Year
1969
Month Day
December 04

Police kill two members of the Black Panther Party

Black Panthers Fred Hampton, 21, and Mark Clark, 22, are gunned down by 14 police officers as they lie sleeping in their Chicago, Illinois, apartment. About a hundred bullets had been fired in what police described as a fierce gun battle with members of the Black Panther Party. However, ballistics experts later determined that only one of those bullets came from the Panthers’ side. In addition, the “bullet holes” in the front door of the apartment, which police pointed to as evidence that the Panthers had been shooting from within the apartment, were actually nail holes created by police in an attempt to cover up the attack. Four other Black Panthers were wounded in the raid, as well as two police officers.

The raid, which had been led by Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, was only one of many attempts by the government to weaken the Black Power movement. Under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had been battling civil rights activists and other minority leaders for years with their Cointelpro program, whose purpose, according to one FBI document, was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership and supporters.” Although the FBI was not responsible for leading this particular raid, a federal grand jury indicated that the bureau played a significant role in the events leading up to the raid; Hanrahan had utilized information provided by FBI informant William O’Neal, who was third in command of the Chicago Panthers, to plan his attack.

There was also a conscious effort by the FBI to use “aggressive and imaginary tactics” to prevent the “rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement.” They apparently considered Fred Hampton, an outspoken, charismatic activist who was chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, to be such a potential leader. Hampton became involved in the civil rights struggle at a very early age: At 15, he organized a chapter of the NAACP at his high school, and he became chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Partywhen he was 20. Many other leaders of the Panthers, such as Huey Newton, Assata Shakur, and Bobby Seale, spent time in jail on charges based on little or no evidence.

Although most media coverage of the Black Panthers focused on their violent rhetoric and the fact that they carried arms, the Panthers were involved in many nonviolent community-organizing activities. They provided food and medical care to the needy, preached political empowerment, crusaded against police brutality, and started a school. As Fred Hampton himself said shortly before his death, “There have been many attacks made upon the Black Panther Party, so we feel it’s best to be an armed propaganda unit. But the basic thing is to educate.” Unfortunately for Hampton and the other Panthers targeted by the FBI, being armed did not help to protect against governmental repression. In fact, it may have even made matters worse by aiding the FBI in legitimizing their aggressive tactics.

Despite the evidence provided by ballistics experts showing that police had fired 99 percent of the bullets and had falsified the report on the incident, the first federal grand jury did not indict anyone involved in the raid. Furthermore, even though a subsequent grand jury did indict all the police officers involved, the charges were dismissed.

Survivors of the attack and relatives of Hampton and Clark filed a lawsuit against Hanrahan and other officials, which was finally settled in 1983.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Hostage Terry Anderson freed in Lebanon

On December 4, 1991, Islamic militants in Lebanon release kidnapped American journalist Terry Anderson after 2,454 days in captivity. As chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, Anderson covered the long-running civil war in Lebanon (1975-1990). On March 16, ...read more

“Irish Godfather” killed by car bomb in St. Paul

“Dapper Dan” Hogan, a St. Paul, Minnesota saloonkeeper and mob boss, is killed on December 4, 1928 when someone plants a car bomb under the floorboards of his new Paige coupe. Doctors worked all day to save him–according to the Morning Tribune, “racketeers, police characters, and ...read more

Typhoon "Pablo" kills over 1,000 people in the Philippines

On December 4, 2012, Bopha, a Category 5 typhoon nicknamed “Pablo,” struck the Philippines. Rushing flood waters destroyed entire villages and killed over one thousand people, in what was the strongest typhoon ever to strike the Southeast Asian islands. "Entire families may have ...read more

Amanda Knox convicted of murder in Italy

On this day in 2009, 22-year-old American exchange student Amanda Knox is convicted of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007 in Perugia, Italy. Knox received a 26-year prison sentence, while her 25-year-old Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito, who also ...read more

President Bush orders U.S. troops to Somalia

President George H.W. Bush orders 28,000 U.S. troops to Somalia, a war-torn East African nation where rival warlords were preventing the distribution of humanitarian aid to thousands of starving Somalis. In a military mission he described as “God’s work,” Bush said that America ...read more

Polish Christians come to the aid of Polish Jews

In Warsaw, a group of Polish Christians put their own lives at risk when they set up the Council for the Assistance of the Jews. The group was led by two women, Zofia Kossak and Wanda Filipowicz. Since the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the Jewish population had been either ...read more

NBA suspends Latrell Sprewell for attacking coach

On December 4, 1997, the National Basketball Association (NBA) suspends Latrell Sprewell, three-time All Star point guard for the Golden State Warriors, for one year after he attacked Warriors’ coach P.J. Carlesimo. During practice on December 1, Sprewell had a verbal ...read more

George Washington bids farewell to his officers

On December 4, 1783, future President George Washington, then commanding general of the Continental Army, summons his military officers to Fraunces Tavern in New York City to inform them that he will be resigning his commission and returning to civilian life. Washington had led ...read more

Oliver Kelley organizes the Grange

Former Minnesota farmer Oliver Hudson Kelley founds the Grange, which became a powerful political force among western farmers. Though he grew up in Boston, Kelley decided in his early twenties that he wanted to become a farmer. In 1849, he booked passage on a steamboat for St. ...read more

Smog kills thousands in England

Heavy smog begins to hover over London, England, on December 4, 1952. It persists for five days, leading to the deaths of at least 4,000 people. It was a Thursday afternoon when a high-pressure air mass stalled over the Thames River Valley. When cold air arrived suddenly from the ...read more

George Washington’s cousin tricks Loyalists

A force of Continental dragoons commanded by Colonel William Washington–General George Washington’s second cousin once removed–corners Loyalist Colonel Rowland Rugeley and his followers in Rugeley’s house and barn near Camden, South Carolina, on December 4, 1780. After nearly a ...read more

Psychiatrist reports on the phenomenon of shell shock

Well-known psychiatrist W.H. Rivers presents his report The Repression of War Experience, based on his work at the Craiglockhart War Hospital for Neurasthenic Officers, to the Royal School of Medicine, on this day in 1917. Craiglockhart, near Edinburgh, was one of the most famous ...read more