It was a given for a lot of people that after the police riot at the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968, heads would roll, Mayor Richard Daley would spend a lot of time apologizing and things would change.
To those people – many of whom were outside the Hilton Hotel chanting ‘the world is watching!’ – it came as quite a shock that most of the country applauded Daley and his police department. Somehow, the sight – on live television, mind you – of innocent passersby being tear-gassed in front of the hotel, however unpleasant, was attributed to collateral damage in the righteous effort to teach those damn hippies a lesson.
The riot started when a teen attending the legal demonstration held by the Yippies at Lincoln Park took down an American flag. The police standing by waded through the crowd of 10,000 and began beating the boy and chaos erupted. The leaders of the demo told everyone to move out of the park, so that if and when there was tear gas, it would be spread all over the city.
And that’s exactly what happened. There was so much tear gas that even candidate Hubert Humphrey detected it in his suite at the Hilton.
And most of the country was also on the side of law and order during the trial that followed. The Chicago Seven were found guilty of crossing state lines to incite a riot after a courtroom drama that read like a movie script – one scene featured defendant Bobby Seale handcuffed, gagged and chained to a chair. The other defendants – Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Dave Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner – were constantly disruptive. Hoffman and Rubin showed up one day in judicial robes. Ordered by Judge Julius Hoffman to remove them, the pair shrugged off their robes to reveal police uniforms beneath.
Sentence was passed in February, 1970, but reversed on appeal in 1972 and the Department of Justice declined to retry the seven.
Eight Chicago police officers had been indicted, seven were acquitted and charges against the eighth were dismissed.