Today marks the 49th anniversary of the deaths of the revolutionaries Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.
Hampton and Clark were instrumental in the organisation of the Black Panther Party, and were murdered in cold blood during a police raid on Hampton’s apartment in the dead of night. Hampton, the chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party at just 21 years old, was known for his rousing speeches, his revolutionary proletarian vision, and his internationalism. His commitment to unifying the class away from racial division led to the formation of the Rainbow Coalition, a group made of working class activists from different ethnic backgrounds. Hampton’s legacy of understanding racial unity as a necessity of the class struggle remains unmatched in many organisations today.
Clark was responsible for the implementation and success of the Black Panther Free Breakfast Program. This program was one of many which sought to undermine the state and provide access to food and safety for the most vulnerable in their communities, particularly children and the elderly.
In bed with Hampton was his fiancee Deborah Johnson. She was lucky to survive the brutal attack. Remembering that night, she says:
“Fred never really woke up… He was lying there when they pulled me out of the bedroom. Two pigs went into the back of the bedroom. One of them said, ‘“He’s barely alive’, he’ll barely make it. I heard two shots. Then I heard. ‘He’s good and dead now!’”
In an ending reminiscent of the impunity with which police murder black people today, both officers were acquitted and the deaths of Fred and Mark were ruled to be ‘justifiable homicides’.
The Black Panthers were a revolutionary organisation borne out of the shameful and degrading way in which Black people were brutalised by the police on a daily basis.Their analysis of the police as an occupying force opened an international dialogue between other occupied territories from Vietnam, to the North of Ireland, to Palestine. They were critical of the police as an occupying force and saw them as the militarised wing of the state which sought to uphold the subjugation of Black people in the United States of America. Their Ten Point Program demanded free education, free housing, and a right for all to bear arms as written in the constitution of the United States. But what was truly revolutionary was their insight into the nature of the class struggle. Their demands were not only for the freedom of Black people but for all ‘oppressed people everywhere’.
Today we remember the sacrifice given by the Black Panthers, many of whom were executed by a racist police force, while many others lived out or, continue to live out their days within the equally racist prison industrial complex. As we remember, we pay close attention to the ever-powerful work of Fred Hampton:
If you ever think about me and you ain’t gonna do no revolutionary act, forget about me. I don’t want myself on your mind if you’re not going to work for the people. If you’re asked to make a commitment at the age of twenty, and you say I don’t want to make a commitment at the age of twenty, only because of the reason that I’m too young to die, I want to live a little longer, then you’re dead already. You have to understand that people have to pay a price for peace. If you dare to struggle, you dare to win. If you dare not struggle then damn it, you don’t deserve to win. Let me say peace to you if you're willing to fight for it.
- Daniel Sillman