Protest

Chicago 1968: A Riot by the Cops

“Wednesday at twilight the pigs rioted against the people. The police charged into about 5000 anti-war demonstrators; they did not try to arrest people, but tried to maim people”

by

The Streets of Daleyland

CHICAGO — Pigs. Until Wednes­day night this was just a Move­ment nickname for the police. A satisfying exaggeration. An example of in-group argot. A verbal gesture of solidarity with the Black Panthers. But Wednesday night on the streets of Daleyland, pigs became a precise descrip­tion. The Chicago police, with their thick heads, small eyes, and beery jowls, actually resemble pigs. And they surely behaved like animals in this city famous for its stockyards.

Wednesday at twilight the pigs rioted against the people. The police charged into about 5000 anti-war demonstrators; they did not try to arrest people, but tried to maim people. They gleefully used fists, nightsticks, and tear gas against unarmed students, girls, and photographers who did not offer any resistance.

The light gray smoke from the exploding tear gas canisters was the first omen of violence. The suffocating, burning tear gas curled lazily up toward the upper floors of the Hilton and Black­stone hotels. The young demon­strators began choking, covering their faces with handkerchiefs and jackets, and grudgingly re­treated. Then the blue-helmeted police charged into the coughing, tearing people, swinging indis­criminately at Yippies, pedestri­ans, priests, photographers, girls, doctors, and middle-aged women.

At the southwest entrance to the Hilton, a skinny, long-haired kid of about 17 skidded down on the sidewalk, and four over­weight cops leaped on him, bring­ing their long black nightsticks down in short, chopping strokes on his head. His hair flew from the force of the blows. A dozen small rivulets of blood began to cascade down the kid’s temple and onto the sidewalk. He was not crying or screaming, but crawling in a stupor toward the gutter. When he saw a photo­grapher taking a picture, he made a V sign with his fingers.

A doctor in a white uniform and red cross arm band began to run toward the kid, but two other cops caught him from behind and knocked him down. One of them jammed his knee into the doctor’s throat and began clubbing his rib cage. The doctor squirmed away, but the cops fol­lowed him, swinging hard, some­times missing.

A few feet away a phalanx of police charged into a group of women, reporters, and young McCarthy activists standing idly against the window of the Hilton Hotel’s Haymarket bar. The ter­rified people began to go down under the unexpected police charge when the plate glass window of the bar shattered, and the people tumbled backward through the glass. The police then climbed through the broken window and began to beat people, some of whom had been drinking quietly in the hotel bar.

At the side entrance of the Hilton Hotel four cops were chas­ing one frightened kid of about 17. Suddenly, Fred Dutton, a former aide to Robert Kennedy, moved out from under the mar­quee and interposed his body between the kid and the police.

“He’s my guest my in this hotel,” Dutton told the cops.

The police started to club the kid.

Dutton screamed for the first cop’s name and badge number. The cop grabbed Dutton and be­gan to arrest him, until a Washington Post reporter identified Dutton as a former RFK aide.

Demonstrators, reporters, McCarthy workers, doctors, all be­gan to stagger into the Hilton lobby, blood streaming from face and head wounds. The lobby smelled from tear gas, and stink bombs dropped by the Yippies. A few people began to direct the wounded to a make shift hospital on the 15th floor, the McCarthy staff headquarters.

Fred Dutton was screaming at the police, and at the journalists to report all the “sadism and brutality.” Richard Goodwin, the ashen nub of a cigar sticking out of his fatigued face, mumbled, “This is just the beginning. There’ll be four years of this.”

The defiant kids began a slow, orderly retreat back up Michigan Avenue. They did not run. They did not panic. They did not fight back. As they fell back they help­ed pick up fallen comrades who were beaten or gassed. Suddenly, a plainclothesman dressed as a soldier moved out of the shadows and knocked one kid down with an overhand punch. The kid squatted on the pavement of Michigan Avenue, trying to cover his face, while the Chicago plain­clothesman punched him with savage accuracy. Thud, thud, thud. Blotches of blood spread over the kid’s face. Two photo­graphers moved in. Several police formed a closed circle around the beating to prevent pictures. One of the policemen then squirted Chemical Mace at the photographers, who dispersed. The plainclothesman melted into the line of police. And the kid sat in a dazed crouch on the sidewalk bleeding, cursing the “pigs.”

