One month and 51 years ago, the Chicago Police Department, with the support of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cook County State’s Attorney, murdered my friend and ally Fred Hampton in cold blood, as he lay in bed alongside his pregnant girlfriend, Akua Njeri, who was fortunately not wounded.
The authorities attempted to paint young Fred as the number one terroristic threat to our nation. But we all now know, and most of the city of Chicago knew back then, that he was a champion for human rights. We founded the Illinois chapter Black Panther Party, bringing working-class people of all shades and colors together to form the original Rainbow Coalition to fight economic oppression, police brutality, and other social ills plaguing Chicago’s diverse population.
Fred Hampton’s death was the only official political assassination in our nation’s history, meant to intimidate Black Americans and others in the search for freedom, justice, and equality.
We knew justice for Fred would be elusive at the jury box, so we brought justice to the ballot box. Together, we were able to channel our anger and collective despair into political action, mobilizing Black voters throughout Illinois to cross party lines and vote State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan (Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley’s heir apparent) out of office, in what the New York Times deemed a “stunning blow” to the powerful Cook County Democratic Organization.
Over 50 years later and some 600 miles away, Ahmaud Arbery would suffer a similar fate at the hands of his fellow countrymen. And although Arbery was not the victim of a political assassination like my friend Chairman Fred, he was similarly brutalized and authorities in Arbery’s case took extraordinary steps to rob him and his family of justice following his death.
Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson — who was coincidentally appointed by David Perdue’s cousin, former Governor Sonny Perdue — slow-walked the investigation into Arbery’s death. She wasted precious time disclosing her conflict of interests related to the case, and following her eventual recusal, appointed a successor to handle the matter who also had similar conflicts.
Johnson attempted to defend her actions, but Brunswick voters had seen enough and went on to elect her opponent, prosecutor Keith Higgins, by 5,000 votes.
With the critical Senate runoff elections less than a day away, it is imperative that voters in Georgia, particularly Black voters, understand the collective power they wield at the ballot box. Especially when we consider that the same injustices that took the lives of Fred Hampton and Ahmaud Arbery — police and racial violence — are the same injustices that Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue refuse to acknowledge.
Those same Senators have downplayed the deadliness of the COVID-19 pandemic, a disease which has killed neary 10,000 Georgians and disproportionately harms Black Americans.
And those same Senators refuse to pass legislation like my bill, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which, in my view, would have made Ahmaud’s death a lynching under federal law.
As Fred Hampton would often say, you can kill a revolutionary, but you cannot kill the revolution. Tomorrow, Black voters have the power to make this revolution a reality by voting to elect Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock and flipping the Senate in the process.
The anguish and pain we have felt after the unjust murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Fred Hampton, and countless others is deep and profound, but so is our ability to bring change and hold those accountable who have done our communities harm, as well as those who are unwilling or unable to help us.
The story of this past election rightfully focused on the decisive victory Black voters and diverse coalitions across the country delivered to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, particularly here in Georgia. However, our work is far from over. I implore Black voters in Georgia to finish what they started in November and save the Senate this January.
Congressman Bobby L. Rush is a Democrat representing Illinois’ 1st District. He is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chairman of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy, and sits on the Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. Congressman Rush was born in Albany, Georgia, before moving to Chicago in 1953.