What was the trial of the Chicago Seven?

The trial of the Chicago Seven, or Chicago Seven, was a trial against young people accused of conspiracy and incitement to riot during protests against the Vietnam War. The involvement of the United States motivated numerous protests in the 1960s and 1970s. In August 1968, thousands of activists gathered in Chicago to demonstrate while the National Convention of the Democratic Party was being held, in which that party would elect its candidate for president.

The city’s mayor, Richard Daley, banned gatherings in front of the event site and mobilized thousands of police officers and the National Guard. The recent French May and the riots over the assassination of Martin Luther King, which left 39 dead and more than 2,000 arrested in Chicago alone, had seen police forces receive orders to control the use of force.

From pacifism to violence

Despite security measures and peaceful intentions, violence broke out when the police charged protesters with batons and tear gas, to which civilians responded by throwing stones. A curfew was declared and the riots left thousands injured and more than six hundred arrested.. Eight of them, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, John Froines, Lee Weiner, Rennie Davis, Bobby Seale and Abbie Hoffman, were charged with conspiracy and inciting violence. Most were student leaders or civic movement leaders. Hoffman and Rubin were also founders of the International Youth Party, whose followers, the yippiesthey proposed a pig, Pigasus the Immortal, as their presidential candidate, as an ironic protest against the system.

The Democratic Administration did not continue with the accusation of the protesters, considering that the riots had occurred in part due to police repression. However, in 1969 he came to power. Republican Richard Nixon, whose Justice Department wanted to use the case as a lesson. The Chicago Seven were charged with crossing state lines to conspire and incite rebellion and were put on trial. The eighth defendant, Bobby Seale, a member of the Black Panther Party, insulted the judge, who ordered him to be chained and gagged during the trial. Seale was sentenced to four years in prison for contempt, even though the court had difficulty finding evidence of his participation in the demonstration. His sentence was one of the harshest handed down in the country for this crime.

The Chicago Seven: a political trial that made history

The trial of the Chicago Seven began on September 24 and lasted for months. During the process, public figures from the left and the country’s counterculture testified, such as the folk singer Arlo Guthrie, the writer Norman Mailer and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. For the Chicago Seven, the judicial process had become more of a political and media event, and the yippiesamong others, took advantage to exalt their anti-system ideals.

Finally, in February 1970, the seven defendants were acquitted of conspiracy, but were convicted of crossing state lines to incite riots, with sentences of five years and fines of $5,000. However, the US Court of Appeals overturned the sentences two years later, citing a lack of impartiality on the part of the judge.. For some, The trial of the Chicago Seven revealed the racism and police abuses that still persist in the United States.

The impact of the trial on popular culture was such that it is still valid more than fifty years later, both due to the political climate of the United States and due to its representations in film, music and literature. In 2020, for example, Netflix released the film The trial of the Chicago 7, by Aaron Sorkin, which earned six Oscar nominations. The process has been mentioned in dozens of books, songs like Peace Frog of The Doors, movies and other artistic expressions.