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On December 4, 1969, Fred Hampton Sr., the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, was murdered by Chicago police while he slept in his apartment with his pregnant fiance, Deborah Johnson. Hampton, who was a mere 21-years-old at the time of his assassination, had risen to prominence as a charismatic leader in the Black Power movement. He established himself initially as an organizer within his local branch of the NAACP, where he served as Youth Council president.
The Chicago Police Department working in coordination with the FBI raided Hampton’s apartment on the morning of December 4 51 years ago, killing him and fellow Black Panther Party leader Mark Clark. The long-standing narrative reported by the state was that Hampton and Clark were killed in a gun battle with the police department.
The truth of the matter is that Hampton was completely defenseless at the time of his slaughter. What history has shown us in subsequent examples of unarmed, defenseless Black Americans killed by law enforcement is there is often a bogus version of events the police present in defense of their actions that contradict with what actually took place.
In the past week, the conversation around the ideology of defunding the police has caused quite an uproar, as the language of the decree was criticized by former U.S. president Barack Obama. Many prominent activists have taken to social media to reject Obama’s advice of reconsidering the “snappy slogan” if they are to expect some semblance of reform.
What the former president and those who support his stance are seeming to misunderstand is that those who fervently advocate against police violence are not seeking reform. Reform entails the exact opposite of defunding, as it reinvests community resources into police departments under the guise of “better training.”
The same culture of police violence that consistently kills more civilians than any other country in the world in the 21st-century is the same authorized violence that claimed the life of one of the brightest young Black leaders of a generation 51 years ago.
The cry to defund the police at its core is a reimagination of public safety. It is a request to reallocate community resources as not only a deterrent to crime but to ensure that public dollars fund the type of services that aid in mental health crises, eradicate homelessness or social dilemmas that have often resulted in Americans dying at the hands of police officers who are insufficiently trained in responding to certain critical situations.
We cannot waiver in protesting against unjust systems of public safety in honor of freedom fighters such as Fred Hampton Sr., who spent his short life challenging the powers-that-be in the name of freedom, justice and equality. The time to demand better is now, not at the leisure of those who have been persistent in perpetuating violence against our bodies.
About the Author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.