Back at the Hilton, a pretty girl, a campaign worker for Sena­tor McGovern, began to cross the narrow street between the Black­stone and Hilton hotels. She was on errand for the Senator. With­out warning, two plainclothesmen ran into her, knocking her down, and then kneed her in the neck.

Upstairs on the 15th floor, the girls who worked for Senator McCarthy were treating the bloody and the sick. They were ripping up Conrad Hilton’s bed­sheets and using them as gauze and bandages. Jerome Grossman, a bureaucrat in the McCarthy campaign, asked them not to destroy hotel property, but no­body paid attention to him. A lot of the girls had bloodstains on their dresses, legs, and arms.

On the 16th floor an incensed reporter was throwing hotel ash­trays at the police below. When he tried to wave a sheet out of the window at the kids, the up­tight Newsweek editors threw him out of their work roam.

An hour after the police riot, the kids began to straggle back to the Hilton Hotel in twos and threes. They had balls, but no bravado. They hadn’t slept for days, and most of them were still in their teens. Slowly, they began to form a circle on the grass across the street in Grant Park, a few feet away from a grim line of 400 National Guards­men. As the darkness deepened, the group of battered demonstra­tors began to grow from 50, to 200, to more than 1000. They chanted “oink, oink” at the pigs. They chanted “join us, join us” to the McCarthy staffers inside the Hilton. And they sang songs like “This Land Is Your Land” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” as Hubert Humphrey was being no­minated six miles away on the votes supplied by Mayor Daley, Governor Connally, and George Meany.

***

The Left should regard Hum­phrey’s nomination as undemo­cratic and illegitimate. He was unwilling to face the voters in a single primary election. In Indiana, South Dakota, California, and New York, where his stand-­ins were on the ballot, they re­ceived, on the average, less than 20 per cent of the vote. In South Dakota, Humphrey’s native state, Robert Kennedy won more than 50 per cent of the vote. At the convention itself, Governor Con­nally, Mayor Daley, and George Meany controlled the votes of more delegates than did the seven million Democrats who voted for Senators McCarthy and Kennedy in the Presidential primaries.

In other examples of the total­itarian atmosphere and mood of the convention, the public — except for Daley supporters — were barred from sitting in the galleries. Humphrey refused to debate his opponents. Mayor Daley denied citizens the right of peaceful as­sembly and free speech. Televis­ion cameras were barred from the streets. Newsmen and photographers were beaten by police. Pro-McCarthy delegates were harassed on the floor of the con­vention. Allard Lowenstein was prevented from seconding Julian Bond’s nomination for Vice-Pre­sident. Microphones of dissenting delegates were turned off by the convention managers on the podi­um. And in the final burst of police state arrogance, McCarthy’s staff members were beaten in their rooms.

The commentators of the plastic center — men like Bill Moyers and Eric Sevareld — now talk as if blame for the violence is to be distributed equally, like food on a platter, and that Hum­phrey’s nomination is to be ac­cepted. They admit “some police over-reacted,” and try to balance that with mathematical fairness by accepting Mayor Daley’s des­cription of the demonstration leaders as “terrorists and ass­assins.”

But we believe that the police were responsible for the violence, and Humphrey’s nomination should not be accepted as legiti­mate. The people in the streets were unarmed and did not come to assassinate anyone. They came to march, and Mayor Daley would not give them a permit or even a place to hold a public rally. It was Mayor Daley and the con­vention’s managers who vio­lated law and order. The spirit of democracy was more alive in Grant Park than inside the convention.

All that’s left now is to act on the illegitimacy of Humphrey’s nomination, and treat him like a pretender rather than a nominee.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 30, 2020

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