Judas and the Black Messiah

Over the weekend I watched a new movie on HBO Max called Judas and the Black Messiah and it has become one of my new favorite movies. It is a historical drama based on the activism of Black Panther Fred Hampton and how FBI informant William O’ Neal contributed to his assassination. Before this movie, I didn’t know much about the Black Panther Party nor had I ever heard of William O’Neal. One thing that stood out to me during the movie was Fred Hampton’s age as well as his peers in the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Hampton was 21 when he was assassinated and many of his peers were 21 and younger at the height of their activism. I am their age and could not imagine leading a revolution at the age of 20 or younger. William O’Neal was around 17 at the time of his infiltration of the BPP but I thought he seemed so old in the movie. I would’ve thought he was around 25 or 30 but he was so much younger. He became an informant after he was caught stealing cars and an FBI agent gave him the choice of five years in jail or helping the FBI take down Fred Hampton. I could understand why he made the decision he did, being that he was only 17 and had never been to jail before. There is a scene in the movie where J. Edgar Hoover talks to the agents in Chicago who are planning Hampton’s arrest, and tells them that Hampton has become too popular and they have to do more than arrest him. It was at this moment that I realized that the plan to kill him had probably been in motion long before the events of the movie took place. Fred Hampton was gaining national attention and united people of all races to stand against police brutality, much to the dismay of the FBI. Something tells me that William O’Neal was not made knows of the plan to kill Hampton, but actions are still unforgivable in my opinion. O’ Neal killed himself on January 15, 1990, the night his first interview aired on television. A close relative told the media that he was tortured by the guilt of his actions which led to his suicide. I am not surprised by this especially because black people who cooperate with the police are not respected in the black community once they have done so. Fred Hampton had so much life to live and for it to be taken with the help of someone he thought was a friend and ally is very saddening. Watching the movie has also made me feel a little self-conscious about the work I’m doing. I feel like I am not doing enough to be my age. Fred Hampton and other members of the BPP were holding marches are advancing their community in their early twenties, but what am I doing currently? Should I be doing the same thing? Should I be more active in the community? I should also remember, though, that times were much different at the time of the BPP. Hampton and many other activists strived for a society where black people could advance and I think social media halted the need for people like this. It’s so easy to be an Instagram or Twitter activist and not believe anything you claim to be fighting for because it’s over the internet. So many people have been outed as being fake believers of the ideas they preach about on social media that it’s hard to tell who actually believes what they say. Social media has also made it harder for young people to see reality for what it is. Anyone can create a platform and spew whatever knowledge they feel they have on any topic they choose, but this does not mean they know what they’re talking about or that they will do anything to help their cause. It is so easy to take things at face value and not question things that may seem wrong when you’re young. During the existence of the BPP, there was no question of whether or not someone was “down for the cause”, except for informants like O’Neal. Those who you saw marching were the ones you believed to be fighting for the same thing you were and you didn’t really have to question it. I don’t see the trajectory of social media activism changing, but I hope that I’m wrong for the sake of the younger generation.

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