Did Chicago Police Urinate on Food for a Black Panthers Free Breakfast Program in 1969?

On April 29 2019, a researcher shared the following tweet showing a screenshot of text reporting that in 1969, police in Chicago had urinated on food and supplies gathered by the Black Panthers for a free breakfast program:

In addition to spreading widely on Twitter, a Facebook screenshot of the tweet (archived here) shared by Revolution News one day later accrued thousands of shares of its own:

Perhaps the largest spike of interest resulting from the tweet occurred on Reddit, where a user submitted a link to a different iteration of the claim to r/todayilearned on April 30 2019:

From there, the claim got tremendous amounts of Reddit engagement — until a moderator (who subsequently deleted their account) removed the popular thread. In a comment explanation, u/manbra claimed:

Removed. This sub will not become a battle ground for your culture war. It’s for fun facts and Steve busciemi firefighter reposts. I will happily reapprove if someone posts corroborative evidence. IDisLikeYourMeta said it best:

Edit: This thread is being brigaded by chapotraphouse. Since removing this post due to lack of evidence I’ve received many PMs and pings of harassment, one saying he wants to track me down and find me, and another straight up death threat.

In shorter that title should be: Today I Learned Nothing and Assumed Facts Based on My Political Beliefs Rather Than Evidence.

Looking this up online finds no evidence to support this claim. Not surprising, since it’s coming from the “Black Panthers”. Could it have happened? Sure. Not all cops are good, just like not all are bad. But come on. No cops are randomly going to be breaking into a CHURCH to PISS IN CHILDREN’S FOOD for NO REASON. Context and evidence are crucial and there’s none provided here, like anything to do with race or religion or sexuality or politics nowadays. Someone says something, the people that support it blindly agree because work is hard and nobody wants to be proven wrong.

For one, the post calling this out is from a white woman on Twitter:

It’s supposedly from a book written ten fucking years ago about something that happened long before that, that I’m not going to waste my time looking into further than I already have:

Apparently everyone wants to be outraged about it right now, despite you know, not having ANY evidence to support it aside from the word of a hate group affiliate and it being A DECADE FUCKING OLD. Come the fuck on people.

As u/manbra indicated, a popular thread on r/ChapoTrapHouse objected to the deletion of the original post:

Beneath the deletion comment on the original thread was a series of missing comments. An archived version of the comment thread showed that a moderator had manually removed whichever comments were missing. As of May 1 2019, archived posts linked to previous posts from u/manbra showed comments expressing a wish for “a white ethno-state,” while others included racial slurs.

Multiple sources were cited in support of the claim about Chicago police and the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program in 1969. One was an August 2018 article, “How the Black Panthers’ Breakfast Program Both Inspired and Threatened the Government.” That article contained a link to a 2016 piece, “The Radical Origins of Free Breakfast for Children.”

The claims about Chicago police urinating on food intended for disadvantaged children was not present in that article, but it did include details about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s interest in purportedly disrupting the program for political reasons:

Mary Bridges, an Oakland resident, grew up in St. Augustine’s church, where her father was at one point the congregation’s minister. She remembers St. Augustine’s becoming a highly surveilled, contentious space when Black Panthers started meeting there in the late 1960s. Church elders, particularly, “took a long time to come around to the fact that the Panthers were going to meet there and that they had a viable program,” she says.

Meanwhile, visits from the police became more and more frequent as Party members started organizing out of the space and providing free breakfast to children, Bridges says. Her account is consistent with documentation from that era. A memo from J. Edgar Hoover to a San Francisco surveillance officer in 1969, republished in Bloom’s Black Against Empire, demonstrates that Hoover wanted to disrupt the Breakfast Program exactly because it was effective and popular with moderate community members.

“One of our primary aims in counterintelligence as it concerns the [Black Panther Party] is to keep this group isolated from the moderate black and white community which may support it,” Hoover wrote on May 27, 1969. “This is most emphatically pointed out in their Breakfast for Children Program, where they are actively soliciting and receiving support from uninformed whites and moderate blacks.” By November, the Panthers reported that the program had spread to 23 cities. Between 1969 and 1970, the party claimed to have distributed free breakfast to 20,000 kids.

