“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:
“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.
“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.