Introduction: The Chicago Incident on December 4, 1969

TITLE: Search and Destroy: A Report by the Commission of Inquiry into the Black Panthers and the Police
AUTHORS: Roy Wilkins and Ramsey Clark
YEAR: 1973
PUBLISHER: Harper & Row
PAGES: 3-13

At approximately 4:45 A.M. on the morning of December 4, 1969, a detail of Chicago police officers assigned to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office went to an apartment at 2337 West Monroe Street on Chicago's South Side with the stated purpose of executing a search for illegal weapons.

The first-floor apartment was occupied by nine members of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, including its chairman, Fred Hampton. Approximately ten minutes later, two young men were dead and four other persons were seriously wounded. Their ages ranged from seventeen to twenty-two.

Mark Clark, twenty-two, who was in the front living room when the police entered, and Fred Hampton, twenty-one, who was in the rear bedroom, were killed. Hampton was shot four times, twice in the head; Clark, twice in the arm, and through the heart and lungs. Both were dead on arrival at the hospital.

Four other occupants of the apartment were wounded: Ronald Satchel, eighteen--one of the three occupants of a middle bedroom--received five gunshot wounds from a machine gun, two in the lower right abdomen, one in the left long finger, one in the right thumb, and one in the right thigh. (He underwent general surgery that day--including a hemicolectomy--and remained in the hospital for one month.) Verlina Brewer, seventeen, suffered two gunshot wounds from the machine gun, one in the left buttock and one in the left knee, with fracture of the tibia. Blair Anderson, eighteen, had three gunshot wounds from the machine gun, in the left thigh, at the base of the penis, and in the right thigh; the last bullet was not removed. Brenda Harris, nineteen--who, like Clark, was in the living room--was shot twice, once in the right thigh and once in the left hand, with a fracture of the third metacarpal. Two Chicago policemen, Officers John Ciszewski and Edward Carmody, suffered minor injuries.

The four wounded occupants and three others who were in the apartment--Deborah Johnson, eighteen, Harold Bell, twenty-two, and Louis Truelock, thirty-two--were arrested and held on a variety of charges, including attempted murder.

Some public officials were quick to praise the conduct of the police, contrasting it with what one called "the vicious, animal, criminal" nature of the Black Panthers.

Within hours of the incident, Cook County State's Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan held a press conference. He castigated the actions of the Panthers and charged that they had made a vicious, unprovoked attack on police attempting to carry out a legitimate search of the apartment. Cook County State's Attorney Hanrahan praised his police officers for "good judgement, considerable restraint, and professional discipline." A series of livid, if contradictory, accounts of the raid were given by members of the police raiding party to the press and were widely circulated.

United States Senator John McClellan of Arkansas had called Fred Hampton a "Red Communist" before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Police described him as a "known felon" and "a convicted felon under indictment for a violent crime"; he had, in face, been sentenced to from two to five years in the penitentiary for allegedly helping black youths steal seventy-one dollars' worth of ice cream from a street vendor the previous summer.

But many in the black community and a number of white residents of Chicago condemned the actions of the police and called the deaths of Hampton and Clark "murder" or "assassination." Fred Hampton had held a position of some respect in Chicago's black community. He was known as a top student and star athlete in suburban Maywood, where he grew up. In 1966, after graduation from high school, he prepared to enter Triton Junior College as a prelaw student, and became president of the Youth Council of the West Suburban Brance of the NAACP. He led a movement for recreational facilities and better school conditions for black youths in Maywood. The white mayor of that city was among the first to call for an investigation of his death.

From the time he left Maywood until his death, Fred Hampton grew increasingly militant, often reported as working among and organizing the black ghetto residents of Chicago. The Panthers' free breakfast program, free medical clinic, and other community services projects were credited to him. The interracial alliances he forged among the Panthers, black youth gangs, and Puerto Rican and Appalachian white youths and students testified to his leadership and organizational ability.

