History is, or should be, recorded after exhaustive contemplation, but “The Murder of Fred Hampton,” the documentary about the slain Chicago Black Panther leader makes immediacy an attribute of history. Although it is unabashedly biased and it is flawed in technical execution, it emerges as a disturbingly somber illustration of some of the ills that beset us and our social system.
MGA, Inc., the producers, turned out a number of TV and other commercial subjects, including “American Revolution II,” a documentary about the teaming of the Chicago Black Panthers and the white Young Patriots, before starting on “Fred Hampton” in 1968 as a documentary study of the work of Hampton and his Panthers. With word of the shooting of Hampton and Fred Clark in a police raid on Panther headquarters on Dec. 4, 1969, Mr. Gray and his camera crew rushed to the scene. This footage, plus extensive TV documentation of the slayings and subsequent coverage, as well as the previous documentation of Hampton’s career, constitute a remarkable, if uneven, case history.
It is, in sum, an unleavened indictment of Edward V. Hanrahan, the Illinois State’s Attorney, the policemen in the raid and the Chicago political Establishment. It opens with the aftermath of the slaying and quickly switches back to Hampton, then 21 years old, and to Bobby Rush, Doc Satchel and other Panther leaders. Hampton, constantly haranguing his enthusiastic followers with, for example, “I believe I will he able to die as a revolutionary,” makes a startlingly prescient impression, even in the grainy, disjoined footage.