Reporters beaten by police
The 1968 Democratic National Convention of the U.S. Democratic Party was held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois, from August 26 to August 29, 1968. Because Democratic President Lyndon Johnson had announced he would not seek a second term, the purpose of the convention was to select a new nominee to run as the Democratic Party’s candidate for the office. The keynote speaker was Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
The convention was held during a year of violence, political turbulence, and civil unrest, particularly riots in more than 100 cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4.
The convention also followed the assassination of Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who had been murdered on June 5.
Both Kennedy and Senator Eugene McCarthy had been running against the eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey.
Chicago's mayor, Richard J. Daley, intended to showcase his and the city's achievements to national Democrats and the news media. Instead, the proceedings became notorious for the large number of demonstrators and the use of force by the Chicago police during what was supposed to be, in the words of the Yippie activist organizers, “A Festival of Life.”
Rioting took place between demonstrators and the Chicago Police Department, who were assisted by the Illinois National Guard. The disturbances were well publicized by the mass media, with some journalists and reporters being caught up in the violence. Network newsmen Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were both roughed up by the Chicago police while inside the halls of the Democratic Convention.
The Democratic Presidential Nominating Convention had been held in Chicago just 12 years earlier.
Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley had played an integral role in the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 by being the man who was able to turn out enough voters to win Illinois for Kennedy, the first Catholic U.S. president.
In 1968, however, it did not seem that Daley had maintained the clout which would allow him to bring out the voters again to produce a Democratic victory as he had in 1960. On October 7, 1967, at a one thousand dollars a plate fundraiser for President Johnson’s reelection campaign, Daley and Johnson met together for a private meeting. During the meeting, Daley explained to the president that in the 1966 congressional races, there had been a disappointing showing of Democrats, and that if the convention were not held in Illinois, that the president might lose the swing state with its twenty-seven electoral votes.
Johnson’s war policies had already created a great division within the party, and with the selection of Chicago for the convention, Johnson hoped that there would not be a need for him to confront any more opposition. The Committee head for selecting the location, New Jersey Democrat David Wilentz, gave the official reason for choosing Chicago as, “It is centrally located geographically which will reduce transportation costs and because it has been the site of national conventions for both Parties in the past and is therefore attuned to holding them.”
In the end, however, the conversation between Johnson and Daley had been leaked to the press and published in the Chicago Tribune and several other papers.
While trying to interview a Georgia delegate who was being escorted out of the building, CBS News correspondent Dan Rather was grabbed by security guards and was roughed up.
While Rather was reporting from the convention floor, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite turned his attention towards the area where Rather was reporting from and Rather was grabbed by security guards after he walked towards a delegate who was being hauled out and asked him "what is your name sir?"
Rather, who was wearing a microphone headset, was then heard on national television repeatedly saying "don't push me" and "take your hands off me unless you plan to arrest me" to the guards.
The guards then roughed up Rather and one of them punched him in the stomach. After the guards let go of Rather, Rather then told Cronkite "Walter... we tried to talk to the man and we got violently pushed out of the way. This is the kind of thing that has been going on outside the hall, this is the first time we've had it happen inside the hall. We... I'm sorry to be out of breath, but somebody belted me in the stomach during that. What happened is a Georgia delegate, at least he had a Georgia delegate sign on, was being hauled out of the hall. We tried to talk to him to see why, who he was, what the situation was, and at that instant the security people, well as you can see, put me on the deck. I didn't do very well." Cronkite then replied by saying "I think we've got a bunch of thugs here, Dan."
In 1967, the Yippie movement had already begun planning a youth festival in Chicago to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. They were not alone; other groups, such as Students For a Democratic Society and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, also made their presence known. When asked about anti-war demonstrators, Daley kept repeating to reporters that “No thousands will come to our city and take over our streets, or city, our convention.”
In the end, 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Chicago for the convention where they were met by 23,000 police and National Guardsmen.
Daley also thought that one way to prevent demonstrators from coming to Chicago was to refuse to grant permits which would allow for people to protest legally.
After the violence which took place at the Chicago convention, Daley claimed his primary reason for calling in so many Guardsmen and police was reports he received indicating the existence of plots to assassinate many of the leaders, including himself.
While several protests had taken place before serious violence occurred, the events headed by the Yippies were not without comedy. Surrounded by reporters on August 23, 1968, Jerry Rubin, a Yippie leader, folk singer Phil Ochs, and other activists held their own presidential nominating convention with their candidate Pigasus, an actual pig. When the Yippies paraded Pigasus at the Civic Center, ten policemen arrested Rubin, Pigasus, and six others. This resulted in Pigasus becoming a media hit.
August 28, 1968 came to be known as the day a “police riot” took place. The title of “police riot” came out of the Walker Report, which amassed a great deal of information and eyewitness accounts to determine what happened in Chicago. At approximately 3:30 pm, a young boy lowered the American flag at a legal rally taking place at Grant Park. The demonstration was made up of 10,000 protesters.
The police broke through the crowd and began beating the boy, while the crowd pelted the police with food, rocks, and chunks of concrete. The biggest clash in Chicago took place that day. Police fought with the protesters and vice versa. The chants of the protesters shifted from “Hell no, we won’t go” to “Pigs are whores.”
Tom Hayden, one of the leaders of Students for a Democratic Society, encouraged protesters to move out of the park to ensure that if they were to be tear gassed, the whole city would be tear gassed, and made sure that if blood were spilled in Chicago it would happen throughout the city.
The amount of tear gas used to suppress the protesters was so great that it eventually made its way to the Hilton Hotel, where it disturbed Hubert Humphrey while in his shower. The police sprayed demonstrators and bystanders indiscriminately with Mace. The police assault in front of the Hilton Hotel became the most famous image of the Chicago demonstrations of 1968. The entire event took place live under the T.V. lights for seventeen minutes with the crowd shouting, “The whole world is watching.”
Meanwhile, in the convention hall, Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff used his nominating speech for George McGovern to tell of the violence going on outside the convention hall, saying that “with George McGovern we wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago.”
Mayor Daley responded to his remark with something that the T.V. sound was not able to pick up, but it was later revealed by lip-readers that Daley had cursed “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch! You lousy motherfucker! Go home!”
That night, NBC News had been switching back and forth between the demonstrators being beaten by the police to the festivities over Humphrey’s victory in the convention hall.
It was under the cameras of the convention center, for all of America to see. It was clear that the Democratic party was sorely divided. After the Chicago protests, the demonstrators were confident that the majority of Americans would side with them over what had happened in Chicago, especially because of police behavior. They were shocked to learn that controversy over the war in Vietnam overshadowed their cause.
Daley claimed to have received 135,000 letters supporting his actions and only 5000 condemning them. Public opinion polls demonstrated that the majority of Americans supported the Mayor’s tactics.
After Chicago, the Justice Department meted out conspiracy and incitement to riot charges in connection with the violence at Chicago and gave birth to the Chicago Eight, which consisted of Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Jerry Rubin, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale.
Demonstrations were held daily during the trial and were organized by the Young Lords and the local Black Panther Party led by Chairman Fred Hampton. In February 1970, five of the Iowa Conspiracy defendants were convicted on the charge of intent to incite a riot while crossing state lines, but none were found guilty of conspiracy. Judge Julius Hoffman sentenced all of the defendants and their attorneys to unprecedented prison terms ranging from two-and-a-half months to four years for contempt of court. The convictions were eventually reversed on appeal, and the government declined to bring the case to trial again.