Battleground Chicago-the police and the 1968 democratic national convention (Frank Kusch):

The black movement had made it clear that all authority was the enemy. And they were giving even the real peace-loving-hippies ideas – and that was scary. It was a loose joining together, a sort of convergence, however tenuous, and that was the real problem in those days. We had to get that rabbit back in the hat. It became an us and them thing.” – officer Len Colsky

whoa! “storm troopers in blue” battle ‘anarchist terrorist youth’ under the commands of an unhinged mayor as the decried poisonous folly of the Vietnam war corrals the country to the brink of civil war & political meltdown under increasingly unruly sub-cultural upheaval. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! What a thumpingly grand book on this momentous clash & societal shift…Frank Kusch delivers a barnstorming assessment & 360 snapshot of superb depth that practically has the years energy & even aroma billowing off its pages.

“unrestrained” & “indiscriminate”

Those sons-of-bitches had no right to compare us to the fucking commies. That’s the way it was even before the convention began, they were against us, so there was no reason to treat them like independent observers.” officer Jetty Melton

The twist comes from his decision to draw much of the in-person commentary from police officers who were serving during the turbulence. If that sounds like approbation or bias, think again! – by giving the police the mic, they effectively saw themselves a new arsehole with incredible aplomb. Clearly interviewed in groups, their confidence, brazenness & yes, – honesty, is astonishing. Although these incredible monologues regularly self-injure & confirm some of the worst accusations levelled at the force & its actions, there is also some redeeming, worthy & hugely insightful accounts & reflections into this crazy episode from the polices perspective.

“get the cameras” – “beat the press”

I know people that wore the uniform who really didn’t care – they hated the entire generation and they used any excuse they could find to go after them and teach them a lesson.” – officer Warren MacAulay

The police essentially won the battle (defending the city, delegates & convention) but lost the war (being branded by the vast majority of the media & public as rampaging, out-of-control violent thugs). One aspect that is so well captured by this book is how nuanced, subjective, unexpectedly interconnected & somewhat inconclusive this assumption or outcome actually is. The horrendous war, the vets, the acrimony it aroused, the state & the democrats, the convention, the idiot, red-blooded nimbyist mayor, the cops themselves, the cops communities & families expectations of them, the cops orders, the national guard, the marines, the intelligence services, the hippies, the “Yippies” (a more hardcore & ideologically antagonistic contingent), the more radical & militant counter-cultural legions, the press, the bystanders, Americas stores of atrocious historical injustice & violence, & this huge sense of seismic foreboding & clash of civilizations – all spooling into some giant tableaux shit-storm of the century.

“the streets were bedlam”

When someone calls you a thug long enough you say, ‘well, if I’m going to get accused of it anyway, I might as well act like it,’ because they were against us.” – officer Jim Dziadyk

The cops dished-out plenty of extreme violence with copious ‘cracking heads’ via their infamous nightsticks. A considerable number of their victims were journalists, unconnected residents & non-threatening protesters or spectators. In many instances their response was grossly excessive & dispensed upon targets almost at random. To their credit, days of intense conflict with thousands of personnel & confrontations resulted in no deaths (which is really quite amazing considering the velocity of the shit going down here).

“the police were completely out of control”

They [the media] hated us, thats for sure. Yeah, they got their bonnets beaten a little, but if you want to play the game, ya gotta play the game. We had been getting bad press long before the convention, especially rom what was going on in black neighbourhoods, so what the hell.” – officer Mel Latanzio

I am absolutely not defending the cops, many of which clearly acted disgracefully & represented the repressive & excessive strong-arm of an unjust regime in an unjust country engaged in a filthy & unjust war, – but greater complexities are present in some strands of this insane episode, & you can’t help but feel, on some margins, it’s just a complex & multidimensional mutation of divide & rule with the public, the vets, the cops & of course the Vietnamese all being fucked-over & exploited to different degrees. Unbelievably, even the notorious Republican politician Donald “Torture Team” Rumsfeld observed that – “there’s no question of police brutality”.

“They charged, clubbed, gassed, and mauled – demonstrators, bystanders, and reporters”

A woman described as ‘well dressed’ was watching one of the encounters and made the mistake of complaining to a nearby police captain. As she spoke to the officer, another moved up from behind and sprayed her in the face with mace. Police clubbed the woman to the ground and dragged her into a nearby paddy wagon.”

A lot to be learned & an extremely accomplished book indeed.

Frank Kusch, University Of Chicago Press, 2004