FRED HAMPTON and the FBI

THE ASSASSINATION OF FRED HAMPTON: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther By Jeffrey Haas, Lawrence Hill Books, $26.95, 376 pages, index This is a remarkable work, a well told tale, a true crime story, a page turning legal political thriller which is as important for us to comprehend now as it was in the sixties. Forty years ago this December 4th National Lawyers Guild attorney Jeffrey Haas was in a Chicago jail interviewing Fred Hampton’s fiancee Deborah Johnson. . She was in her nightgown, pregnant, shaking and sobbing, barely having survived the hail of 80 bullets that came into her apartment and into her bedroom, just four hours before. She had been sleeping at 4 in the morning next to Fred Hampton, the extraordinary young leader of the Chicago Black Panthers. She described to Haas how the police pulled her from the room as Fred lay unconscious on their bed. She heard one of the officers say, “He’s still alive.” Next, two gunshots. A second officer said “He’s good and dead now.” She looked at Jeff and asked, “What can you do?” Haas tells the story, interwoven beautifully with his own personal and political biography of a truly amazing piece of movement lawyering. It took thirteen years of grueling litigation and political agitation outside the courtroom.. Finally, after an l8 month trial, which they lost, and an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court (Hampton v. Hanrahan, 600 F. 2d 600), which they won in a famous civil rights decision, Haas, Flint Taylor, his Peoples Law Office collective, and Dennis Cunningham, finally nailed the FBI, the Cook County States Attorney Edward Hanrahan, and the Chicago police for their summary execution of the exceptionally promising – he was only 2l at the time – young black leader. “Who knows what he may have become, if they hadn’t killed him,” his mother Iberia Hampton told Jeff. FBI head J. Edgar Hoover had an idea of what Hampton might become. He was concerned, in his words, written in a Cointelpro directive, about “the rise of a new black Messiah.” King and Malcolm had already been murdered. Haas and Taylor uncovered the story about how the government killed Hampton and remarkably, at the end of the day, made them all admit guilt by paying his parents a wrongful death settlement. It took 300,000 hours of work over thirteen years. Jeff was barely out of The University of Chicago law school at the time he undertook to represent the family, and Flint was still a law student at Northwestern. Their law collective had no resources to speak of and were up against a mendacious stalling government whose litigation fund was unlimited. Lenny Bruce used to quip that “Chicago is so corrupt it is thrilling.” It was run by the machine of Mayor Richard Daley, head of the Cook County Democratic Party, his true source of power. The machine appointed the judges, investigators, “independent panels”, prosecutors, and police. But Jeff and Flint took them on, exposing the conspiracy to assassinate Hampton, the raid and the subsequent cover-up. Jeff reflects that “Like others who heard Malcolm X, Dr King, and Fred Hampton speak in the l960s, I learned that fighting injustice and inequality is the struggle of our lives, and perseverence in this struggle is what makes our lives valuable.” By Michael Steven Smith. Smith, in the sixties, was in the Detroit NLG collective of Lafferty, Reosti, Jabara, Papahkian, James, Stickgold, Smith and Soble. He practises injury law in New York City and is the author of “Notebook of a Sixties Lawyer: An Unrepentant Memoir.”

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