Fifty-one years ago, Chicago police officers killed Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois Black Panther party. In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd this summer in Minneapolis, Hampton’s message — and the circumstances of his death — remain eerily relevant today.
On Dec. 4, 1969, police raided the Black Panther headquarters in Chicago and killed Hampton and fellow Black Panther activist Mark Clark.
Black Lives Matter Chicago co-founder Aislinn Pulley joined WBEZ’s Reset to reflect on how their work informs today’s movement.
“Of course, things have changed in some ways. But the ways in which the state’s attorney’s offices, prosecutorial offices, continue to work by covering up injustices, particularly in Chicago, remains the same,” Pulley said.
Here are a few highlights from Pulley’s interview.
On Hampton’s influence on her own work
Aislinn Pulley: Chairman Fred has been a presence in my life since I was a child. I did my sixth grade history fair project on the assassination, and I won on a state level, which was very surprising. … So the legacy of Chairman Fred and Deputy Mark Clark has been present in my life always. And it has been a major factor in how I orient to the work and how I understand how these systems work together in collusion and that our analysis must be nuanced enough to be able to understand that.
On how the Black Panther’s platform applies to today
Pulley: Every single aspect of the Black Panther Party program undergirds this iteration of the movement, especially when it comes to what we now are terming mutual aid, which the Panthers didn’t call mutual aid. And we’ve called it many things during many iterations of the movement, but now with the pandemic, with the increase in unemployment as a result of the pandemic, it becomes more and more necessary to look to the demands that the Panthers laid out, as well as more in addressing the same social and economic ills that plague us today, particularly among Black people.
On teaching Hampton and Clark’s legacy
Pulley: I would say that in Chicago, the story of Chairman Fred and Deputy Mark Clark is felt in the atmosphere. The lessons need to be taught much more with much more intentionality. There needs to be explicit teaching of Chairman Fred and Deputy Mike Clark in all of the schools. That needs to be a part of the curriculum in all of the schools, not just in some of the special classes. This is a part of the fabric of the story of how we can understand how this system, how the Chicago municipal government has operated and continues to operate it. It provides us with clarity and understanding why we continue to have problems with the judiciary, with policing and all the other elements that exist within city government.
On building on current momentum
Pulley: I think where we go now is that we take the momentum of this summer and we continue to forge ahead. We still have right wing white supremacist extremists that are still enacting violence against Black people and organizers and protest. That has not changed. We still have so many torture survivors still locked up. We still have Black Panthers still incarcerated from the ’60s who are still locked up. We have Indigenous fighters like Leonard Peltier who are still locked up. So the things that are that are that need our attention have not gone away. We need to take the momentum of the summer and become more organized and more focused on fulfilling the demands that have been laid out by fighters like Chairman Fred and Deputy Mark Clark and others like Harriet Tubman centuries before that.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Press the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.