Bigger Is Better
They’ll never learn.
Last night, the authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, played tough guy. First, Governor Jay Nix imposed a curfew from midnight to 5:00am on the town. Then the various armed forces who are charged with keeping the “peace” whipped out their batons, long guns, prods, and their phalluses for all I know — It would follow, don’t you think? — and the next thing anybody knew the beleaguered town had itself another riot.
Ferguson, Saturday Night (photo: Charlie Riedel/AP)
Nice work, peacekeepers!
If the idea is, indeed, to keep the peace (a presumption I doubt) all the Ferguson armies had to do was look back to August, 1968 in Chicago. The Democratic National Convention was about to start on Monday, the 26th. That Sunday, protestors from around the country had gathered in Lincoln Park to holler about the Vietnam War, civil rights, police brutality, FBI spying — you know, all the things that this holy land had gotten as wrong as it could back then.
Lincoln Park was, and is, a good three miles from the then-Conrad Hilton and Blackstone hotels where most of the delegates were staying. The park also was and is some eight miles from the International Amphitheater where the convention would kick off the next day. So there really was no chance the protesters could easily make their way to either location in order to create havoc. And, really, they needn’t have even bothered; Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago Police were quite capable of creating havoc on their own, thank you.
See, protest organizers had bragged that more than 100,000 people would flood the city to call for the the end of the war and racism and all the other ills eating away at this holy land. By that Sunday night, only an estimated 5000 people from in and out of town were on hand for the express purpose of protest. To oppose them, the Chicago Police had canceled all vacations, leaves, and days off for its officers, giving the department an effective strength for that week of 11,900. They were joined by 7500 Illinois National Guardsmen, another 7500 US Army soldiers, and a thousand Secret Service agents. That’s a total of 27,900 armed men. They outnumbered protesters by more than 5-1.
Photo: Vivian Maier/Catharine Couturier Gallery
Now then, Lincoln Park. Organizers had applied for permits to allow protesters to sleep in Lincoln Park during convention week. Mayor Daley nixed this and when protesters sued to overturn his ruling, they were stymied by Federal District Court Judge William Lynch, Daley’s former law partner.
Nevertheless, a throng had gathered in Lincoln Park that Sunday afternoon to hear music and speeches and pretend they were stronger than their disappointing numbers. They weren’t. The Chicago Police ordered the park cleared after the 11:00pm curfew and when protesters refused to budge, the cops swept in, using tear gas, nightsticks, and their fists. It was a rout. Cops beat long-haired kids, reporters and, occasionally, innocent passersby throughout the night in the neighborhoods surrounding the park. Local emergency rooms were flooded. The stink of tear gas wafted over the city’s fashionable Old Town district and Near North Side long past dawn.
It was the first episode in a nightly recurring series that lasted until the Convention was finished on Thursday. The violence culminated in the Battle of Michigan Avenue, outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Wednesday night. Network television cameras caught Chicago Police officers beating people senseless with their nightsticks, unprovoked and without discrimination. Many convention delegates were swept up in the violence merely because they happened to be trying to get into their hotel.
The whole fiasco would be termed a “police riot” by the Walker Report, the official inquiry into events that week. It’s been said Democratic candidate for president, Hubert Humphrey, lost the election Wednesday night as America watched the mayhem on TV. Voters associated the Democrats with chaos and revolution. Republican Richard Nixon began to promise them calm.
Anyway, Mayor Daley’s police could have avoided much — perhaps even all — the pandemonium had a commander or even the mayor himself said, Let ’em sleep in Lincoln Park. As Mike Royko later wrote, the section of the park where the protesters proposed to camp out was not visible from the streets and could easily have been encircled by the police in order to contain the crowd. Protesters could have sung folk songs, made speeches, and smoked joints all night long — some could even have slept — as the cops kept them confined without them even being aware of it.
That didn’t happen and so the course of history was changed.
Now, let’s get back to Ferguson. Apparently, the protest center the last week has been the convenience store that burned the first night of rioting. Tensions eased mid-week, after the governor had sent in the capable and sympathetic commander of the state Highway Patrol to handle the nightly disturbances. All seemed to be going well — or at least better — until Gov. Nix felt the urge to prove his dick was bigger than any of the protesters’ and slapped his curfew on them Saturday afternoon.
Again, there could have been a better way. All the authorities had to do was allow people rally around the convenience store all night long. They could have been contained, subtly. It’s doubtful anybody’d get the bright idea to start marching here and there at 3:00 o’clock in the morning, especially after the previous day’s full slate of marches and foot stompings.
I suppose Gov. Nix wouldn’t have been able to display the sheer massiveness of his male organ had he chosen that avenue of action. And I suppose I’ve forgotten that for many of our leaders, that’s the most important thing.