Online Exhibition - Chicago: Law and Disorder

Online Exhibition - Chicago: Law and Disorder

Sunday, Aug 2, 2020


“There were two Americas in Chicago, but there always are.”

In 1968, Chicago experienced a breakdown in the political process.

At the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in August, delegates came to the city to select their next presidential candidate. Activists gathered to protest United States policies at home and abroad during the convention.

Political delegates fought inside the convention arena. Protestors and police brawled on the city's streets. Meanwhile, the news media depicted division and violence.    

1968: A Year of Shock

January: Vietnamese communist guerillas launched attacks throughout South Vietnam. These battles showed  the United States military involvement there might continue much longer.

March: President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would “not seek” nor “accept” the Democratic presidential nomination for another term.

April: An assassin fatally shot Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. Dozens of cities, including Chicago, burned in rebellion.

June: Another gunman killed presidential hopeful New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. After his assassination, some worried Chicago's Democratic National Convention might turn violent.

August: In an era of civil rights, anti-war protests, and social revolution, the forces of law-and-order braced for a fight  at Chicago's Democratic National Convention.

Events in April in Chicago set the stage for the Democratic National Convnetion in August.

April 5 and 6: Police struggled to contain the mass urban uprising triggered by the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.

Afterwards, Mayor Daley publicly criticized the police for allowing rioters to destroy several square blocks of his city.

April 15: Daley ordered officers to “shoot-to-kill” arsonists and “shoot-to-maim” looters in the event of any future disturbance.

During a peaceful anti-war protest in Civic Center Plaza on April 27, Chicago police officers responded with violence. Their attack sent a message to future protestors—come to Chicago at your own risk.

In early August, the Republicans held their national political convention in Miami Beach, Florida. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and conservative Ronald Reagan, governor of California, both fought for the nomination. They evenutally lost to former Vice President Richard M. Nixon.

The convention itself unfolded with no drama. Some African American residents, however, took to the streets in Miami’s first large-scale rebellion. This civil disturbance left three people dead, again suggesting violence might come to Chicago's convention.

The Democratic National Convention took place in Chicago August 26 through 29, 1968. It was a disaster for nearly everyone involved.

Many delegates experienced bullying on the convention floor. Anti-war activists watched their peace plan get defeated at the convention.

Protestors experienced several days of intimidation and beatings by police in Lincoln Park and Grant Park. Chicago law enforcement endured long hours under dangerous conditions. Media members also took their own beatings.

The week of violence culminated with the Battle of Balbo. At South Michigan Avenue and East Balbo Street police attacked the crowds near the Conrad Hilton Hotel where convention goers stayed. Network television cameras rolled, broadcasting everything.

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