• Μαρία Κελεμουρίδου

The Chicago 8 trial

📝An article written by Maria Kelemouridou, Bachelor in Law (AUTH), Master in International Studies (UOM)


Who could have predicted that the trial of eight people, accused of conspiring to incite the riots that erupted during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, would end up being one of the darkest moments of American justice? The trial of eight anti-war activists, charged with inciting violent demonstrations at the Convention, opened in Chicago in 1969, before Judge Julius Hoffman. Initially, there were eight defendants, but that number was soon reduced to seven. The defendants, who called themselves “The Conspiracy” 1, were: Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, who had just spent four hours in Chicago over the weekend of the Convention, David Dellinger, the oldest member of the group, a pacifist and anti-war activist of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), Tom Hayden, co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Rennie Davis, the National Director of SDS's community organizing programs, Abbie Hoffman (no relation to the judge) and Jerry Rubin, founders of the Youth International Party (Yippies), John Froines, a chemist, and Lee Weiner, a teacher's assistant of sociology 2. The accusation of conspiring to incite a riot came one year after the events. Since the trial, several novels, movies, and songs have been written on it, including the recent success “The Trial of the Chicago 7” movie.


It all began in the summer of 1968, when more than 10,000 anti-war protesters marched through Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention 3. Protest marches and rock concerts were held at the Convention during the peak of the anti-war movement. During the event, protestors clashed with the police, which resulted in full-fledged riots, with tear gas and police beatings. Prior to the start of the Convention, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley denied most demonstrators protest permissions and placed 12,000 police officers, 5,600 members of the Illinois National Guard and 5,000 Army troops on the streets 4. Unfortunately, these forces fought brutally with Vietnam War demonstrators, resulting in many hundreds of injuries and 668 arrests 5, turning the demonstrations into a bloodshed 6.


The 1968 Civil Rights Act included a provision making it illegal to cross state lines to incite a riot. Following the outbreak of violence at the Chicago DNC, Mayor Daley requested that the authorities pursue some of the protestors under the new law. However, President Lyndon Johnson’s attorney general Ramsey Clark did not proceed with the prosecution. The next year, when Richard Nixon took over, he appointed John Mitchell as the new attorney general, who decided to prosecute the Chicago 8 under the new law, making them the first persons prosecuted under the first federal anti-riot law 7.


The trial of the Chicago 8 began on September 24, 1969. The two lawyers representing the defendants-except for Bobby Seale- were William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass. Seale-the only Black defendant- asked Judge Hoffman to postpone the trial because his lawyer, Charles Garry, needed surgery and could not attend court. However, the judge denied the request and assigned Seale a new lawyer, whom he rejected and kept his right to defend himself. After a month full of tensions, the judge grew enraged due to Seale’s loud protests and ordered staff to

chain Seale to his chair and gag him 8. A week later, the judge sentenced Seale to four years in prison for contempt of court. He also declared his case a mistrial, separating his trial and turning the Chicago 8 into the Chicago 7.


With the encouragement of the defense attorney William Kunstler, the seven other

defendants did everything they could to “make a spectacle out of the event”, to protest their causes, as well as to mock the judge, who was biased against the defendants 9. For example, Hoffman enjoyed provoking the judge by calling him “Julie” and blowing kisses to the jury. Another incident took place when Abbie and Jerry arrived in court wearing judicial robes, which they promptly removed on the judge's instructions, to reveal blue policeman’s uniforms underneath. Judge Hoffman became so outraged that he continuously invoked contempt of court. Furthermore, Kunstler was sentenced to four years in prison for referring to Hoffman's courtroom as a “medieval torture chamber” 10.


According to professor Jeanne Polk Barr, “The conspiracy charge that bound the defendants to each other was a prosecutorial effort to link a host of anti-war movements together in one dramatic trial. Without this charge, each defendant could have been tried separately, most likely with dramatically different results.” 11. The evidence against the defendants was poor, which is probably why none of them was convicted of conspiracy, although five of them - Rubin, Hoffman, Hayden, Davis and Dellinger -were convicted of individually crossing state lines to incite a riot. Everyone (even the attorneys) received jail sentences for contempt of court and Judge Hoffman sentenced the five convicted men to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine 12. Everything changed in 1972, when all charges- including the ones against Seale- were dropped. A subsequent inquiry and report indicated that the deadly end of the 1968 demonstrations was initiated by the police 13.


The Chicago 8 trial, an obviously political prosecution, served as a pivotal point in the anti-war movement and is often regarded as the most important political trial in recent US history. It effectively divided the American nation, bringing two different generations face-to-face. At the time, the Chicago 8 trial was considered the “Trial of the Century” 14.

“Conspiracy? Hell, we couldn’t agree on lunch.” —Abbie Hoffman


REFERENCES

1 Sun-Times, “Chicago 8 Go on Trial Today,” Chicago Sun-Times, September 24, 1969,

https://chicago.suntimes.com/21440390/trial-of-the-chicago-7-chicago-8-go-on-trial-today.

2 History.com Editors, “Chicago 8 Trial Opens in Chicago,” HISTORY, November 16, 2009,

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/chicago-8-trial-opens-in-chicago and

Becky Little, “7 Reasons Why the Chicago 8 Trial Mattered,” History, September 24, 2019, https://www.history.com/news/chicago-8-trial-importance.

3 Jeanne Dorin McDowell, “The True Story of ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’” Smithsonian Magazine, October 15, 2020,

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-trial-chicago-7-180976063/.

