Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush began his political career not as a Democrat but as a leader in the Black Panthers. He had a front-row seat for the turbulence of the late 1960s in Chicago, the epicenter of violence between police and protesters. He became the chapter’s head when police killed Fred Hampton, the Panthers’ leader.
As bad as cops were then, Rush thinks they’re worse now.
“The police department is probably more vicious now than even in the ‘60s,” Rush told VICE News in an interview. “There’s more of an institutional protection: The FOP, the Fraternal Order of Police, and other organized reactionary right-wing structures protecting the police departments.”
On the day Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968, Rush went AWOL from the Army to help his community. He was there as parts of the city burned in riots, working to keep the peace in his neighborhood. And he while he tried to keep black people away from protests outside the Democratic National Convention so they wouldn’t become police targets, he witnessed as police attacked peaceful protesters demonstrating against the war in Vietnam later that summer.
A year later, police raided the apartment where Fred Hampton lived, and shot him to death. Police claimed they’d been involved in a shootout with Black Panthers, but a later federal report found that officers fired almost 100 shots to just one from a Black Panther. Rush, who cofounded the Illinois Black Panthers chapter with Hampton, was supposed to have been at the apartment, but left earlier that night. And by the time police arrived at Rush’s home, he’d gone into temporary hiding.
Many have drawn comparisons from the Black Lives Matter protests gripping America to the turbulent period of the late 1960s. Rush sees some direct parallels between how police attacked peaceful protesters then and how officers aggressively cleared peaceful demonstrators from the White House last week so President Trump could have a photo op in front of a historic church.
“That reminded me of 1968, when the police were as responsible for the rioting,” he said.
Watch to see what he thinks of comparisons between Trump and President Nixon — and what he thinks has changed, and has stayed the same, on racial justice and policing in the half-century he’s been in politics.
Cover: In this June 4, 1969, file photo, Bobby Rush, deputy defense minister of the Illinois Black Panther party, center, reads a statement at a news conference after an early morning raid on Chicago Panther headquarters by FBI agents. (AP Photo/EK, File)