History of the Federal Judiciary

History of the Federal Judiciary

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Historical Documents

Walker Report summary

On September 4, 1968, Milton Eisenhower, chair of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, announced that the commission would investigate the violence at the Chicago convention and report its findings to President Lyndon Johnson. A Chicago lawyer, Daniel Walker, headed the team of over 200 members, who interviewed more than 1,400 witnesses to the events and studied FBI reports and film of the confrontations. The report released on December 1, 1968, characterized the convention violence as a “police riot” and recommended prosecution of police who used indiscriminate violence. The report made clear that the vast majority of police had behaved responsibly, but it said that failure to prosecute the police who misbehaved would further damage public confidence in law enforcement. Chief Judge William Campbell criticized the release of the report before the completion of the grand jury investigation and suggested that the grand jury might need to investigate the motivation for the release. Milton Eisenhower, however, defended the commission’s decision to publish the report because of “widespread interest” in the findings. The report was unvarnished in its presentation of the language used by demonstrators and their provocation of the police, but it also blamed the violence on the city government’s refusal to allow permits.

[Document Source:
Rights in Conflict. Convention Week in Chicago, August 25–29, 1968. A Report submitted by Daniel Walker, Director of the Chicago Study Team, to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. Introduction by Max Frankel. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968. pp. 1, 10–11.]

A Summary

During the week of the Democratic National Convention, the Chicago police were the targets of mounting provocation by both word and act. It took the form of obscene epithets, and of rocks, sticks, bathroom tiles and even human feces hurled at police by demonstrators. Some of these acts had been planned; others were spontaneous or were themselves provoked by police action. Furthermore, the police had been put on edge by widely published threats of attempts to disrupt both the city and the Convention.

That was the nature of the provocation. The nature of the response was unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence on many occasions, particularly at night.

That violence was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and large numbers of residents who were simply passing through, or happened to live in, the areas where confrontations were occurring.

Newsmen and photographers were singled out for assault, and their equipment deliberately damaged. Fundamental police training was ignored; and officers, when on the scene, were often unable to control their men. As one police officer put it: “What happened didn’t have anything to do with police work.” . . .

Police violence was a fact of convention week. Were the policemen who committed it a minority? It appears certain that they were—but one which has imposed some of the consequences of its actions on the majority, and certainly on their commanders. There has been no public condemnation of these violators of sound police procedures and common decency by either their commanding officers or city officials. Nor (at the time this Report is being completed—almost three months after the convention) has any disciplinary action been taken against most of them. That some policemen lost control of themselves under exceedingly provocative circumstances can perhaps be understood; but not condoned. If no action is taken against them, the effect can only be to discourage the majority of policemen who acted responsibly, and further weaken the bond between police and community.

Although the crowds were finally dispelled on the nights of violence in Chicago, the problems they represent have not been. Surely this is not the last time that a violent dissenting group will clash head-on with those whose duty it is to enforce the law. And the next time the whole world will still be watching.


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