For many Americans, the 1960s began with tremendous promise as Senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA) was elected to serve as the thirty-fifth president of the United States. Those Americans, especially among America's youth, viewed Kennedy's triumph as a symbol of hope for a better future. Sadly, the decade ended as tragically as it euphorically began. In the summer of 1963, Medgar Evers, a leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was gunned down in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. Five months later, President Kennedy's life was cut short by a sniper's bullet in Dallas, Texas. In 1965, Malcolm X, a Muslim religious leader and black nationalist, was killed following a dispute over the leadership and direction of the Nation of Islam. Then, in the spring of 1968, the assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Democratic presidential hopeful Robert E Kennedy contributed to the demise of domestic liberalism by the end of that turbulent decade.
The violence that shattered America's hope for a better future in the 1960s included instances of police brutality against leaders of the Black Panther Party (BPP). (1) On December 4, 1969, members of a special unit of the Cook County State's Attorney's office staged a pre-dawn raid on a Black Panther residence on Chicago's Westside based on intelligence claiming that "a cache of illegal weapons, including sawed-off shotguns and riot guns stolen from the Chicago police, was stored in the Panther apartment at 2337 West Monroe Street." (2) As law enforcement officials stormed the apartment, Mark Clark, Defense Captain of the Peoria Branch of the BPR and Fred Hampton, Deputy Chairman of the Illinois State Chapter of the BPP, were fatally shot. Photographers for the Chicago Tribune took pictures of police officers removing the bodies of Clark and Hampton from the apartment. Although pictures of police officers carrying out the dead following a violent confrontation are not altogether rare, what is noteworthy about the photograph is the expression worn by one of the officers, who seemed to savor the moment by smiling perversely as he looked squarely into the camera. (3)
Within hours of the incident, rumors and varying accounts of the raid spread like wildfire. In a preemptive move, police officials issued a statement declaring that Clark and Hampton died during a shoot-out that they themselves initiated. Representatives of the BPP countered this claim by describing what occurred that morning as a 'shoot-at' rather
than a shoot-out. Indeed, a ballistics analysis of the nearly one hundred shots fired during the raid proved that only one came from inside the apartment--a single shot fired from Clark's shotgun. BPP officials further noted that one of the officers shot Hampton in the head at point-blank range while he slept, an assertion supported by the coroner's report. (4) In essence, according to the Panthers' version of the incident, Clark and Hampton never stood a chance of coming out of the raid alive.
To support their claims,...