a month before Fred Hampton was killed, an editorial appeared in the Nov. 15, 1969 edition of the Chicago Tribune, titled “No Quarter For Wild Beasts,” written in reaction to a gun battle that happened days prior between Black Panthers and Chicago police. Two police officers and one Panther were killed, while seven other policemen were wounded in the battle.
The editorial recommended that the police “be ordered to be ready to shoot when approaching Black Panther suspects” and that Black Panthers should “be kept under constant surveillance. They have declared war on society. They therefore have forfeited the right to considerations ordinary violators of the law might claim.”
On Dec. 4, 1969, 14 police officers working with Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan’s office initiated a raid for illegal weapons on Hampton’s West Side apartment. Subsequent investigations determined that the officers fired at least 80 shots into the four-bedroom apartment.
At least nine people were in the apartment, including Hampton and Black Panther Mark Clark, both of whom died. Four people, including two women, were seriously wounded from the shooting before they were dragged into the winter cold, beaten and arrested on aggravated assault and attempted murder charges.
Johnson, who was also dragged, arrested and charged, was nearly nine months pregnant with Fred Hampton Jr. (whose birth name, Alfred Johnson, was legally changed when he was 10 years old, according to a Chicago Reader report).
She had been on the mattress beside Hampton when the shooting started (“Our bed was vibrating … You could smell it. It burned your eyes. Plaster was flying off the walls. I could see sparks going from both directions across our doorway”).
“Somebody said, ‘Stop shooting, stop shooting, we got a pregnant sister here!'” Johnson recalled. “Eventually the shooting stopped and I remember crossing out of the bed. I had no blood on my clothing, none at all. I slid into Chairman Fred’s house shoes and I kept saying to myself, ‘You got to remember every detail.'”
And then she recalled the now-infamous exchange between officers after finding Hampton’s wounded body.
“That’s Fred Hampton.” He wasn’t dead. He was barely alive. One officer said, “He’ll make it,” before Johnson and at least one other survivor heard two shots which, as later investigations would demonstrate, were likely fired point black into the back of Hampton’s head.
“He’s good and dead now,” Johnson recalled.
If anything was miraculous about the raid, it was that Johnson and her baby emerged relatively unscathed. But in the aftermath, Hanrahan famously said it was a miracle that all of his officers made it out alive and praised his officers’ “remarkable restraint,” “bravery” and “professional discipline” in light of the attacks by the “extremely vicious” Panthers.
He would also show journalists the bullet holes that were supposed to demonstrate return fire from the Panthers. In the end, however, reporters determined that Hanrahan’s bullet holes were actually nail heads and multiple investigations would show that Hampton and company may have gotten off a single shot, perhaps several.
Rush was a 22-year-old minister of defense for the Illinois Black Panther Party when Hampton was killed. The would-be-congressman told journalists not long after Hampton’s death that he believed the Chicago Police Department would’ve killed him too had they gotten the chance. Rush’s own apartment was raided as well, but he wasn’t there.
“It’s eerie. There are so many comparisons I can draw between now and then,” Rush told Sneed.
“It just seems to be all the same. … Nothing seems to have changed. The State’s Attorney Office, who didn’t release the videotape on McDonald for 13 months, is still problematic. The cop culture is still the cop culture.”
“Hanrahan said, ‘Only by the grace of God were my brave police officers saved from the vicious attack of the vicious Black Panther Party,” Johnson, 65, recalled at the Dec. 4 commemoration.
“That’s kind of like they demonize black people today. Y’all gangbangers, drug addicts, all of this stuff and they’re the civilized people who shoot us down 16 times in the back, who kick in our doors and murder us in our beds.”
“You got what’s called the side-tracking of the slaves,” said Fred Hampton Jr., who is chairman of what’s called the Black Panther Party Cubs, a sort of derivative organization of the original Black Panther Party that started in 1966.
Hampton Jr., who spent nearly a decade in prison for allegedly firebombing a Korean grocery store in the wake of the 1992 Rodney King-related protests (a charge he still denies), bears an uncanny resemblance to his late father and often talks with the same righteous fury and revolutionary cant.
During his hour-long soliloquy, he cited Lenin, Chairman Mao and Sun Tzu; his speech salted with Pantheresque terms like “pig,” “heightening the contradictions,” “vamping,” and oft-repeated phrases originated by Huey P. Newton (“power is the ability to define phenomenon, and make it act in a desired manner”).
“I’ll say this kid got shot 16 times in the back, and they’ll go, ‘Well, what was he doing?’ And then I’ll say he got shot 16 times in the back. ‘Why was his last name different than his mother’s last name?’ I’ll say he got shot 16 times in the back. They say, ‘He had a tattoo.’ No, I say, he got shot 16 times in the back,” Hampton Jr., said.
Stan McKinney joined the Illinois Black Panther Party the year Hampton was killed.
“It’s ironic that we’re dealing with the same office, the same bull—t, the same time, the same station,” McKinney said. “The same issues still exist. … This whole thing with Brother McDonald is interconnected and interrelated. This thing didn’t just start today.
“I joined the Black Panther Party because these pigs were whooping our a– on the West Side; they were terrorizing. They’d take you in, stick tooth picks up your fingernails, slam your fingers into the file cabinets, put guns up to your head and spin the barrels. This is the kind of bull—t I was subject to.”
“All this talk about the black site on Homan Avenue? A lot of you didn’t hear about it until a white person was taken into this place,” said Hampton Jr. “This is right down the street, not in Afghanistan. It done happened to us so much we called them whoopee stations. It was known in the community. ‘Man what happened, you was gone for four or five days?’ ‘Yeah, man, they had me in the whoopee station, man.’ It was no documenting your name, no log-in. …”
Hampton, Jr., believes that the rumbles of resistance to what he often refers to as “state violence” are getting louder. He feels something like a revolution afoot, at least in dialogue. He said he hears people talking in ways that wouldn’t have been possible five years ago.
Toward the end of his speech, a black charter bus pulled up on Monroe Street and out of it walked more than a dozen young people dressed in black, with serious faces, wafting of incense — their heads afro-ed and dreadlocked and braided.
They called themselves New Era Detroit, an organization, according to its website, that was “formed to bring back urban unity within growing urban communities.”
They were introduced by Blair Anderson, one of the Black Panthers who was wounded in the Dec. 4 raid. In the decades after the raid, he had gone to prison and spent years “shooting guns and all that” before rounding the bend.
“Dec. 4, 1969, was one of the most horrific experiences of my life, but I also got to see the glory of our people, what we survived, what we came out of,” Anderson said.
“I ended up in Detroit and saw some young people who looked like some Panther Cubs to me and they said it’s a new era. They said, ‘Can we go with you, Brother Blair, and honor the ancestors?’ So I introduce to you New Era Detroit! Welcome to Chicago!”