'This is crazy, this is America:' protestors, police recall violence of 1968 DNC 50 years on

CHICAGO (WLS) -- This weekend several events marked the 50-year anniversary of violent clashes between police and anti-war protestors at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Thousands of demonstrators had descended upon Lincoln Park. But because Mayor Richard J. Daley had denied permits for people to sleep there, the curfew led to violence when police moved in to clear the park.

RELATED: Days of Rage: Timeline of the 1968 Democratic National Convention

Longtime Chicago communications consultant Marilyn Katz was a protest organizer.

"The cops, not content simply with pushing us out of the park and just getting us out, as, you know, 'You can't have this public space,' start hitting people with their batons," she said.

Chicago police beat protestors with batons as cameras rolled and the world watched. The images would become infamous.

In the days that followed, the clashes shifted to outside the Hilton Hotel where many of the convention delegates were staying. The young, mostly white protesters were determined to have their anti-war message heard. Police were determined to show who was in charge.

"This was our city," said Ted O'Connor, a police officer at the time. "And don't forget what these kids were saying. The leaders were saying, they were saying, 'We're gonna come and take this city over,' so collectively the police said, 'Oh yeah, try it.'"

O'Connor got called up in the National Guard and was on the front lines outside the Hilton.

"You've got 400 some men with bayonets on their Rem 1's and we're all feeling the same way, 'This is crazy, this is America, these are our fellow citizens. We may not like them, but they're American citizens we can't be charging these people with fixed bayonets,'" he said.

There were some 5,000 guardsmen called up. Army units were also brought in to help police keep order. But keeping the peace was done with batons and was anything but peaceful.

Don Rose, was the press spokesman for MOBE, The National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, one of the umbrella protest groups. After one bloody night, the leaders planned a news conference to show off the victims of police violence.

Rose's words, "The whole world's watching," would come to symbolize the resistance.

But there was also dissension inside the convention hall, as delegates reacted to the chaos in the streets and the media tried to report on it.

Bill Singer was a floor leader for George McGovern's campaign.

"The speech by Governor Ribicoff of Connecticut, on the floor at the convention, he was on the podium and he called it a police riot as well and Mayor Daley erupted from his seat on the convention floor," Singer said.

When the convention ended, Hubert Humphrey had won the nomination, but the Democratic party was fractured.

"Many people believe that Nixon's victory came because of, at least in some part, because of what we did," Rose said.

There were many things that changed after the 1968 convention: the power of party bosses like Mayor Daley began to erode and primaries became the way presidential candidates would win their party's nomination -- something that is now often decided before the conventions even happen.

CLICK HERE for ABC7Chicago's full coverage of the 50-year anniversary of the 1968 DNC
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