Tuesday, August 28, 2018

‘Whole world was watching’ Chicago 50 years ago; does it still care now?

I was a mere child just a few days away from my third birthday on the days some 50 years ago this week when the Chicago police engaged in their officially riotous behavior that included use of so much tear gas that even patrons of the upscale Conrad Hilton Hotel wound up impacted.

History Museum artifacts of convention protests
For that matter, it was exactly five decades ago Tuesday that the protests taking place to express objections to U.S policy in Vietnam reached the peak of some protesters being thrown through the glass of the hotel’s front windows – and some protesters who tried fleeing police beatings wound up being dragged back outside the hotel before being administered a walloping in the name of “law and order.”

I’VE HEARD THE stories throughout my life, and those images pop into my head every time I have reason to walk past the hotel. Trying to envision the carnage that occurred in a stretch of Michigan Avenue that would like to think itself too refined for such uncouth behavior.

It definitely was not the typical presidential nominating convention such as the one held in Chicago 28 years later – that event held at the United Center felt like a political pep rally and I recall many people wishing their access to the arena included a pass to the team clubhouses so they could stop by and check out Michael Jordan’s locker.
What was supposed to happen

But it caught my attention that amongst all the stories being published in recent weeks commemorating the fifth-decade anniversary (of sorts) of the event that some people are determined to put their own partisan political spin on what happened all those years ago.

Even from some who, like myself, only have second-hand memories and tales to tell of the events of the Democratic National Convention of ’68.

THE CONVENTION HAPPENINGS did eventually result in an investigation – one that found the police to be responsible for the outlandish and violent behavior that occurred. A “police riot” was the official term used to describe the events.
Convention craze incorporated into film

Even though then-Mayor Richard J. Daley always tried defending police behavior by citing it as “fact” that nobody was killed amongst the violence. As though he wanted to think police showed restraint in the way they conducted themselves.

Similar to those people who these days probably think police officer Joseph Van Dyke – who is set to go on trial in a couple of weeks – was merely serving and protecting the Chicago populace when he fired all those shots into a teenager who may or may not have posed a physical threat to those nearby.

I don’t doubt there are people who think it was 50 years ago today that the world went haywire, and their idea of “Make America Great Again” includes returning to those days when a cop was a hero – and the perps all got what they deserved.
Convention outcome an afterthought?

I LITERALLY STUMBLED across an anonymous Internet comment recently about how it was the reporting of the convention happenings (both inside the International Amphitheater where the political rallies occurred and outside where the protests happened) that was flawed.

It was Walter Cronkite, this person wants to believe, who “lied” to the American people about what happened in Chicago, all as part of a plot to promote the anti-war message that the activists were trying to spread.

The “most trusted man in America” was supposedly an un-American freak? A conspiracy between the protesters and news media organizations?

It definitely seems like someone is trying to revise history in the image of The Donald; making sure our perception of past events coincides with this modern-day Age of Trump we’re all supposed to want to live in now.
THEN AGAIN, THE kind of people who want to believe this most likely are the grand-children of those gullible enough to believe all the Yippie-activist rhetoric of 50 years ago that they were going to spike the city’s drinking water supply (as in Lake Michigan) with LSD.

Which was something that activist Abbie Hoffman always encouraged because it would make he and his group seem much more powerful if they were actually capable of doing such a thing.

I don’t doubt that tales of protesters throwing bags of excrement at police have some bearing in truth. It was just the kind of behavior that would offend certain types of people into voting for Richard M. Nixon’s “law and order” platform and to thinking the only real wrong was that he was driven from office six years later.
As for the rest of us, we’ll wonder about the passage of time. And perhaps try to speculate on what Mayor Daley REALLY said in response to then-Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut when the latter accused the Chicago police of “Gestapo-like tactics” in their behavior of some five decades ago.


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