Throwback Thursday: The Chicago 8 Trials

The sixties was a remarkable decade both in music and politics. It was the combination of the two that sparked the counter culture movement of that era. The youth took over the mainstream culture and no longer looked to their parents and older generation for dependence. They had a voice and they wanted to use it against the establishment, sparking many riots over social and political issues from the Vietnam War and its draft, to civil and human rights issues.

Things got particularly heated in Chicago during the August 1968 Democratic National Convention. Protests were taking place primarily against President Lyndon Johnson‘s policies for the Vietnam War. The city denied most permits for rallies and marches except one in Grant Park where the Police enforced an 11:00 pm curfew. Confrontations ensued as Police attempted to clear streets and marches towards the International Amphitheatre.

The Grant Park rally was attended by about 15,000 protesters. A few thousand attempted to march toward the International Amphitheatre but were stopped in front of Conrad Hilton Hotel where the presidential candidates were stationed. Using tear gas, mace, verbal and physical force and batons, protesters fought back with bottles and rocks for all the media to see. While dozens of protesters and journalists involved were injured and their equipment smashed, police continued to make numerous arrests over the next few nights. This event was later characterized as Police Riots.

September 8th 1968, following the convention, grand juries assembled to determine criminal charges. Eight defendants were charged under the anti riot provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Sixteen alleged co-conspirators avoided prosecution. The original 8 indicted were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale.

The trials begain on September 24, 1968 and in the beginning of the trial Judge Hoffman clarifies “He is not my son“, to which Abbie Hoffman replies “Dad, dad, Have you forsaken me?“. Later in the trial Bobby Seale began disrupting the trial with loud outburst after being denied his request to bring in his own lawyer. He argued that the judges actions were not only illegal, but racist. October 29, Judge Hoffman ordered Seale to be bound gagged and chained to a chair and for several days. Eventually the contempt charges against Seale was overturned due to the Judges unconstitutional actions.

The trials became widely publicized and gave fuel to a growing number of protesters. The remaining seven defendants, mainly Hoffman and Rubin, continued to mock the courtroom and Judge Hoffman in particular yelling to his face, “you are a shande fur de Goyim (A disgrace in front of the gentiles)… You would have served Hitler better“. They are also cited yelling “Your idea of justice is the only obscenity in this room… This court is bullshit!“.

Hoffman and Rubin in judicial robes

One day Hoffman and Rubin appeared in courtroom in judges robes. When ordered to take them off they complied, only to reveal police uniforms underneath and they blew kisses to the jury. They created a circus of the courtroom, using the media attention to attack Nixon, the war, racism and oppression. The trials got big enough to even garner the support of celebrity artists and activists like Allens Ginsburg, Timothy Leary, Rev. Jesse Jackson. Singer Phil Ochs who was involved in planning for the demonstrations obtained a pig he presented to the court to nominate as a presidential candidate.

The judge cited all the defendants with numerous contempts of court, ranging from a couple months to four years. On February 18, 1970 the seven defendants were acquitted of conspiracy but five were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot. They were fined $5,000 each and slapped with 5 years on February 20th. However On November 21, 1972 all of the convictions were reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit due to the judge being biased in his refusal to permit defense attorneys to screen prospective jurors for cultural and racial bias.

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