Five thousand people attended Fred Hampton's funeral service in Chicago. The Reverend Jesse Jackson in eulogy said, "When Fred was shot in Chicago, black people in particular, and decent people in general, bled everywhere." [1] The Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther Kind, Jr.'s heir as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spoke also:

If they can do this to the Black Panthers today, who will they do it to tomorrow? If they succeed in repressing the Black Panthers, it won't belong before they crush any party in sight--maybe your party, maybe my party.

I want to tell you this, Fred--You did not die in vain. We're going to see to it that you didn't die in vain. But I don't think you will rest in peace, Fred, because there isn't going to be any peace.

We're going to take up your torch Fred. Though my fight will be nonviolent, it will be militant. There will be no peace in this land. [2]

Mark Clark was the ninth of seventeen children. His father, William Clark, was pastor of Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, and had worked for twenty-eight years, until his death in May 1969, in the foundry at the Caterpillar Company. Mark's mother, Mrs. Fannie Clark, had worked at St. Francis Hospital and occasionally as a domestic. Clark went to Roosevelt Junior High School and Manual High School, apparently only a fair student, but with talent in art, drama, and speech. He did not finish Manual. There were disciplinary problems, including an alleged assault upon a teacher. He later attended some classes at Illinois Central Junior College in Peoria.

Mark Clark became active in civil rights in his mid-teens and, with his brothers and sisters, joined demonstrations in Peoria under the sponsorship of the local branch of the NAACP. John Gwyn, president of the local and state NAACP chapters, said that by the time Clark was thirteen years old he was "demonstrating against discrimination in employment, housing, and education."

He had had contacts with the law. Peoria police records show that he was fined twenty-five dollars in February 1965 for carrying a concealed weapon; sentenced to four months in jail in October 1965 on a charge of aggravated battery; fined fifty dollars in February 1967 for curfew violation and one hundred dollars for carrying a concealed weapon. In most instances he served out the fines in the Peoria county jail at the rate of five dollars a day.

Miss Donna Cummings, a Peoria policewoman for twenty-seven years and former juvenile officer who had known Clark since his childhood, said, "He was one of my children, but no one in the world is perfect. The path he chose in life was his destiny. What he was doing, in his heart he felt he was doing for his people. He gave his life for the thing he believed in most."

According to his sister Eleanor, he became interested in the Black Panther Party about a year before his death. He and another Panther from Peoria, Anthony Harris, twenty-one, had come to Chicago on November 20, 1969, to confer with Party leaders there. Harris was arrested after a gun battle with police, and charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery, on December 2, two days before Mark Clark was himself killed by police.

Of those who survived the raid, Ronald Satchel had attended the University of Illinois for two quarters after high school graduation the previous year. Brenda Harris attended the University of Illinois for one year. She later enrolled at Malcolm X College in Chicago. Harold Bell had completed high school studies in the army after dropping out of school in Memphis. He had been discharged after three years’ service in June 1968 and attended a junior college in Rockford, Illinois, for a year. Deborah Johnson, who graduated from high school in 1968, had attended Wright City College for one year. At the time of the raid she was eight and one-half months pregnant with her son, Frederick Ted Nathaniel Jake.

Charges and countercharges filled the pages of the newspapers in the days that followed the incident. Pressure grew for an investigation into the actions of the police and the State's Attorney's Office. The drama was heightened as hundreds of visitors were led by Black Panther Party "guides" through the bullet-scarred rooms of the unsealed apartment.

After touring the apartment, the vice president of the Afro-American Patrolmen's League, a pioneer black police officers association, said he believed the shootings were "an obvious political assassination," and the president of the League was quoted as saying, "We found no evidence that anyone had fired from inside the apartment." The League announced its own investigation of the case, saying it appeared that the men were killed "for no reason" in a "deliberate police set-up." [3]

Typical of the troubled response of many in the community at large was a statement issued by Roman Catholic priests representing ten parishes in the Lawndale-Garfield Park area of Chicago, as reprinted in the Chicago Sun-Times on December 10, 1969:

We Catholic priests of Lawndale and Garfield are prompted by the recent death of a prominent black citizen, Fred Hampton, to speak to the people of Chicago. We have often watched with appreciation and respect the professional work of many fine men and officers of our Chicago Police Department.


