Posted on March 1, 2006

Street Name: ‘Embarrassment’ or Fair Tribute?

Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, March 1, 2006

It’s been 37 years since Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were gunned down by police working under Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan in an infamous raid at Hampton’s West Side apartment.

But judging from the nerve Ald. Madeline Haithcock (2nd) touched when she proposed naming a street for Hampton, you’d think the raid had happened yesterday.

“We’re engaged in battle now,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago), a former Black Panther defense minister who said he fully supports Haithcock’s proposal and “will stand right beside her and, if necessary, I will stand in front of her.”

“I didn’t seek this fight,” Rush said. “I didn’t go looking for this fight. But I am determined to fight for this street designation until the bitter end. It will become a reality in the city of Chicago.”

Fred Hampton — slain state chairman of the Black Panthers party that urged followers to “off the pigs” — would join the parade of Chicagoans afforded honorary street designations, under an ordinance advanced Monday that outraged the police union.

But the controversy had a lot of other Chicago politicians running for cover.

“It’s a no-winner. You end up getting somebody upset” no matter what you say, said West Side Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

South Side Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th) said she, too, had “nothing to say.”

“A lot of people feel very strongly about it. Why would you want to say something that gets the police people mad at you? And I don’t want to do anything to get people who supported the Black Panthers mad at me,” Lyle said.

Haithcock to wait a month

Former Mayor Richard J. Daley considered the Black Panthers a street gang and among those he held responsible for the looting and burning that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

But Richard M. Daley didn’t want to touch the controversy for fear for alienating black voters.

“Everybody has a right to name things. . .. I don’t go down the list. . .. There’s so many of them. . .. We’ve got honorary after honorary. We’ve got some [streets] that have five names. . . You see these honorariums going in every day now,” Daley said, calling the designation a “local matter.”