‘Poor little Jimmy’ in Chicago, 1968


"Poor little Jimmy" getting thwacked on the Michigan Avenue bridge, Chicago, 1968

"Poor little Jimmy" getting thwacked on the Michigan Avenue bridge, Chicago, 1968

“Fundamental police training was ignored, and officers, when on the scene, were often unable to control their men. As one officer put it: ‘What happened didn’t have anything to do with police work.'”
— The official report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (called The Walker Report), 1968

“Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all – the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”
— Mayor Richard J. Daley, 1968

This post, prompted by a story in today’s New York Times, has nothing to do with bicycling. But some readers of this blog who know of my past life as a journalist/editor/foreign correspondent might find it amusing.
The Times story was about a reunion of Chicago police officers who were on duty during the street disturbances surrounding the Democratic National Convention in August 1968. One quote, in particular, caught my eye:
chicago police 1968“From the pictures the media showed, it always looked like poor little Jimmy was getting attacked by the police, but what they didn’t see was what Jimmy did just a minute before,” said Tom Rowan, 65, a retired officer. “Everybody who got hit during the convention may not have deserved it, but 95 percent of them did.”
For the record, “this little Jimmy” was working as a reporter for The Associated Press at the 1968 Democratic convention, assigned to cover the street disturbances that were expected to — and did — occur during that tumultuous week.
I wrote a memoir of that week in 1996 for the Star-Telegram. The story was published on Aug. 25, 1996, the eve of the opening of the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
In it I wrote of a confrontation between reporters and police that occurred on the night of Aug. 25, 1968, on the Michigan Avenue bridge as a mob of demonstrators, driven out of Lincoln Park by imposition of an 11 p.m. curfew, surged toward the Loop.
richard-j-daley“But at the downtown end of the bridge, crossing the Chicago River, was a shoulder-to-shoulder cordon of Mayor Daley’s finest,” I wrote.
“And that’s when I wound up becoming one of the first news media casualties of what the Walker Commission report on the violence called a ‘police riot.’ I and several other reporters had tried to stay ahead of the mob as it moved down Michigan Avenue, and we found ourselves on the middle of the bridge with the protesters at one end and the police at the other. One officer broke ranks and thwacked me several times across the shoulders and head with his stick before being restrained by a commander.
“I wasn’t badly hurt. But a picture of that encounter appeared in a Chicago newspaper, and I was called to give a deposition to the investigatory panel headed by Daniel Walker, vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission. I gave the officer the benefit of the doubt, noting that my press credentials were in my pocket and that he might have mistaken me for a protester.”
I wonder if Officer Rowan was the one who thwacked this “poor little Jimmy” that August night on the Michigan Avenue bridge.

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6 Comments

Filed under Americana

6 responses to “‘Poor little Jimmy’ in Chicago, 1968

  1. Brian Sieve

    Wow, Jimmy. My uncle Dennis sent me this link. I am sad to say that there are still a substantial (I will be kind and not say a majority) number of Chicago police with this attitude. I have two complaints pending with the Chicago Police board of review. And a month ago I saw them corral a peaceful group of revelers into a dark side street and then attack them.

    I would love to learn more about your time there. I will look your story up. Thanks. Your Second Cousin in Chicago.

    • Brian,
      Thanks for looking at the blog. Please tell me where you fit into that grand Sieve family. Whose son are you? And what are you doing in Chicago? I try to keep up on the Sieve clan via Facebook, and have seen your name pop up from time to time. Take care and be careful in Chicago.
      Second cousin Jimmy

  2. Ben P.

    Hi Dad,
    Is there any way to link to that memoir in the Star Telegram that you talk about? I would like to read more about it. Ben

    • Ben,
      The memoir I referred to was no longer in the free part of the Star-Telegram electronic library, But I had my own copy, which I put on a newly created subpage called “Archive material.” The parent page is “Biking across America.” In the post on Chicago, I put in a link to the archives page that should take you to the story. Also, one of the automatically generated pages that linked to my post was a great YouTube video of events in Chicago 1968. I embedded it at the bottom of my post. Check it out. It’s very cool.
      Love, Dad

  3. Mary Anne Boies

    Hey Jim,
    We saw that article in the NYimes and thought of you. I cut it out with all good intentions of mailing it (it awaits a stamp in my car). Betty Davey Glynn has been reading your blog, also. Hello to Ellen.

    • Mary Anne,
      Thanks for thinking of me, reading the blog and recruiting other readers. Say hello to Betty. Did you note the great video I posted at the bottom of the item on Chicago 1968? The link was automatically generated and showed up on my blog. So I found it on YouTube and embedded it.
      Jim

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