Those efforts, however, cannot dispel our feelings of frustration and rage over the general failure and mistrust of police service in our communities. We also stand ready to accept our share of responsibility in that failure. We have tried for years to deal rationally with the many incidents of harassing arrests and of unprovoked station beatings.

With rising anger we have watched police action which provokes violence in the interest of retaliation, rather than promoting understanding and cooperation in the interest of peace.


Now, with the deaths of Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, we must speak loudly and clearly.

The purpose of a police department and a state's attorney's office is to bring citizens before the bar of justice. Its purpose cannot be punitive or retaliatory. It must be one of protection and service.

Our police agencies have vast resources and manpower at their disposal. Yet, time after time, those agencies have failed in their efforts to bring members of the black community, particularly members of the Black Panther Party, and so-called "gang" members, before a court of law when the law apparently has been trespassed.


Further, that failure too often has resulted in execution without trial. We regard that as unacceptable police work, while we also deplore any killing of a police officer in the line of his duty. Other alternatives must be found. We are especially angered when our nation's cherished judicial system becomes thwarted and the police department takes on the role of a punitive agency.


We must demand the highest professional excellence from our law officers. It is only such excellence which offers the hope of helping heal some of the sicknesses of our society.

We submit that there are serious illegal situations which are the root causes of poverty and frustration in our community. We urge the state’s attorney to address his efforts to their redressment. In that way he will help heal some of the problems which lie beneath last week’s violence.

We proudly live and work in Lawndale and Garfield Park. We dare not speak for the black community but stand ready, with the combined clergy of our area, to meet with the state’s attorney and others to work toward the proper and responsible solution of the vital problems of our community.

Since the raid had been planned and executed by the State's Attorney's Office and its Special Prosecutions Unit, questions were raised by many about the ability of that office to investigate the incident without prejudice. The State's Attorney's Office, the principal state agency charged with the responsibility of investigating any allegations of wrongdoing growing out of the December 4 incident, was in effect inquiring into a case in which its own agents had been the principal participants.

State’s Attorney Hanrahan made clear that he believed that his office was entitled to the public’s trust.

I would have thought our office is entitled to expect to be believed in by the public. Our officers wouldn't lie about the act. I'm talking about the credibility of our officers here and myself.

On December 15 newspapers reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been ordered into the case to inquire into possible violations of federal law. At the time, Marlin W. Johnson, head of the Chicago FBI office, said only that "Attorney General John N. Mitchell has asked us to make a preliminary investigation, compile evidence and make a report."

Shortly after the FBI investigation was announced, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover issued his annual report, in which he blamed the Panthers and other groups for recent attacks on policemen and an increasing number of violent acts.

On December l6 the Internal Inspections Division (IID) of the Chicago Police Department announced that it had conducted an investigation of the incident. It found that the police were innocent of any wrongdoing and that their actions were justified.

In its interviews with citizens of Chicago, including members of the bar, the working press, and prominent businessmen, Commission of Inquiry investigators heard numerous bitter criticisms of the police department's Internal Inspections Division. The IID, responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct, was accused by many of bias in favor of the police. There seemed to be little, if any, confidence that citizens' complaints against policemen would be investigated and resolved impartially. Representatives of the black community reported long-standing grievances against the IID for lack of responsiveness and objectivity in dealing with instances of alleged police misconduct against blacks. There was considerable skepticism about the fairness in an IID investigation of the December 4 raid.

The Cook County Coroner’s Office, which also had investigatory responsibilities, shared the lack of credibility in most of the black community. Coroner’s inquests into so many cases of citizens shot by police had resulted in verdicts of "justifiable" or "accidental" homicide that a number of blacks interviewed by the Commission of Inquiry said they considered the Coroner’s Office to be virtually an arm of the State’s Attorney’s Office and not an independent and objective agency.

