There is no question that the riots in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic convention have made a vital and widespread contribution to the understanding of protest in America as well as the examination of political thought in our nation’s “second city”. The legacy of the 1968 riots and the trials of the Chicago 8 take on a special significance when one realizes that the very same park -Grant Park- the site of such political unrest, was also the very same park in which Barack Obama, the first African American President of the Unites States celebrated his election night.
Thanks to a wealth of photo archives, particularly documented and memorable are the events of those dog days of August 1968. I was not yet born but my mother remembers being caught in the midst of the crowd. My 14 year old brother was somewhere lost in the hysteria and he needed to be found before ‘he got himself killed by the pigs”. The “pigs” were the Chicago Police, enemy of hippies, freedom to protest, and the enemy of the black man. I grew up afraid of policemen thanks to brainwashing by my family and watching Serpico and The French Connection too many times. Police hated blacks and I should not go to them for help.
Suspicion of Chicago law enforcement was not confined to my family, everyone was fearful of the “swine flu”. It seems that today, 2009 it is still difficult for the citizens of Chicago to forget the role of the Chicago Police in silencing freedom:
By Lauren R. Harrison
June26, 2009More than 70 people gathered on the Near West Side Friday night at a protest a reunion of Chicago police officers who served during demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Organized by Chicago Copwatch, an activist organization that tries to document police misconduct, the peaceful demonstration lasted about an hour at the corner of West Washington Boulevard and North Bishop Street.
Police held protesters behind four blue barricades, and about 30 officers on foot and on bikes patrolled the area, located near the Fraternal Order of Police headquarters.
“No justice, no peace! No riot police!” protesters shouted, some in megaphones, others beating drums in sync. The protesters held signs saying “same stick, different Daley” and “Fight racism! Stop police brutality.”
A few months after the disturbances in 1968, a federally commissioned report found that demonstrators had provoked officers by cursing at them and throwing “rocks, sticks, bathroom tiles and even human feces.” But the report said officers reacted with “unrestrained and indiscriminate” violence in what amounted to a “police riot.”
Tillis said he recalled seeing the 1968 rioting on television. He said he came out tonight “because I fight police brutality, because I’ve been beaten by police.”
William Jaconetti, 66, a former Melrose Park police chief who also spent 38 years as a Chicago police officer, said he was a fresh face as an officer during the riots.
“It was a time in our city when Chicago police had to take a stand. And we did,” Jaconetti said, adding that rioters were violent toward police, some damaging cars nearby. “If you want to change things … don’t take over our streets.”
During tonight’s protest, hundreds of bicyclists from Critical Mass, a bicyclist activist organization, traveled east along Washington, some showing support for the protesters by chanting with them. Others said they were not involved in the protest and were just out for a bike ride.
Following the demonstration near the FOP lodge, protesters walked several blocks in the middle of the streets, sometimes spanning four lanes, walking through red lights and bringing traffic to a screeching halt behind them.
About four police officers on bicycles followed the crowd. One yelled, “Sidewalk guys, sidewalk … you don’t want to get locked up.”
“We pay for them with our taxes,” shouted one male demonstrator. “We own the streets!”
Police cars tried at least twice to block protesters off, but they changed directions. Demonstrators continued to chant anti-police slogans along the way.
Police News Affairs Michael Fitzpatrick said no arrests were made and the crowd dispersed around 9:45 p.m.
As you can see, breaking away from the traditional view of the policemen as foe proves to be difficult. Personally, I have relaxed my views on this somewhat. The 1960’s were tumultuous times and many of those men in blue were simply doing the jobs they were instructed to do by Mayor Daley. I am not sure, I would have protested against this reunion but I do find it ironic that the very people who fought to keep the 1968 protesters from gathering are themselves over 40 years later…gathering. In assuming a critical attitude against the reunion based upon my indirect and secondary photographic archive/Life Magazine memory, any protest on my part would be disingenuous if not naive.
I try not to fight battles for wounds that occurred before my time. The fact that the 1968 policemen are having a reunion at all offers some proof that they were just as affected by this event as the protesters. Collective trauma can take many different forms. Current historiography suggests that in the aftermath of war, the oppressor can suffer from psychological trauma just as much as the victims. I think the movie The Reader illustrates a fine example of such an occurrence. Chicago Copwatch would have been more effective by opening a dialogue of healing. How about asking the policemen how they felt during the riots. Now in 2009 are there any signs of contrition?
In order to analyze any historical event, I feel that one must simultaneously extend a space to every viewpoint. Something can be understood from all who were involved.
Autographed Letter Signed,