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Local Column

Olson: As he covered 1968 Democratic Convention chaos, Daily Chronicle writer's mind changed – a little

Days before protests were to explode outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Daily Chronicle Newsbeat Editor Carl Carlson took a dim view of the bums planning to crash the party.

“The thousands upon thousands of peacenicks, bums and others who have promised to demonstrate at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago next week will serve absolutely no purpose,” Carlson wrote Aug. 20, 1968.

“… Such people should be treated as troublemakers, and for the most part, that is all they are.”

Carlson was no rube – earlier that summer, he’d flown to New York City on vacation and interviewed New Yorkers on the F train about Nelson Rockefeller.

What he saw covering the convention in Chicago would change his view – at least a little – about who the troublemakers were.

His first dispatch from Chicago, headlined “Convention Security Is Tight”, appeared in the Daily Chronicle (then an afternoon paper) on Aug. 26. Carlson was unnerved at the military presence in the streets. The security may have been a reaction in part to the fact that the front-runner in the race, Sen. Robert Kennedy, had been assassinated that June after winning the Democratic primary in California.

A photo above Carlson’s story noted that barbed wire was being used to top the chain-link fencing surrounding the International Amphitheatre where the convention was being held, as if it was DeKalb’s contribution. Helmeted police milled about below a sign that read “Hello Democrats! Welcome to Chicago!”

Carlson quoted a National Guardsman from Rockford, Maj. Joe Vecchio, who said he didn’t expect troops would be needed and “if anything was going to happen it would have happened by now, we think.”

Vecchio was wrong. That night in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Carlson was among the reporters watching as police worked to “clear hippies from the park.”

In a subsequent column, Carlson railed against Chicago police, who he said removed their nameplates and badges so “they cannot be punished for acting like nothing more than bigheaded bullies with nightsticks, tear gas, Chemical Mace and guns.” He described indiscriminate police brutality against demonstrators, bystanders, citizens and reporters.

“Earlier this month, we supported the police and military forces in Chicago to protect the Democratic National Convention. We said troublemakers such as many of the hippies in Chicago are, should be treated as troublemakers.

“We did not think the police should have any authority to treat troublemakers with violence when there is no violence to begin with. The police of the city of Chicago created violence Monday night.

“We had our mind changed about many things Monday night. One of the things was that a lot of respect we had for the Chicago Police Department went right out the window.”

After a night where convention delegates battled over their nominee and police and National Guard forces battled with protestors outside the convention headquarters, the Aug. 30 Chronicle included a story from Carlson about the delegates’ anger. It was flanked by a photo of police brawling with protestors on one side, and Mayor Richard J. Daley calling Sen. Abraham Ribicoff a “fink” on the other.

Carlson’s story noted that immediately after Hubert Humphrey’s nomination, “there were attempts to adjourn the convention, get it out of this city … its mayor and the blood in the streets …”

The convention wrapped up with Humphrey’s selection of Edmund Muskie of Maine as his running mate. Carlson’s final story in the next day’s edition conveyed the shock people felt at the chaos that had unfolded.

“Occasionally, someone in the bar starts talking about Wednesday night, about the gas and the beatings,” he noted before going on to talk about how Daley’s cronies had rallied around him despite national criticism.

Another story included an interview with Dorothy O’Brien of DeKalb, a delegate to the convention. She told the Chronicle she thought the debate at the convention was “healthy.”

“We have had an open discussion of different points of view,” O’Brien said. “That’s really the democratic way of doing things.”

Below that story, perhaps in the interest of balance, was a photo of a group of Republicans, who had gathered for a picnic in Hopkins Park.

They looked very pleased indeed.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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