Black Panthers history prompts protest at Chicago City Council meeting

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Supporters of a proposal to commemorate slain Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton with an honorary street sign staged a raucous demonstration at City Hall on Wednesday, even as an influential alderman hinted he may allow a vote on the controversial issue.

Ald. Thomas Allen (38th), chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee, strongly suggested last week that he would not allow a vote on the measure sponsored by Ald. Madeline Haithcock (2nd) that would make a short stretch of West Monroe Street in her ward "Fred Hampton Way."

But on Wednesday, Allen appeared to open the door to a vote at the next council meeting on April 26.

"It is going to see its day in court," he said of the proposal. "It's just a matter of time. We are going to see what Ald. Haithcock wants to do. ... She can have it heard either coming out of my committee or she can move to discharge it," bringing it to the council floor herself if she can muster support from a majority of the council's 50 aldermen, Allen said.

"There is a lot of discussion going on behind the scenes," he said. "We'll see what happens in April."

Before Wednesday's City Council meeting, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), himself a one-time Panther Party official and Hampton colleague, held a City Hall news conference to announce a petition drive in support of a vote.

But Rush's comments repeatedly were cut short by an unidentified man with a bullhorn, who apparently came to the building with a group accompanying Hampton's son, Fred Hampton Jr.

"Bobby Rush had nothing to do with this," the man said of the street sign proposal, drowning out Rush in what quickly became a chaotic scene.

Rush ultimately tried to leave, retreating to an elevator. But until police officers on the scene cleared the way, the doors were kept open by Hampton Jr. supporters as the shouting continued.

Midway through the council meeting, a few dozen pro-Hampton demonstrators shouted and chanted outside the council chamber as police reinforcements were called.

Hampton accused Allen of doing the bidding of Mayor Richard Daley in blocking consideration of his father's honor.

"We say no justice, no peace as far as Daley or Allen," he declared. Allen asserted that he is "not doing anybody's bidding" on the sign issue, and Daley said, "I never talked to Allen about it."

But the mayor reiterated his belief that honorary signs, in general, "are a waste of time and money."

Some opponents contend that Hampton, killed in a 1969 law enforcement raid, should not be honored because of the Panthers' advocacy of violence against police.

Supporters of renaming the block where Hampton was killed said they want to honor him for being a leader in the black community who fed and clothed the poor.

After the council meeting, about 30 supporters accompanied Hampton Jr. as he taped a homemade sign to a light post near a cul-de-sac at Monroe Street and Western Avenue.

To chants of "black power" and "long live Chairman Fred," Hampton Jr. also taped a red, black and green African-American flag to the post.

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