More than 50 years since police killing of Fred Hampton: Anti-Black racism remains deeply rooted in the United States and Canada

Amnesty International must honestly and openly confront concerns about anti-Black racism within our organization, historically and currently. We are moving towards meaningfully addressing systemic oppression, internally and externally, beginning with acknowledgment of allegations and harms. 

Activists against anti-Black racism in the United States and Canada have raised troubling questions about the possible role of Luis Kutner — said to have had leadership roles in the early years of Amnesty International and/or Amnesty International USA — in events that led to 21-year-old Black Panther leader Fred Hampton being shot and killed in December 1969 by the FBI and local police in Chicago.  FBI documents, declassified in 2018, reveal information Kutner provided to the FBI prior to the raid that resulted in Fred Hampton’s murder at the hands of police. 

Amnesty International has carried out a detailed review of its archives for the period in question. The recent statement released by Amnesty International USA clarifies that Luis Kutner was not a co-founder of Amnesty International, as has been frequently suggested publicly. He did for a short period of time serve as a member of an advisory committee within Amnesty International USA, but was not responsible for or involved in operations, governance or decision-making.  Amnesty International has seen nothing that would suggest that Luis Kutner’s role in the events that led to the killing of Fred Hampton was in any way connected to his advisory role with Amnesty International USA. There is nothing to indicate that Amnesty International had any knowledge or suspicions that Kutner was collaborating with or providing information of this nature to the FBI.   

The record is clear that the FBI committed human rights violations in operations against the Black Panther Party.  In 1981 Amnesty International released a global report, Proposal for a commission of inquiry into the effect of domestic intelligence activities on criminal trials in the United States. The report lays out Amnesty International’s serious concerns with respect to human rights violations committed by COINTELPRO (an FBI covert intelligence program) in operations targeting both the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement.  Amnesty International called for a Commission of Inquiry to be established, having concluded that, “COINTELPRO involved abuses of the criminal justice system, … COINTELPRO involve[d] specific violations of law, and the law and the constitution were ‘not given a thought’ under the FBI’s policies.” Amnesty International has also campaigned on behalf of unjustly imprisoned former Black Panther Party members, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Albert Woodfox

Critically, more than 50 years after his death, there has never been full justice and accountability for Fred Hampton’s killing. That is of concern to Amnesty International especially as Black people, including activists and organizers, continue to be unfairly surveilled, targeted, and killed with impunity by police in North America. A coroner’s inquest concluded that the police actions against Fred Hampton were justified, but this was based only on police and government witnesses and evidence.  A subsequent federal grand jury found the police raid to have been “ill-conceived” but went no further.  A lengthy civil trial that spanned twelve years and included an appeal to the United States Supreme Court eventually resulted in out of court settlements, including with Fred Hampton’s family, in 1982.  

It speaks to a history of impunity and racism that has been repeated time and time again in Canada as well when the justice system has been tasked with investigating police killings of Black and Indigenous people, and is again in the news with the announcement that Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit will not be pursuing charges against police in connection with the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto on May 27, 2020. 

This is not just of historical note. Fred Hampton’s murder at the hands of the FBI and Chicago-area police more than five decades ago underscores why it is so vital to insist that there be full justice and accountability as police killings of Black individuals continue at an alarming rate across the United States today. This must end. And it serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to tackle the systemic racism in Canada, including within police and justice systems, that harms Black and Indigenous communities. 

Amnesty International has not historically understood its role in both failing to address and perpetuating systemic anti-Black racism. While the organization may not have had anything to do with Fred Hampton’s death, there are still issues of concern about systemic racism internally within the organization and externally with respect to Amnesty’s human rights work that must lead to fundamental change. We commit to supporting and empowering Black communities in appropriate ways and unequivocally affirm as an organization that Black lives matter.