THE STICKY SIDE OF HISTORY
First, I suggest you read this story from the Chicago Sun-Times (I will reprint it in its entirety):
Street name: ‘Embarrassment’ or fair tribute?
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
It’s been 37 years since Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were gunned down by police working under Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan in an infamous raid at Hampton’s West Side apartment.
But judging from the nerve Ald. Madeline Haithcock (2nd) touched when she proposed naming a street for Hampton, you’d think the raid had happened yesterday.
“We’re engaged in battle now,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago), a former Black Panther defense minister who said he fully supports Haithcock’s proposal and “will stand right beside her and, if necessary, I will stand in front of her.”
“I didn’t seek this fight,” Rush said. “I didn’t go looking for this fight. But I am determined to fight for this street designation until the bitter end. It will become a reality in the city of Chicago.”
But the controversy had a lot of other Chicago politicians running for cover.
“It’s a no-winner. You end up getting somebody upset” no matter what you say, said West Side Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).
South Side Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th) said she, too, had “nothing to say.”
“A lot of people feel very strongly about it. Why would you want to say something that gets the police people mad at you? And I don’t want to do anything to get people who supported the Black Panthers mad at me,” Lyle said.
Haithcock to wait a month
Former Mayor Richard J. Daley considered the Black Panthers a street gang and among those he held responsible for the looting and burning that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
But Richard M. Daley didn’t want to touch the controversy for fear for alienating black voters.
“Everybody has a right to name things. . .. I don’t go down the list. . .. There’s so many of them. . .. We’ve got honorary after honorary. We’ve got some [streets] that have five names. . . . You see these honorariums going in every day now,” Daley said, calling the designation a “local matter.”
After being pressed repeatedly about the violence Hampton and his cohorts advocated against police officers, Daley added, “That concerns everyone any time anyone espouses . . . killing a police officer.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this week that the City Council’s Transportation Committee had voted without debate to rename Monroe Street — from Western to Oakley Blvd. — as “Chairman Fred Hampton Way.”
Haithcock sponsored the ordinance at the behest of Hampton’s son, Fred Hampton Jr., a political activist who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1993 for the firebombing of two Korean-owned stores in Englewood. Hampton Jr., who has since been released from prison, has said he was an innocent “political criminal.”
The street name proposal has infuriated Fraternal Order of Police president Mark Donahue, who called it a “dark day” in the city’s history “when we honor someone who would advocate killing policemen.”
Haithcock on Tuesday did not knuckle under the pressure but did say she plans to wait another month before calling the ordinance for a final vote in the full City Council. “We’re going to work on this, get some support. I want to talk to my council members. It’s my ward. I vote for whatever they want in their ward.”
‘Fred Hampton was murdered’
Northwest Side Ald. Tom Allen (38th) called the proposal “an embarrassment” and said he flat out missed it Monday when the Transportation Committee he chairs approved the designation.
Rules Committee Chairman Richard Mell (33rd) likened it to naming a Chicago street “David Duke Way” after the founder of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the National Association for the Advancement of White People.
A handful of African-American aldermen had equally harsh things to say against those who oppose the designation.
“I’m a person who believes that Fred Hampton was murdered in his bed. So for law enforcement officers to object to some recognition for the good work the Panthers did is pretty ironic,” said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th).
Bill Hampton, brother of the slain Panther leader, predicted that “most community leaders and residents” would support the designation over the objections of those “few people who still hold that negative grudge against Fred and the Party.
“They were protesting police brutality, oppression and other social ills that were hurting the black community. . .. I don’t say that justifies it. But people understood what they really meant by it,” Bill Hampton said.
Now, if I were a Chicago cop instead of a Chicago firefighter, I’d call Mark Donahue and ask him to keep his pie-hole shut until he gets back to Manny’s Deli. The same goes for Dick Mell and Tom Allen. Historical record completely verifies Toni Preckwinkle’s ‘belief.’ Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by the Chicago Police, butchered in a hail of bullets as they slept. It was premeditated murder, no doubt about it.
I can almost understand Mell’s and Allen’s responses: they must pander to a predominantly white constituency whose view of the Black Panthers is most likely inherited from the same culture that welcomed Dr. King to Chicago in the 1960s. Donahue, however, needs to shut the fuck up. The more people whose curiosity is piqued by this story, and who get the urge to look into the actual history of the Panthers and Fred Hampton’s murder, the worse it will look for the Chicago Police.
This case is more clear-cut than even the Haymarket incident, which was the subject of another contentious public dedication in 2004 (over which Donahue initially stuck his foot in his mouth before backtracking). In the U.S. in the 1960s, the Black Panthers were trying to organize their communities against, among other things, the brutality and oppression that was served up by police forces nationwide. Much like the anarchists, communists, socialists, and other labor organizers of the late 19th Century, the Panthers weren’t trying to overthrow the system as much as force it to live up to its promise. They did so more by nonviolent organization than by violent confrontation.
Donahue’s claim that the Panthers advocated the murder of police is disingenuous, to say the least. In the context of Fred Hampton’s time and place, the police were little more than a brutal occupying force. The Panthers advocated armed self-defense, including against lawless police forces. More generally, though, the Panthers preached that the police should be accountable to the communities they served, including the African-American community. It is the peaceful, political efforts of the Panthers to this end that are usually completely ignored while the militant rhetoric is taken out of context and played up.
In any case, the Chicago Police eventually proved Hampton and the Panthers right. They violated the law– and Hampton’s and Clark’s civil rights– in a most deadly and permanent fashion. Worse yet, they did so with impunity, as the corrupt and racist local court system of the time acquitted the police of any criminal liability for the assassinations.
If Mark Donahue wants people to know the true nature of the “embarrassment” of the Fred Hampton assassination, then he’ll keep flapping his lips over this. The Chicago Police have come a long way since the days of COINTELPRO and the Red Squad, or at least they should want us to believe they have. Embracing the cold-blooded police murder of a young, energetic African-American community activist almost forty years after the fact is not a way for the police union to build good faith with the black community. Donahue should change his tune, keep his mouth shut, or hope that enough people are as happy as he is with their racist, whitewashed history.