Fred Hampton remembered as ‘focused, caring’ visionary

Fellow Black Panther Billy “Che” Brooks said one question about the party’s leader has plucked at his nerves since Hampton was killed in a police raid 50 years ago: “Who the hell drugged Chairman Fred?”

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Fred Hampton of the Illinois Black Panther Party speaks at a rally at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.

Fred Hampton of the Illinois Black Panther Party speaks at a rally at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.

Sun-Times Library

An early morning raid on an apartment on the West Side a half-century ago left the Black community in an uproar over the deaths of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, and a fellow Panther with one question that’s plucked at his nerves for 50 years.

Billy “Che” Brooks, who remembers Hampton as a “focused, caring, full of love and funny visionary,” wants to know, “Who the hell drugged Chairman Fred?”

Hampton, 21, and Clark, 22, were ambushed in the Dec. 4, 1969 raid conducted jointly by the Chicago police and officers assigned to the office of then-State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan.

Brooks, the deputy minister of education for the Black Panther Party of Illinois, said the police raided their offices several times that year, and constantly harassed them.

In November 1969, fellow Panther Spurgeon “Jake” Winters, 19, for whom the party named their medical center in Lawndale, died in a shootout with police. Two officers died too.

After Winters’ death, the Panthers could sense “something was imminent,” Brooks said.

Police entered Hampton’s apartment in the 2300 block of West Monroe Street and unleashed 99 bullets, versus one shot fired by the opposing side. The apparent ambush cost Hampton and Clark their lives.

The Chicago Sun-Times wrote a story that challenged the narrative provided by police and official photos after a Sun-Times reporter took a Panther-led tour of the bullet-riddled apartment. The story detailed what was depicted in official photos, such as nail heads circled as being bullet holes.

The home was dubbed “Ground Zero” by Hampton’s son, Fred Hampton Jr.

Brooks was jailed from November 1969 to January 1970 for a case he caught in 1968.

When he heard the news, he was devastated and couldn’t fathom how it could happen.

Reports said fellow member William O’Neal was an FBI informant and provided the floor plan of the apartment. It was also speculated that he put “Seconal in Fred’s Kool-aid,” making it easier for police to kill Hampton.

While Brooks didn’t comment on whether O’Neal provided the floor plan, he said O’Neal did not drug Hampton.

“O’Neal did not come into that house. I know that for a fact. So, who did it? Nobody wants to talk about it. That’s the real question. Who put the Seconal in Chairman Fred’s Kool-aid? Who drugged Chairman Fred?” Brooks asked.

That question has dogged him most of his life.

While he knows he’ll never get the answer, he thinks things would’ve gone differently if he’d been there.

“I hate the fact I was in jail when that s--- happened,” he angrily said.

Brooks said he would’ve been another man in the apartment able to keep a closer eye on things and maybe Hampton would still be alive.

He said not only was Hampton a friend, he was like a brother to him. And while they were the same age, he learned a ton from the “charismatic, full of empathy” leader who was “beyond the times.”

“Fred was considered a threat in the eyes of law enforcement because he could galvanize all types of people. We wanted to end police brutality. We created programs to point out the contradictions that existed in society. Children were going to school hungry and we started a free breakfast program. Shortly thereafter, the government started breakfast programs, and lunch programs in schools,” he said.

Brooks continued, “The government wasn’t thinking about sickle cell anemia so we opened up our medical centers and started testing Black people for sickle cell. Shortly thereafter, it became an issue and the government took it over. We had a way of creating consciousness amongst the people, forcing the government to do what it was supposed to do.”

Comparing that decade to now, Brooks said it’s gotten worse, and it brings him to tears.

“The fascist tactics that police use now are tantamount to murder. They don’t think twice about killing a person of color. A lot of it has to do with the political climate in this country. There’s an analogous situation with 1969 and what’s going on now. Then we had [President Richard] Nixon. Now we have [Donald] Trump as president. Their whole objective was oppression, and it’s the same flavor now,” he stressed.

Hampton, who grew up in Maywood, was honored in September 2007 in the west suburb with an honorary street name and statue in his honor. The former Oak Street is now known as Fred Hampton Way and his statue sits in front of the Fred Hampton Family Aquatic Center.

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