Forty-eight years ago, a rising star in Chicago's Black Panther Party was killed in a police raid, setting off a storm of controversy. On Dec. 4, 1969, a heavily armed police team shot 21-year-old Fred Hampton twice in the head from close range while he was asleep at a West Side apartment.

Hampton's death helped make him an improbable hero in Chicago's civil rights movement.

Born in Summitt, Illinois, Hampton became a local activist, serving as a youth organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He later became attracted to and joined the Black Panther Party.

Formed in 1966, the party immediately drew scrutiny and the ire of law enforcement organizations, particularly the FBI. The Black Panthers had formed in Oakland and encouraged armed observers to watch Oakland Police activities. The Black Panthers got into various shootouts with police in places like Chicago and Los Angeles. The group’s co-founder, Huey Newton, was charged with manslaughter for the killing of a police officer, but the conviction was overturned.

Hampton was seen as a charismatic leader which rocketed him to national leadership in the nascent Black Panther Party, but also drew the attention of the FBI.

After two Chicago police officers were killed in a gun battle with Black Panther members in November 1969, the FBI began setting up an arms raid on Hampton’s apartment. Police obtained a warrant to raid the apartment for illegal weapons. There was also evidence that showed an FBI informant who had infiltrated the Black Panthers drugged Hampton so that he wouldn’t wake up during the raid. Several Black Panthers, as well as Hampton’s pregnant girlfriend, slept at the apartment.

In the early morning raid, 14 police officers stormed the apartment shooting between 82 and 99 bullets while the Black Panthers reportedly shot one bullet. Hampton was killed, as was another Black Panther, Mark Clark. Clark was on “guard duty” and responsible for the only shot fired by a Black Panther — the result of a death spasm after he had been killed. An independent autopsy showed that Hampton was shot three times from close range while lying down, twice in the head and once in the shoulder. 

The seven other people in the apartment were wounded and beaten.

The raid was organized by Cook County State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan. A coroner’s panel ruled the two leader’s deaths to be justifiable homicides. A variety of guns were found in the apartment, but all charges against people in the apartment were eventually dropped. 

In 1970, a civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of the men’s families and the survivors of the raid. The trial would last 12 years and end with a $1.85 million settlement paid equally by Cook County, the city of Chicago and the federal government.

In 1972, Hanrahan was acquitted of obstructing justice and conspiracy to present false evidence.

Several historians allege that Hampton was assassinated by police and the FBI.

J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s director at the time, viewed the Black Panthers as one of the country’s greatest threats and undertook a massive effort to end the organization.