Shortly after the two deaths on December 4, a controversy had arisen over the coroner’s autopsy on Fred Hampton's body. Under pressure, the city announced that a special "Blue-Ribbon Coroner's Inquest" composed of prominent citizens, black and white, would be constituted to inquire into the deaths of Hampton and Clark. The inquest, headed by a specially appointed deputy coroner, Martin S. Gerber, convened on January 6, 1970. After twelve days of testimony the special deputy coroner ruled the inquest closed, and a verdict of "justifiable homicide" was returned.

The verdict of the coroner's inquest did not diminish agitation for further investigation. For many, the police testimony before the corner's jury had, instead, raised new questions about the nature of the evidence recovered from the apartment, the credibility of the police accounts, and the justification for the police actions.

As a result of letters, telegrams, delegations, and editorials calling upon the United States Department of Justice to initiate an objective investigation, Attorney General John N. Mitchell, on December 19, 1969, appointed Assistant Attorney General Jerris Leonard to head a Justice Department team "to collect all the facts relating to the incident and present them to an inquisitorial Federal Grand Jury."

On January 30, 1970, a Cook County grand jury indicted the seven surviving occupants of the apartment on charges ranging from attempted murder to illegal possession of firearms. No indictment was brought against the police. On February 11 the survivors pleaded not guilty.

As the state and local authorities failed to indict the police or other officials, public attention turned to the federal grand jury. Interviews by Commission investigators indicate, however, that the black community of Chicago and many others were skeptical as to the objectivity of an investigation conducted under the U.S. Department of Justice. Shortly after he had assumed office, Attorney General Mitchell had labeled the Panthers a subversive threat to the national security; This laid the groundwork for the application by the Department of Justice of its expanded claim of wiretapping authority. During the late summer of 1969 the Justice Department set up a special task force on the Panthers. This task force was staffed with high-level personnel drawn from the three major divisions of the department: Criminal, Internal Security, and Civil Rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in a press release dated December 24, 1969, (PR 51-69) announced that its surveys had not proved a directed national campaign to "get" the Panthers, but that, if high national officials were not actually conducting a concerted program of harassment, they had, by their statements and actions, helped to create a climate of oppression and encouraged local police to initiate crackdowns. The release cited as examples: Vice President Spiro Agnew had called the Panthers a completely irresponsible, anarchistic group of criminals"; Assistant Attorney General Jerris Leonard had said, "The Black Panthers are nothing but hoodlums and we've got to get them"; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a few months prior to the December 4 raid, had said that "The Black Panther Party without question represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country [among] violence-prone black-extremist groups"; and, as noted above, Attorney General Mitchell had ruled that the Panthers are a threat to the national security and thus subject to Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance by wiretapping. [4]

On March 8, 1970, the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party sponsored a "People's Inquest" at the First Congregational Church on Chicago’s West Side. Dr. Charles G. Hurst, president of Malcolm X College in Chicago, presided over the "inquest" as "coroner." Jewel Cook, a member of the Black Panther Party, acted as "people's attorney," and Illinois Panther Deputy Minister of Defense Bobby Rush participated in the public hearing.

Six of the seven survivors testified: Brenda Harris, Ronald Satchel, Verlina Brewer, Blair Anderson, Harold Bell, and Deborah Johnson. Louis Truelock was also to testify, but, according to members of the sponsoring groups, a personal emergency arose about twenty-five minutes before he was scheduled to appear causing him to miss the proceedings. [5]

The "jury," having heard the testimony and reviewed the evidence, pronounced the fourteen policemen in the raiding party guilty of premeditated murder.

On May 8, 1970, a week before the federal grand jury released its report on the case, but after the state had been informed that FBI ballistics reports would not support the charges that the Panthers took part in a shoot-out, the state dropped all charges against the seven survivors.

On May 15, 1970, the federal grand jury released the results of its inquiry. A public report on the proceedings was issued, but no indictments were brought. The published report was unique in federal jurisprudence; it was believed by many to be unauthorized and unlawful since the business of grand juries is to indict or absolve, not to publicize. Its hearings are secret. The report, prepared by Justice Department attorneys, criticized all parties to the incident to some degree. [6] However, it concluded: "The physical evidence and the discrepancies in the officers' accounts are insufficient to establish probable cause to charge the officers with a willful violation of the occupants' civil rights?" [7]

The criticisms which the federal grand jury report leveled against the local agencies charged with a full investigation of the raid stilled some of the discontent with previous investigations, but numerous questions remained unresolved.

