The Police Assassination of Carl Hampton


On July 26, 1970, Carl Bernard Hampton, one of Black America's most articulate, courageous and heroic, young leaders was ruthlessly slain by the Houston Police Department's Central Intelligence Division (CID). At the age of 21, Carl was a tireless organizer who worked day and night to establish People's Party II[1], a Black revolutionary group modeled after the Black Panther Party (BPP). Armed with determination to see his people free from the oppression, exploitation and degradation by a racist and corrupt system bent on the destruction of Blacks and people of color, he proceeded boldly with his mission. Consistently, he rallied people around the issue of police brutality and murder that was quite prevalent at that time. Speaking with much power and authority, he was able to capture the hearts and minds of the people and therefore, their respect and admiration. Seeing the effects his words and actions were having on the community, it would be only a matter of time before the government would move in to "neutralize" him.

The 2800 block of Dowling Street was known for its illicit activities of alcohol, drugs, prostitution and killings. Undaunted by threats on his life, Carl continued to organize within the infamous section of Houston's Black community, the Third Ward. Intensely sensitive to the poverty in the area and seeing people suffer as a result, Carl's immediate concern was to provide decent clothing and food to the many needy people who resided there. It was during his effort to obtain supplies for these programs that destiny would soon usher in events that would seal his fate.

It all began on a hot and humid summer afternoon, July 17, 1970. Carl would be returning from a trip home back to the Headquarters of People's Party II (PPII). Upon arriving and stepping out of the car, he noticed two uniform patrolmen harassing a young brother who had been selling the "Black Panther Newspaper" on the street curb in front of the Headquarters. He approached the officer and inquired about the nature of the problem. Carl was wearing an unconcealed .45 automatic pistol strapped across his chest in a shoulder holster (legal at that time). The police officer, startled at seeing a young Black man openly wearing a pistol, immediately withdrew his attention from the initial cause of being there. He then confronted Carl and questioned him as to why he was wearing a gun. Carl responded by telling him he had a constitutional right to bear arms. Again shocked and infuriated by this reply, the officer began reaching for his gun. Seeing this, Carl instinctively drew his gun from his holster, beating the police to the draw. At that same moment, two members in the community center emerged with weapons to join in the confrontation. The driver of the patrol car quickly radioed for back up.

Realizing that it was a standoff and it would only be a matter of minutes before the area would be sealed off and police reinforcements arrive, Carl and the other members cautiously backed into the office to barricade themselves. Feeling somewhat fortified at the back of the office and looking out the windows, they could see increasing police presence, dressed in riot gear darting to and fro to position themselves behind cars and buildings. With tensions escalating, a commanding officer of the Houston Police Dept. entered the office doors in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate for them to surrender. Rather than be taken to jail, Carl felt his chances would be better out on the street, having his lawyer negotiate terms for surrender. His reluctance to be arrested was due to the numerous cases of police brutality and murder of Blacks in the jails and on the street during that time. The negotiating officer quickly exited the doors after seeing no sign of compromise.

Meanwhile, a large crowd of people out on the streets who witnessed the incident began to congregate in front of the office. So enraged were they at the hostile police presence that they offered themselves as a shield between the PPII members and the trigger-happy police. In fact, the crowd was so confident and protective that they dared police to fire on PPII Headquarters. This being an unexpected situation and the police not knowing how to properly deal with it, decided to retreat from the area and develop a contingency plan. Thus followed a sense of victory in the peoples' ability to back down the Police Dept. By this time, most of Houston became aware of the standoff between PPII and the Houston Police Dept. because of news flashes. People from all over the city's Black communities poured into the 2800 block of Dowling Street to offer support. Many brothers, feeling a sense of pride and strength, brought weapons and enlisted themselves to do battle. There were also mothers and sisters who came with prepared food to offer the defiant soldiers. As days wore on, everyone had become fatigued, tense and weary waiting for the inevitable. Also waiting for and observing those conditions, the Houston Police Dept. and other collaborating intelligence agencies made a decision to recapture the area by using a well planned, pre-calculated military maneuver to assassinate Carl.

On day ten, Sunday July 26, several intelligence officers armed with high-powered telescopic rifles secretly gained access to the roof of St. Johns Baptist Church. It was the tallest building in the same block as the Headquarters and would provide the tactical advantage to hold off any return fire and to execute the assassination. As nightfall approached, Carl was speaking to a crowd of about 100 people at a spontaneous rally in front of the office. The rally was called to raise bail money for two brothers who were arrested earlier. A car speeding by with two women in it shouted out that white men were shooting from the roof of the church. Carl quickly dismissed the crowd out of concern for their safety. He asked Roy Bartee Haile, leader of John Brown Revolutionary League (JBRL) if any of his members were on top of the church. JBRL was a white revolutionary organization that was a part of the "Rainbow Coalition"[2] that Carl successfully organized. Shortly after hearing about the standoff, armed members of JBRL also came out to show support. Upon finding out that it was not JBRL people, Carl valiantly picked up his M-1 carbine rifle and proceeded to investigate. Several people accompanied him. As he attempted to cross the street to get a better look, Howard Dupree, a white news reporter for Radio Station "KULF" who was also on the church roof, pointed him out to the snipers. Dupree was granted an interview by Carl a day or two earlier, thereby making him an accomplice in the assassination because of his ability to positively identify him. The conspirators, using night vision scopes, shot Carl several times in the stomach and chest with illegal hollow point dum-dum bullets. As Carl's body lie helplessly bleeding in the middle of the street, a very courageous sister darted through the rain of bullets to retrieve him. She dragged Carl to her car and rushed him to Ben Taub General Hospital in a futile attempt to save his life. It was there in the emergency room that he died. Several hundred riot-gear equipped police sealed off a 10 square block radius and swept through the area. Throughout the night and into the dawn, over sixty people were arrested and detained for questioning.

Out of this tragic situation was formed a "Black Coalition." It consisted of mainstream Black organizations responding to the reign of terror inflicted on black people by the Houston Police Dept. The coalition urged a boycott of businesses downtown. The boycott failed due to the impotent and unsustained efforts of its organizers. By making the Supreme Sacrifice and Surrendering his life to the Revolution, Carl became a martyr for our inevitable liberation.

Carl lives!!!

Long Live the Revolutionary Spirit of Carl Hampton!!!

-- Charles (BOKO) Freemen

[1] In 1969, Carl organized People's Party II. Prior to that he had worked in the Black Panther Party (Oakland, CA). Enthused and inspired by that experience, he returned to Houston to organize a Chapter. During that time, the leadership of the BPP decided against opening new chapters because of inability to effectively manage any new growth. Prior to that, there was explosive growth nationally. Carl, disappointed but undaunted by this decision and recognizing the Black Panther Party as the first People's Party, chose the name People's Party II. Maintaining the ideology and programs of the BPP and circulating "The Black Panther Newspaper", the newly formed group was in spirit, but not name, the BPP. A short time after Carl's death, PPII became the official Houston Chapter of the Black Panther Party.

[2] The Rainbow Coalition was formed in 1969 by Carl Hampton. It was a multiracial alliance that organized around issues that not only impacted the Black Communities but the Brown and poor White communities as well. It consisted of PPII, Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) and JBRL.