“I am a revolutionary.”
Fred Hampton was a leader of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther movement when he was shot to death by the police in his apartment on December 4th, 1969. The film The Murder of Fred Hampton was initially designed to chronicle a portrait of this popular Black leader, but instead the film took an unexpected twist after Hampton’s murder.
The film’s archival footage is invaluable for anyone interested in the history of the Black Panther movement, but the viewer will be best served watching the film with some prior knowledge of the major figures or a little background history. The film is rather shapeless–due no doubt to the unexpected turn of events, so the footage doesn’t present a seamless story of Hampton’s life and death. Instead the film offers glimpses of Hampton’s life and depicts him speaking at various meetings, participating in a mock trial, and organizing various Black Panther community activities, etc. The film contains some startling prophetic moments, and details Hampton predicting his own violent death. There’s also archival footage of Black Panther outdoor meetings–heavily attended by the ever-present FBI and local police force. It’s clear there’s no love lost on either side. Insults are flung at the police, and the tension in the air is palatable.
The film is at its strongest as the filmmakers pore over evidence at the scene. The official police version (complete with a reenactment) is set in contrast to witnesses. But the strongest evidence is the physical trail, and the blood soaked mattress left after the slaughter. A great deal of the film is devoted to the physical evidence that challenges the official story–pointing out the “bullet holes” that supposedly were fired by the Panthers, for example. According to the filmmakers–Mike Gray and Howard Alk–the grand jury investigation ruled that the police fired 99 shots with just one possible bullet fired from those inside the apartment. Was this an “assassination” a cold-blooded hit? Well watch the film and decide for yourself. If you are interested in the history of the Black Panthers, I also recommend What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Party Library.