In 1968, to the dismay of protesters anguished over Vietnam and the assassinations of Kennedy and King, Democrats chose Hubert Humphrey. Then the cops came.
At the stroke of midnight Wednesday, the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey for the Presidency, but if they did not elect Richard Nixon to that office it was through no fault of Lyndon Johnson, Mayor Daley, or the happy nominee. What they have done to their party remains to be seen. Humphrey’s nomination came as no surprise to anyone here, although his vote was somewhat larger than had been forecast. From the outset he had the nomination sewed up. There was no need for Daley’s rigging operations, which were carried out in full public view, with the President’s approval and with no protest from the nominee. Nor was there need or justification for the fantastic police and security measures which in effect called for the violence they were supposed to prevent. And there was no justification whatever for the brutality which the police inflicted on demonstrators, visitors, newsmen and even some delegates.
The Chicago police are a special breed. My guess would be that they weigh on an average about 50 or 60 pounds more than the average for New York’s finest. Even before the trouble started, it was clear that they were spoiling for a fight, and not merely with yippies and hippies. They were uptight, period. Police, National Guardsmen and federal troops probably outnumbered demonstrators. One Chicago newsman estimated 20,000 for each side.
The effect of this awesome demonstration of military and police muscle was to create an atmosphere so hateful and oppressive that it drew a mild protest even from joyous Hubert. At the same time it was clear that any of the candidates could have been assassinated with relative ease, precisely because of the confusion, the general milling around and the excessive show of force. Newsmen usually enjoy a degree of immunity from police brutality, but not in Chicago, not at this convention. Secret Service and uniformed police appeared on the floor of the convention and at various state caucuses; at least two delegates were forcibly removed from the floor by the police. The assaults on newsmen naturally assured the widest possible publicity; the press and the media always become aroused about police brutality when it is directed against their representatives. Never before, at any convention, have newsmen been treated as they were here. “Apparently the police don’t understand the English version of ‘press,’ ” wrote Mike Royko, the popular columnist for the Chicago Daily News. “They seem to think it means ‘Hit me, please’ or ‘Smash my camera, please.'”
Federal authorities were concerned from the outset about the measures Daley had ordered. Most of the delegates resented these measures but took no action to repudiate them. An enormous audience, in this country and abroad, watched the disgraceful Chicago street scenes. If Daley had wanted to get the Democrats off to a bad start in this year’s convention, he could not have done any better than he did. Richard Nixon, like Daley, is a “law and-order” man, but he is not likely to pass up the opportunity to make political capital of this disgraceful exhibition of police assault. The image conveyed by the media of the “pacification” carried out by Mayor Daley’s “special forces,” including firemen and personnel from the Chicago Sewer District, was grotesque, surreal and reminiscent of Stormtrooper tactics in Germany of the 1930s. But oddly enough the street action was largely unrelated to what the delegates were doing; as delegates, they were not intimidated. Many of them seemed to feel that however distasteful the outside action might be, it did not directly concern them, although 1,761 delegates voted to accept Johnson’s protégé and program. It was Johnson who gave the convention to Chicago, as a reward to Daley for services rendered; and it was Daley who directed the police action, the pattern for which had been established during the peace demonstrations of April 27 [See “The Battle of Chicago” by Joseph L. Sander, The Nation, May 20]. The TV-viewing public naturally related the street scene to the convention coverage; most delegates did not.