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  • Writer's pictureAanya M.

Chicago Seven

The Chicago seven trials are considered one of the most notorious trials in American history. What was supposed to be a peaceful protest was portrayed as violent. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner were the seven defendants in the Chicago seven trials in 1969, previously Chicago eight. It went from Chicago eight to Chicago seven after the case against co-defendant Bobby Seale was declared a mistrial. They were charged with conspiracy, crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot, and other charges related to anti-Vietnam War and counterculture protests in Chicago, Illinois during the 1968 Democratic National Convention by the United States federal government.

It all started the previous summer, during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, more than 10,000 antiwar activists traveled to the city for five days. The country was in upheaval, with the killings of Martin Luther King and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, as well as the escalating Vietnam War. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been besieged and beaten by the war, had made an extraordinary choice not to seek re-election. The Democratic Party, however, was as split as the rest of the country: antiwar militants rejected Humphrey, while Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy appealed to students and left-wing activists. Organizers of the protest were planning a peaceful non-violent protest. This quickly changed when they were met with Mayor Richard Daley and his law-and-order machine—a tear-gas spraying, an army of 12,000 Chicago police officers, 5,600 members of the Illinois National Guard, and 5,000 U.S. Army soldiers. The protests turned to bloodshed.

A year later the trial began. The then eight defendants represented different factions of “the movement”. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were counterculture activists of the Youth International Party. Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis lead a campus coalition of 150 organizations bent on ending the war. David Dellinger was a pacifist and organizer for the Mobilization Committee to end the war in Vietnam that had been formed to plan anti-war demonstrations a year earlier. Professors John Froines and Lee Weiner, who were only partly involved in the Chicago demonstrations, were assumed to have been singled out as a warning to other academics who might join in anti-war protests. Bobby Seale was the head of the Chicago Panthers, whose case had been declared a mistrial. William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass were the two lawyers defending the seven accused. Bobby Seale was not engaged in the planning of the anti-Vietnam War protest. He'd just been in Chicago for four hours that weekend, filling in for another speaker. He was outraged by the fact that he was falsely accused. He interrupted the proceeding asking to represent himself and denouncing the judge as a “racist pig”. Julius Hoffman, the judge, ordered for him to be restrained. He was put into shackles and gagged.

This trial was considered a political trial. At the time of these protests, Lyndon B. Johnson was president. He asked his attorney general, Ramsey Clark if he intended to seek any indictments. Ramsey Clark said they wouldn’t be seeking indictments as an investigation done by their criminal division found that the riots were started by the Chicago Police Department. When Nixon became president his Justice Department formed a special unit to orchestrate a series of indictments and trials. President Nixon inherited an unpopular war and the defendants were making it more and more unpopular, making Nixon more unpopular.

Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, and Rennie Davis were found guilty of incitement to riot and were sentenced to five years in federal prison. The verdict was reversed by the seventh circuit court of appeals and a new trial was ordered. The U.S. Attorney declined to retry the case. William Kunstler was charged with 24 counts of contempt of court, due to multiple interruptions during proceedings.

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