Good and dead

A poem on the 50th anniversary of the killing of Fred Hampton by Chicago Police:

Opinion

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Gary Johnson

Chicago

never an enlightened city

has declared itself a sanctuary city

to blunt federal 

predatory immigration policy 

and shrieks of a tweeter-in-chief 

inciting his base's hatred 

of The Other

 

Even with its new-found dignity 

a "reform" mayor 

Mexican Independence paraded down 26th 

King Drive Bud Bilikin pageantry, 

our immigrant city has yet to square 

a notorious racist past 

 

Chicago

never an enlightened city

where in a Dec. 4, 1969 

predawn West Side raid

at 2337 W. Monroe 

fourteen cops in cahoots 

with, we now know, the FBI

blasted their way Capone-style

ninety-nine flying bullets 

into a Black Panther apartment 

to a single outgoing shot

killing party member Mark Clark 

(shot through his heart) and 

Illinois party chairman Fred Hampton 

(twice shot at close range in the head)

 

This in the middle of  

our military napalming Vietnamese, 

Nixon's law and order crackdown on cities, 

J. Edgar Hoover declaring 

the Black Power movement 

America's #1 public enemy, 

FBI agents ordered to

"prevent the rise of a messiah 

who could unify or electrify 

the militant black nationalist movement" 

 

A community activist 

turned militant revolutionary 

born in the shadow 

of the Argo Corn Products plant 

off Archer Road in Summit, Illinois

(where his parents worked 

alongside Emmett Till's father)

Fred Hampton solid-bodied

with a shy big-dimpled grin

was an orator par excellence 

and fearless

the king of signifying 

able to rouse feet-stomping crowds 

to join him with shouts of 

"I am a revolutionary!"

 

While west coast Panthers 

stormed the Sacramento state house 

toting guns in berets 

wraparound sunglasses 

leather jackets

demanding an end to 

police brutality

Fred was organizing a 

west suburban NAACP youth group

demanding black faculty

and administration hires 

at his Proviso East High School

marching for open housing

in Marquette Park 

with Dr. King 

 

Once inside the apartment 

operating from a floor plan 

hand-drawn by an FBI informant 

(actually Hampton's bodyguard) 

a cop emptied his machine gun 

along a hallway wall

into the bedroom 

where he knew Chairman Fred

(probably drugged)

slept

 

At that moment  

Fred's fiancé Deborah Johnson 

pregnant with his child 

was straddling Fred's back

the bed (she said) violently 

shaking from bullets 

whizzing through the thin 

wall into the mattress

 

Two cops stormed in 

flung her from the room 

then went back in 

where she heard 

the pop pop of a handgun

a woman screaming

one cop saying 

"He's good and dead now"

 

Filmmaker Mike Gray's 

grisly documentary 

The Murder of Fred Hampton 

staggers the imagination

We Serve and Suspect

cops following orders

can and will 

barge into your house 

shoot to kill 

you dead in your bed 

brag about it

lie about it

argue its merits

period

full stop

 

Gray was tracking 

the 21-year-old's dynamism 

at party headquarters

a people's court trying Fred

lively downtown speeches in Daley Plaza 

the People's Church on Ashland 

free school kid breakfasts 

Panther-run health clinics 

but needed an ending 

until he got the call

Fred is dead

come to 2337 W. Monroe

bring your camera

 

It's shocking 

black & white images 

show Fred's shot-up 

blood-soaked mattress 

bullet holes in doors walls woodwork

bloody floors

lines of sober-faced neighbors 

braving the cold

Panther tour guides pointing 

"This is where our chairman 

got his brains blown out"

stepping thru the trashed hellish site 

left open arrogantly 

abandoned by police

like the dangling 

burnt and mutilated 

black carcasses 

of long-ago Southern lynchings

 

There's a chilling 

Black-and-white photo 

of a group of cops 

carrying out Fred Hampton in a body bag

smirks on their faces lit by the flash

leather jackets and pie hats 

fading into the predawn dark

proud as punch of their hunting booty 

a job well done.

 

A "blatant act of legitimized murder" 

claimed white Maywood councilman Tom Streeter 

adding "and in the context of militant 

acts against militant blacks 

in recent months suggests 

a systemic act of repression"

as FBI COINTELPRO surveyed

Panthers were 

gunned down and jailed 

across the country

 

At the Fred Hampton Pool 

in Maywood west of the city 

there's a front-lawn bust of Fred 

on a marble block

the significance 

of this water-filled hole 

in-the-ground memorial

cannot be overlooked

Fred's push 

for a pool and rec center 

for Maywood's black kids 

led to his arrest by Maywood police 

then making the FBI's 

Key Agitator Index of activists 

the rest is history

 

While Panthers recognized 

their oppression 

in liberation struggles 

of colonized Third World 

peoples in China, 

Cuba, Vietnam, 

Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau 

Fred's ultimate sin 

in the eyes of the police state 

was forging Chicago's 

original Rainbow Coalition

Panthers aligning 

with poor white racist 

"dislocated hillbilly" 

Young Patriots in Uptown

with Cha Cha Jimenez's Young Lords 

Puerto Rican street gang of Lincoln Park

Daley's cops let off the leash 

to split riffraff heads

in the way of gentrification

 

Folks forget in the 1960s

blacks were under 

nationwide siege by police 

folks forget point # one

of the Panthers' 10-point plan

"Freedom to determine 

the destiny of the black community" 

Panthers arming themselves 

with calls to "off the pigs" 

in essence to police the police

menaced only terrorist cops 

haunting black neighborhoods

 

Chicago's heart beats 

blood power control

from the Haymarket riot (1887)

to cops ordered 

to shoot to kill or maim arsonists 

cripple looters in the King Riots (April 1968)

to the whole world's watching 

Democratic Convention police riot (August 1968)

to Chairman Fred's targeted murder a year later

to Laquan McDonald shot 16 times (2014)

(the police-killing video

suppressed for 13 months) 

the Panthers at least challenged 

as best they could 

what a recent report calls 

a culture of "excessive violence" 

within the Chicago Police Department

the beat goes on

 

Chicago

never an enlightened city 

with shoot-'em-up weekends 

school kids escorted down safe corridors 

crushing poverty 

Mag Mile mammon

Panthers a faded tattoo 

a bruise beneath the skin 

that never heals

a sanctuary city

in search of its humanity

 

So here's to Fred Hampton

fifty years out

a true people's radical

dared speak truth to power

seek justice and parity 

across racial class ethnic divides

paid the ultimate price

 

Sources:  

The Murder of Fred Hampton (film documentary), The Film Group (Chicago) 1971, Mike Gray, producer

The Assassination of Fred Hampton, by Jeffery Haas, Chicago Review Press, 2009

Hillbilly nationalists, urban race rebels, and black power: community organizing in radical times, by Amy Sonnie, Melville House, Brooklyn, 2011.

 

Gary Johnson is an Oak Park resident.

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