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Fortress Chicago

June 2024
1min read

Mayor Richard J. Daley was host to 2,622 visiting delegates and between five thousand and ten thousand protesters from peace groups when the Democratic National Convention opened at the Chicago Amphitheatre on August 26. To meet the threat of the peacenik demonstrators, DaIey had ordered a gathering of state lawmen and Secret Service unrivaled in the history of national political conventions. His total force of nearly twenty-five thousand was, wrote the Chicago columnist Mike Royko, “bigger than that commanded by George Washington. Never before had so many feared so much from so few.” Manholes around the amphitheater were sealed with tar against bombings, and a chain-link fence topped in barbed wire was put up around the building. New wooden fences lined the route from the Loop to the convention hall, shielding the delegates from seedy first glimpses of Daley’s city. The mayor’s face smiled from stickers on the delegates’ hotel phones. In the end he could control everything except his own police force, whose beatings of students, reporters, and bystanders dominated television coverage as well as the tense work of the convention.

Clashes in the city’s parks and outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel injured more than seven hundred demonstrators; reporters wore enlarged press badges for protection but were beaten that much more quickly by police obviously seeking them out. When CBS’s Dan Rather was belted in the stomach on the convention floor by a security officer, the normally jocular Walter Cronkite said on the air, “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here, Dan.”

Daley was denounced from his own podium, most memorably by the Connecticut senator Abe Ribicoff, who proclaimed that “Gestapo” tactics were being used in Chicago’s streets. Daley’s people jumped to their feet, some mouthing for the cameras what they later insisted was “Faker! Faker!” at Ribicoff since he had been chummy with the mayor only days before. The following speaker seconded Ribicoff; Daley was jeered and soon left the hall. And on the final night of the convention the notorious former Birmingham police chief Bull Connor voted for Daley for Vice President. Daley, who had begun his political life as an Adlai Stevenson Democrat had, wrote Mike Royko, “become the new symbol of repression. Connor, an old symbol, had passed him the torch.”

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