Last year, I described how Fred Hampton positively affected so many during his short lifetime. I believe his death has since impacted all Americans.
Following a predawn police raid on Dec. 4, 1969, which killed Hampton and fellow Black Panther, Mark Clark, other wounded survivors were charged with attempted murder. When it was demonstrated that a dying Clark fired the only shot from inside the apartment, against a hail of ninety-plus police bullets, the charges seemed ludicrous. They were later dropped, when the police refused to name the informant who had infiltrated the Panthers.
After the survivors were cleared of charges, State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan and his raiders were indicted for obstruction of justice. A Cook County judge miraculously acquitted them. Meanwhile, the survivors sought to recover compensation from Hanrahan. Jeffrey Haas, who later wrote a book titled “The Assassination of Fred Hampton,” filed a lawsuit.
Haas and his associates in a storefront law office pooled their resources to fight a protracted battle against Chicago’s powerful political machine. It wasn’t enough to just compete against Hanrahan’s crack defense team, Haas’ group had to overcome the seemingly slanted rulings of Judge Joseph Perry. As one of the Panthers’ legal team described it, “It’s like playing in the World Series against the Yankees with their manager as the umpire.”
Perry seemed barely impartial, ruling against the plaintiffs at every opportunity, while bending the law for the defense. Perry dismissed the case, claiming that Hanrahan and crew had immunity. Fortunately, an appeals court overruled him.
The case dragged on for a decade. When the Panthers’ lawyers learned that an FBI informant had supplied the raiders with the apartment’s floor plan, they added the agency to the list of defendants. The FBI released a deluge of documents. The “smoking gun” was a memo from Director J. Edgar Hoover, requiring his agents to prevent the rise of a black “Messiah.” Despite this damaging evidence, Perry still dismissed the jury and the lawsuit.
A friendly judge exonerated Hanrahan, but he was guilty in the eyes of Chicago’s black community. A coalition was formed for the express purpose of defeating Hanrahan in the mayoral primary. They succeeded. This same alliance became the force behind the election of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, and helped launch the career of a young politician named Barack Obama.
In 1979, a new judge reinstated the case against Hanrahan and company. The defendants paid the survivors $1.85 million. Twenty-one years after Fred’s execution-style death, the FBI informant finally acknowledged his responsibility for the raid, not long before he ran in front of an oncoming car on the Eisenhower Expressway, and ended his life.
Today, Maywood has a pool named for Fred. There is a statue of him in front, facing a street that is now called Fred Hampton Way.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.