The Parable of the Panther and the Snitch: How the Assassination of Fred Hampton Still Holds Lessons for Today

Fred Hampton was assassinated in 1969, as he lay eerily sound asleep in his bed. Later that night, his wife Deborah Johnson would tell her lawyer that Hampton was alive, but unwakeable when police pulled her out of the room. This was after a shower of bullets ripped through the space, and through the flesh of several Black Panther members who were staying with Hampton and Johnson that night. Two cops went into the room where Hampton lay sleeping. Shots rang out. We all know the rest.

Another notable piece of information is that the security officer William O’Neal disappeared that night. Years later, O’Neal would open up to tell the story of how the police extorted him into informing on the Black Panthers and Hampton. He was the one who gave them a map of the apartment. The man was racked with guilt so overwhelming that in 1990, he would attempt to kill himself by running out onto the expressway near his uncle’s home. He would later repeat the act one fatal and last time.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

The Panthers Were as Harmless as Antifa is Real

The Black Panther chapters sprung up all over the country in the 1960s and 1970s. What the FBI and law enforcement agencies all over the country deemed a threat, was actually a community protection group. They patrolled the high crime and high police activity areas. The point was to ensure that the people had witnesses to the crimes committed by police and an advocate if needed. Yes, the police were killing unarmed Black men even in the mid-1960s. A patrol of Black men openly carrying firearms was enough to set off alarms.

White Supremacy in Policing

One of the biggest lessons that we learned with Hampton’s assassination and again today is that white supremacy is thriving in the police departments all over the country. the most current evidence of this is the Capitol insurrection. Law enforcement figures from all over the country are being identified and turned over to the FBI for their part in storming the Capitol to stop the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as the new President of the US. A surprising amount of police officers were amongst that crowd. Worse is the racist rhetoric that so many participated in, leading up to the insurrection.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Bigger than Hampton or O’Neal

The one last lesson that you need to recognize is that the assassination of Fred Hampton is much bigger than the two men. Their story highlights the issues that our country still has with law enforcement — from the moment they entrapped teenaged O’Neal until they murdered Hampton.

Jonita Davis is a writer, film critic, and professor. She’s a member of NABJ, AAFCA, a Rotten Tomatoes critic, and an adjunct professor.

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