By Leonardo Cervantes
Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is based on one of the most unusual and controversial trials in U.S. history. The defendants were charged with intent of inciting anti-war riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Thomas Foran is a U.S. attorney of the Southern District of Illinois and endorsed Richard Schultz his assistant. Foran was the best prosecutor available at the time. They wanted David Dellinger, Rennard C. Davis, Thomas Hayden, Abbott Hoffman, Jerry C. Rubin, Lee Weiner, John R. Froines and Bobby G. Seale charged with the Rap Brown law. Chicago viewed them as a threat to national security.
When Schultz reviews the information, he doubts that they could achieve a good indictment on conspiracy because some of the people had never even met before.
Schultz knew that the public would look down upon this case because they would see it as the Justice Department restraining free speech. He also brought up the point that the police actually started the riots, not the protesters, but he was quickly shut down because “police don’t ignite protests.”
The defense counsels were William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass who was regarded as one of the country’s more talented first amendment litigators. The trial finally began on September 26th, 1969. Judge Julius Hoffman was presiding over the case. There were 12 jurors and four alternates.
The trial began without Seale’s lawyer Charles R. Garry because he’s in a hospital in Oakland having undergone gallbladder surgery. A motion was made for postponement due to Garry’s medical condition but the judge denied that motion. The defendants represent three different groups, Davis and Hayden are the leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society.
Davis and Hayden brought their people to Chicago to ignite violence to the streets in order to disrupt the Democratic Convention. Hoffman and Rubin the leaders of the Youth International Party known as the Yippies and Seale is the leader of the Black Panther Party.
Seale once again brings up the point that he has never even met most of the defendants until the indictment and is getting fed up because he has no legal representation so he begins talking loudly at Judge Hoffman and charges him with one count of contempt of court.
Judge Hoffman has been rather hostile with the defendants and some of them are smart mouthing with him, so he is becoming increasingly angry. Abbie brought up an interesting point and said that this is a political trial that has already been decided for us.
The mayor’s administrative officer is the first on the stand and he has had multiple meetings with the defendants. He first met with Abbie and Rubin and they were asking for a park permit.
They told him the Youth International Party would be holding a festival of life in Grant Park during the Democratic National Convention. Thousands were said to attend as well as rock bands and public fornication would take place.
The officer denied the permit and Abbie jokingly told him he could give him 100 grand and he would call the whole thing off. The rest of the defendants also met with the officer asking for permits and they were all denied.
Hayden cautioned that the demonstration would take place with or without a permit. Hayden pleaded for a permit because he knew that it could get out of hand yet the officer continued to deny his request.
Weinglass and Kunstler were confident jurors six and eleven were with them so their confidence in this case grew.
Somehow the plaintiff noticed two jurors leaning with the defendants and they took matters into their own hands. Two of the jurors received threatening notes from members of the Black Panther Party. It just so happened to be juror number six and eleven received those notes.
The judge called juror six and showed her a letter her parents received in the mail and it was a threat.
When asked if she could still feel she can render a fair and impartial verdict she said no. So, Juror six and eleven were replaced. After this incident the judge sequestered the jury. The defendants moved to strike the order of sequestration of the jury. The judge was ticked off at the tone of Weinglass so he charged him with one count of contempt of court. Undercover officers and FBI agents befriended the defendants in order to gain information on them.
Hayden was caught slashing police tires so he was arrested. The following day Rubin lead 800 protestors to police headquarters demanding for Hayden to be released. They were met with strong resistance at the police headquarters so they decided to head back to the park. Grant park was also filled with officers armed.
While both sides were in a shouting match someone in the crowd shouted “take the hill” and the protestors charged at the officers. The police used tear gas and batons to beat the protestors and all hell broke loose.
Over a month and a half had gone by and Seale still did not have legal representation. His lawyer Fred Hampton was shot and killed by the police in a raid. He was shot in the shoulder first and then in the head so now Seale officially does not have a lawyer. The next day in the court Seale went off on the judge because of the false accusation a detective was making.
Judge Hoffman had enough and asked for Seale to be reprimanded.
He was gagged and handcuffed and this was obviously a bad look. Schultz brought this up and Judge Hoffman refusingly issues an order declaring a mistrial as to the defendant Bobby G. Seale.
Ramsey Clark is now up on the stand and will give a testimony. In 1968 Clark was the attorney general of the United States.
He had a conversation on the phone with president Johnson, he asked Clark if he intended to seek and indictments related to the riots in Chicago.
Clark said no because an investigation by our criminal division led to the conclusion that the riots were started by the Chicago police department. Even the counterintelligence division concluded that there was no conspiracy by the defendants to incite violence during the convention.
Judge Hoffman did not allow the jury to hear Clark’s testimony. Dellinger was angry with Judge Hoffman and asked if “we’re guilty, why not give us a trial” the marshals went to tell him to calm down and he punched done of them so he was locked up.
Hayden could not take the stand because there was a tape recording of Hayden telling the crowd “if blood is gonna flow let it flow all over the city. If gas is gonna be used let it come down all over Chicago. We’re going to the convention. Let’s get on the streets.” And this is when a riot began against the police. Hayden instructed the protestors to head to the footbridges.
The Illinois National Guard was waiting for them. The rioters approached them and threw glass bottles at the police. About 12 of them made it through and got to a bar, they resisted arrest and the officers pushed them through a window.
When Hayden said wait, he said on the tape recording he meant to say “if our blood is gonna flow then let it flow all over the city”.
Hayden is allowed to make one final statement and Judge Hoffman said if he does so respectfully and remorsefully and briefly he will favorably sentence him.
He opens his statement with “since this trial began 4,752 US troops have been killed in Vietnam.” Hayden then begins reading off all 4,752 of the troops that have been killed.
Everybody begins applauding and judge Hoffman is irate. Hayden, Hoffman, Dellinger, Rubin and Davis were found guilty of incitement to riot and sentenced to 5 years each 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 re-try the case.