4 Joel Achenbach, “‘A Party That Had Lost Its Mind’: In 1968, Democrats Held One of History’s Most Disastrous Conventions,” The Washington Post, August 24, 2018,

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/08/24/a-party-that-had-lost-its-mind-in-1968-democrats-held-one-of-historys-most-disastrous-conventions/.

5 Becky Little, “7 Reasons Why the Chicago 8 Trial Mattered,” History, September 24, 2019, https://www.history.com/news/chicago-8-trial-importance and David Taylor and Sam Morris, “The Whole World Is Watching: How the 1968 Chicago ‘police Riot’ Shocked America and Divided the Nation,” The Guardian, accessed March 27, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2018/aug/19/the-whole-world-is-watching-chicago-police-riot-vietnam-war-regan.

6 Jeanne Dorin McDowell, “The True Story of ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’” Smithsonian Magazine, October 15, 2020,

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-trial-chicago-7-180976063/.

7 Becky Little, “7 Reasons Why the Chicago 8 Trial Mattered,” History, September 24, 2019, https://www.history.com/news/chicago-8-trial-importance.

8 History.com Editors, “‘Chicago Eight’ Defendant Bobby Seale Gagged during His Trial,” HISTORY, November 16, 2009, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bobby-seale-gagged-during-his-trial and “Bobby Seale Testifies Quietly For Chicago Seven Defendants,” The New York Times, November 6, 1973,

https://www.nytimes.com/1973/11/06/archives/bobby-seale-testifies-quietly-for-chicago-seven-defendants.html.

9 Eudie Pak, “The Key Defendants in the Chicago 7 Trial,” Biography, September 24, 2019, https://www.biography.com/news/chicago-8-trial-defendants.

10 For their behavior: Jeanne Dorin McDowell, “The True Story of ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’” Smithsonian Magazine, October 15, 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-trial-chicago-7-180976063/.

11 Jeanne Polk Barr, “The Chicago 8 Trial, 40 Years Later: A Case Study in Teaching U.S. v. Dellinger (1969),” National Council for the Social Studies, no. Social Education 73(5) (September 2009): p.204-205.

12 Becky Little, “7 Reasons Why the Chicago 8 Trial Mattered,” History, September 24, 2019, https://www.history.com/news/chicago-8-trial-importance.

13 Jeanne Dorin McDowell, “The True Story of ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’” Smithsonian Magazine, October 15, 2020,

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-trial-chicago-7-180976063/.

14 Robert Davis, “The Chicago Seven Trial and the 1968 Democratic National Convention,” Chicago Tribune, September 15, 2008, https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/chi-chicagodays-seventrial-story-story.html.


Bibliography

Becky Little. “7 Reasons Why the Chicago 8 Trial Mattered.” History, September 24, 2019.

https://www.history.com/news/chicago-8-trial-importance.


David Taylor and Sam Morris. “The Whole World Is Watching: How the 1968 Chicago ‘police Riot’ Shocked America and Divided the Nation.” The Guardian. Accessed March 27, 2022.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2018/aug/19/the-whole-world-is-watching-chicago-police-riot-vietnam-war-regan.


Eudie Pak. “The Key Defendants in the Chicago 7 Trial.” Biography, September 24, 2019.

https://www.biography.com/news/chicago-8-trial-defendants.


History.com Editors. “‘Chicago Eight’ Defendant Bobby Seale Gagged during His Trial.” HISTORY, November 16, 2009.

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bobby-seale-gagged-during-his-trial.


History.com Editors. “Chicago 8 Trial Opens in Chicago.” HISTORY, November 16, 2009.

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/chicago-8-trial-opens-in-chicago.


Jeanne Dorin McDowell. “The True Story of ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7.’” Smithsonian Magazine, October 15, 2020.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-trial-chicago-7-180976063/.


Jeanne Polk Barr. “The Chicago 8 Trial, 40 Years Later: A Case Study in Teaching U.S. v. Dellinger (1969).” National Council for the Social Studies, no. Social Education 73(5) (September 2009): 203–6.


Joel Achenbach. “‘A Party That Had Lost Its Mind’: In 1968, Democrats Held One of History’s Most Disastrous Conventions.” The Washington Post, August 24, 2018.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/08/24/a-party-that-had-lost-its-mind-in-1968-democrats-held-one-of-historys-most-disastrous-conventions/.


Robert Davis. “The Chicago Seven Trial and the 1968 Democratic National Convention.” Chicago Tribune, September 15, 2008. https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/chi-chicagodays-seventrial-story-story.html.


Sun-Times. “Chicago 8 Go on Trial Today.” Chicago Sun-Times, September 24, 1969.

https://chicago.suntimes.com/21440390/trial-of-the-chicago-7-chicago-8-go-on-trial-today.


The New York Times. “Bobby Seale Testifies Quietly For Chicago Seven Defendants,” November 6, 1973.

https://www.nytimes.com/1973/11/06/archives/bobby-seale-testifies-quietly-for-chicago-seven-defendants.html.


Ευτυχία Σουφλέρη. “Η ‘Δίκη Των 7 Του Σικάγο’ Είναι Κάτι Περισσότερο Από Μια Ταινία Στο Netflix.” News 24/7, 01 Νοεμβρίου 2020.

https://www.news247.gr/politismos/cinema/i-diki-ton-7-toy-sikago-einai-kati-

perissotero-apo-mia-tainia-sto-netflix.9029325.html.


Θανάσης Κρεκούκιας (Επιμέλεια). “Η Δίκη Των ‘8’ Του Σικάγο.” News 24/7, September 24, 2014.


Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA from Pexels

321 Προβολές0 Σχόλια

Πρόσφατες αναρτήσεις

Εμφάνιση όλων