In the post quoted by u/manbra, another commenter said that the claim was “supposedly from a book written ten fucking years ago about something that happened long before that.”

In fact, the claim appeared in a May 2009 scholarly article published in Annals of the Association of American Geographers. That article, “Bending the Bars of Empire from Every Ghetto for Survival: The Black Panther Party’s Radical Antihunger Politics of Social Reproduction and Scale,” contained a passage collected by urban geography professor and author Nik Heynen. Heynan’s well-cited research tracked with the above-excerpted reporting involving J. Edgar Hoover’s desire to sabotage the Panthers’ outreach:

The sweeping influence of the Breakfast Program, as a central achievement of the evolution of “pussy power” within the party, had led to increased strategic interference and infiltration by the FBI in an attempt to “disrupt, discredit, and destroy” the BPP through its COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) operation (see Churchill and Vander Wall 1990). It was a result of the growing popularity of the program that in 1968 J. Edgar Hoover vilified the BPP as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” (Churchill and Vander Wall 1990, 123). On 27 April 1969, Fred Hampton, who cofounded the Chicago chapter of the BPP, gave a fiery polemic that embodied “what the Black Panther Party is about.” [Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred] Hampton’s speech began with a discussion of the BPP’s Breakfast Program and linked the starvation of children across American inner cities to the destructive contradictions inherent in capitalism and the uneven development it produces. He discussed the revolutionary steps the BPP was taking to ensure that poor children had enough food to meet their basic material requirements for survival. In so doing, Hampton articulated the ideological conflict that had materialized between the BPP and the U.S. government …

… Shortly after Hampton’s speech, on 27 May 1969, a memo signed by J. Edgar Hoover, although actually written by Domestic Intelligence Chief William C. Sullivan, was sent to Charles Bates, the Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco office of the FBI. The memo, emblematic of the degree to which the United States saw the BPP as a threat to its notion of empire, declared: You state that the bureau should not attack programs of community interest such as the BPP “Breakfast for Children Program.”… You have obviously missed the point. The BPP is not engaged in the program for humanitarian reasons. This program was formed by the BPP … to create an image of civility, assume community control of Negroes, and fill adolescent children with their insidious poison. (Churchill and Vander Wall 1990, 145)

Heynen continued, drawing on interviews he did with individuals involved in the program:

One female former Panther who worked in Chicago told me about how efforts to disrupt the Breakfast Program backfired, and only served to rally support and increase grassroots mobilization around the program. She told me:

It was a lot of organizing because of course we had to go out and find people to give us food for the program and all that. … Anyways, the night before it [the first breakfast program in Chicago] was supposed to open, the Chicago police broke into the church where we had the food and mashed up all the food and urinated on it. So we had to delay the opening. But what that caused was just all kinds of attention, and people were just lining up to give us donations.

Urinating on food designated for children is callous and speaks to how the ideological struggles around social reproduction were intensifying, but efforts to impede the success of the Breakfast Program, as well as their other self-help programs, took a dramatic turn on 4 December 1969 when Fred Hampton was assassinated by the Chicago Police in coordination with the FBI.

In the removal post on Reddit, u/manbra quoted another user’s claim that “no cops are randomly going to be breaking into a CHURCH to PISS IN CHILDREN’S FOOD for NO REASON.” But other records indicate that Hoover sent a memo to dozens of FBI field offices in May 1969 with specific directives to harm the Black Panthers’ breakfast program:

Hoover perpetuated that image when he declared all out war on the Black Panthers. In May of 1969 Hoover sent a memo to all FBI offices that read:

“The BCP (Breakfast for Children Program) promotes at least tacit support for the Black Panther Party among naive individuals and, what is more distressing, it provides the BPP with a ready audience composed of highly impressionable youths. Consequently, the BCP represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for.”

Although u/manbra quoted another Redditor’s claim that the story about sabotage of the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program came from “a book written ten fucking years ago,” the claim actually originated in a very well-supported journal article written by respected researcher Nik Heynen. Not only was Heynen’s research from which the claim was drawn credible, but the events in question (FBI and police opposition to and sabotage of the Black Panthers’ free breakfast outreach program) were substantiated by the historical record.

Nevertheless, we contacted Heynen to request additional information on the claim and will update if we receive a response.