As of this writing, the only public documentation and explanation of the federal government's intervention into this incident and its resultant investigation is contained in the Report of the January 1970 grand jury. The minutes of the federal grand jury remain sealed.

Petitions were filed for the establishment of a special state grand jury, headed by an independent prosecutor, to inquire into the events of December 4 and into the conduct of the public officials connected with the case. Representatives of the survivors and several organizations in the black community presented lists of names that would be acceptable to the black community in directing the special investigation.

On June 26, 1976, a prominent Chicago corporation attorney, Barnabas Sears, was appointed by the chief judge of the Cook County Criminal Court, Joseph A. Power, to direct a new probe into the raid. Sears appointed four assistants, two of whom were black lawyers, to aid in the investigation. Despite continued criticism that the appointment of Sears, a white man, had ignored the interests of the black community, a December 1970 special county grand jury [8] began its deliberations one year after the raid. In the summer of 1971, after months of pressure against this county grand jury and amid rumors that indictments might be pending, the police filed suit to prohibit release of any grand jury indictments on grounds of improper prosecution. After one of the most incredible power struggles in our judicial history, involving two reviews by the Supreme Court of Illinois and denial by the United States Supreme Court on May 15, 1972, of State's Attorney Hanrahan's petition for a writ of certiorari, a handful of officials involved in the episode were tried, not for homicide but for obstruction of justice. After a lengthy trial, which raised more questions than it answered, the charges against the officials were dismissed.

The central questions addressed in this report are thus left unanswered by official action. Was the raid legal? Was its purpose the execution of a search warrant on a Black Panther? Were the deaths of the two Panthers justifiable homicides or murder? Were the injuries inflicted on the four wounded Panthers the result of excessive force or lawful police action? Was there evidence of criminal conduct on the part of those occupants who survived the raid, or of the police and other public officials involved in the raid or subsequent proceedings? These are questions of the greatest significance. They are the reason for the work of the Commission of Inquiry.


[1] Chicago Daily News, Red Flash Edition, December 10, 1969, p. 5.

[2] Chicago Sun Times, 4 Star Final, December 10, 1969, p. 5.

[3] "Blacks Launch Probe," Chicago Daily News, December 6, 1969.

[4] The nation's first black United States Attorney, Ceci F. Poole, resigned effective January 31, 1970, from the federal prosecutor's post in San Francisco he had heid since 1961. Poole had an interview with the press on January 14, 1970, on the eve of the resumption of the federal grand jury investigation of Panther activities on the West Coast, directed by the Justice Department. Poole had not been consulted about the grand jury investigation in his district. Two Justice Department attorneys, Victor Woerheide and Jerome Heilbron, comprised the second two-man team assigned since the probe was launched in May 1969. This speciai grand jury probe, under the direction of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, was focusing on possible violations of the federal riot conspiracy law, and the Smith Act—-which prohibits advocating violent overthrow of the government. The press reported that during this interview Poole said: "Whatever they say they're doing, they‘re out to get the Biack Panthers" (San Francisco Examiner, January 14, 1970).

[5] The People's Inquest was modeled after a regular coroner's inquest, with the major difference that the "officers of the court" and the "jurors" were selected as "representative" of the survivors' "peers"-—the black community of Chicago. Witnesses were sworn in by Rush, and questions about the raid were put to the survivors by Jewel Cook, Dr. Hurst, and the various jurors. Photographs of the apartment and other exhibits of evidence were shown to the persons assembled. The testimony of the six survivors participating in the People's Inquest was recorded by a certified court reporter and later transcribed.

[6] In particular, the ineffectiveness of the Coroner's Office and serious incompetence in the Internal Inspections Division were described. The FBI was singled out for praise for the conduct of its June 4, 1969, Panther raid.

[7] Report of the January 1970 Grand Jury, United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, p. 113.

[8] Case No. 70, Special Grand Jury 3.