Fifty-two years ago, young people protesting the war in Vietnam at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago were assaulted by the police at the orders of Mayor Richard Daly. Daly’s only provocation was the mere existence of the protesters.
“As the Democrats gathered in Chicago that summer, their party and the nation were in turmoil. President Lyndon B. Johnson had announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection, and an obvious alternative hadn’t yet emerged to lead his party. The country was reeling from the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in April and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on the June night he won the California presidential primary. Major cities were rocked by riots, college campuses were gripped by peace protests, and the Vietnam War was raging toward its peak,” according to a 2016 article in The Washington Post recounting the horrific events.
Prior to the start of the convention, thousands of antiwar protesters flocked to Chicago, where city police, Army soldiers, National Guardsmen and Secret Service were armed and waiting. As the protesters marched toward the convention site, they were struck with clubs and hit with tear gas. Even innocent bystanders — including reporters covering the scene and doctors trying to help — were brutally beaten.
As a recent college graduate, employed as an assistant editor, and about to be married (yicks, at 21 years old!), I was horrified to see the news each night during the convention. I distinctly remember crying while I watched the police brutality attacking my peers from the TV in my parents’ bedroom. I remember shouting at them through the TV.
Now I am witnessing events in the United States that remind me of those that unfolded in Chicago over half a century ago. Granted, the police aren’t beating today’s protesters until they bleed, but they are sending them on the run with tear gas and rubber bullets. Without a single provocation, except their existence.
I am not talking about the ‘protesters’ who are looting stores and setting fires. They are indefensible, no matter how much they may despise the way George Floyd and other black men died at the hands (and feet) of the police. Fighting violence with violence may be how soldiers operate on the battlefield; it has no place off it. These people should be arrested, however, every last one of them.
I mean the protesters who are gathering peaceably in cities across the country, just like the young people did in Chicago in 1968. They may be angry and shouting, but they aren’t hurting a single person or piece of property. And, their right to protest is clearly and concisely stated in the first Amendment of the United States Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The police today aren’t acting arbitrarily in regards to the protesters; they are taking their orders from others. And, the majority of police in our country are dedicated to protecting us. As in every single profession, there are bad cops – sometimes really bad cops. But, the fact that any of this happening in our country today speaks to problems that go far deeper, from centuries-old prejudice and inequality to a broken criminal justice system.
So much needs to be fixed in the US, and for most of us, it wouldn’t be easy to know where to begin. But we have the resources, talent, passion and brains to figure that out. Now is the time to start.
I am in the final innings of my life and I want to feel hopeful about the world in which my children and 7-year-old grandson (plus other potential grandchildren) will live.