Jeff Haas, co-founder of the People’s Law Office, spent the following dozen years waging a battle to bring his killers to justice and to expose the collaboration between the Chicago Police Department and the FBI through its notorious COINTELPRO program.
Haas shares his memories of, and reflections on, that at times seemingly interminable journey in The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther.
Many thanks to friend Craig Segal for informing me about the book and to Jen Wisnowski of the Independent Publishers Group for getting it to me.
Haas intersperses his personal experience with his professional efforts to hold Hampton’s killers accountable. Born to a Jewish family in the South, he is raised with a sense of morality and a desire to do right in the world-qualities that he attributes in large part to his mother.
There were plenty of wrongs to right in the 1960s, which is when Haas came of age.
He effectively describes the radical and increasingly polarized temper of the time. At times appears to be reflecting on his enduring ambivalence about his theoretical belief in the necessity of violence to achieve needed social change and his unwillingness to commit such actions himself. He notes that Weathermen members like Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers similarly came from wealthy backgrounds and did take such action-at one point, leading the death of Ayers’ girlfriend at the time.
A related tension between whether one can legitimately live a middle class lifestyle and still have robust relationship with radical also ends up contributing to the demise of Haas’ first marriage.
This personal is prelude and deeply connected to Haas’ political beliefs. He is deeply disturbed by the death of the charismatic Hampton, who was coming to prominence at a time when the national Black Panther movement was starting to wane.
Haas demonstrates convincingly throughout the book’s five sections that Hampton was assassinated in cold blood by the Chicago police and the FBI, that both parties attempted a poorly executed cover-up and that Judge Sam Perry was fervently against the efforts by Haas and his colleague Flint Taylor to expose the true nature of what happened.
Haas has a rich array of characters and gripping material to work with, and makes a lot of the opportunity. He is not an overly impressive stylist and his ability to recall in precise detail conversations he had more than 30 years ago can raise an eyebrow or two, but the book moves quickly along and with increasing pace as he gets deeper and deeper into the legal proceedings.
Vindication of a sort arrives at the end of the legal odyssey. Fortunately, Haas’ and Hampton’s mother lived long enough both to see the verdict when it finally came and to live today.
At a time when some in Chicago are congratulating themselves for the city’s having contributed heavily to the election of the nation’s first black president, it is useful to read this account of a darker and bloodier time by a man who was there and who sought redress for one of the era’s heinous crimes.