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.'”