clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A wild night’s ride with the kids

In this original article published Oct. 9, 1969 in the Sun-Times, reporter Tom Fitzpatrick details a night of protests with Chicago’s youth in a story that went on to win the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.

Members of Students for a Democratic Society picket the Armed Forces induction center at 615 West Van Buren Street, Chicago, Illinois.
Chicago Sun-Times collection, Chicago History Museum

Bad Marvin had been standing in front of the fire he had made out of the Lincoln Park bench for 30 minutes shouting to everyone in the crowd and warning them how bad he was.

It was 10:25 p.m. and I kept looking to the north where the police had set up their command post the Lincoln Park Cultural Arts Center.

Deputy Chief Roberts was Lynskey had told me he be coming to the park at 10:30 to see how the situation was developing.

“Maybe we will maybe we won’t even have to tell them to leave,” he had said about two hours earlier. “Maybe by that time they’ll all be tired and want to go on their own.”

The Pulitzer Prize
Thomas Fitzpatrick of the Chicago Sun-Times won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize in Local General or Spot News Reporting for this story, “A wild night’s ride with the SDS.”
pulitzer.org

But they weren’t too tired, and now about 200 of the kids began racing out of the park, heading toward the Chicago Historical Society. Bad Marvin started running too, brandishing a long piece of burning board his right hand. “

“Viva Che,” he kept shouting as he ran. “Viva Cuba.”

“Bring the war home now,” screamed a girl running alongside him.

Running girl hits a tree, falls she was so caught up with running in the dark that she ran into a large tree outside the Historical Society and collapsed in a lump, the first casualty of the night.

By now the main force of the group had reached North Federal Savings, at the northwest corner of North and Clark. It’s a big impressive building with large plate glass windows, and here is where the tide turned.

Two weeks before in a similar march South on Clark, the kids contented themselves with shouting insults.

This time it was different. A tall skinny kid in a white helmet ran a little in front of the crowd and tossed a rock through one of the large windows.

The sound of shattering glass hit everyone in the group like an electric shock. You are not alone when you’re in a group like this. From now on it was going to have to be a wild ride. And if you were going to find out what happened, you had to go along with it.

The first rock was soon followed by a second and a third and then cheering.

Watching the rock throwing and the wild applause and seeing the motorists on the other side of North Ave. jumping out of their cars and running for cover, it suddenly hits you that everyone has gone insane.

The first thing you look for is the police. Certainly those blue lights are going to be shining all over in seconds. Incredibly they’re not.

Incredibly police didn’t care.

The only thing for a man to do who has thrown a rock through the window of a bank is to run away, and as a three or four who threw them began running, everyone else began running, too.

Now everyone is shouting the top of his lungs, and it’s amazing how many of them have come all the parks with rocks in their hands.

“Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!” they’re shouting. A blond in the front row is waiving the Viet Cong flag.

Once on Clark St. and heading south, the kids have taken over the entire street. The street is narrow enough to create an echo as the windows start exploding on each side of the street.

Three rocks go through windows of the Red Star Inn, and apartment windows on all sides are falling.

One girl who can’t be more than 17, has a heavy stick how about 3 feet long in her hand. She just played an amazing technique with the vent windows of cars parked along the streets: She got the first seven she tried, and the man in the white helmet behind her got four back windows in a row before missing one.

By this time, you’ve already learned one important rule about running with mobs who are tossing rocks. You have to stay up front and stay right in the street with them.

If you get on the sidewalk, you’ll never see the rock that hits you instead of an apartment window there’s a risk in this, too, because you must time your moves so that you get away from the whole outfit as soon as you see the line of police forming ahead of you.

The police still weren’t in sight and the wild march went all the way to within 50 yards of Division St. And there the police were waiting.

They were lined up across the street, and they weren’t saying a word. It was a sight so formidable that you didn’t blame the kids when they turned and ran back North on Clark and then turn east on Goethe to escape.

Goethe was where it got really bad. It’s a very narrow street where people like to park their cars.

Nobody who parked their cars there Wednesday night, however, will be happy Thursday morning. Every car window for a two-block stretch was smashed, and so were the lobby windows of the high-rise apartment on the corner of Dearborn and Goethe.

The kids knew it was all over for them, but they kept on in the attack. Anyone who wanted to still had a chance to escape, but the kids ran south on State heading for Division again. They had to know the police would have moved over from Clark and would be waiting.

“Hurry,” they kept shouting, “Make it fast and we’ll beat the cops to the corner.”

How did they ever think they’re going to run four blocks in the time it took the the policeman to ride two blocks in their cruisers?

And now as we’re headed into the eye of the storm at Division St. I see a beautiful thing happen. It’s Bad Marvin, the guy with the flaming stick who was bragging to everyone how bad he was going to be. Bad Marvin is running away, and his torch has burned out.

It always makes you feel good when the tough-talking guys cave in, but now what does happen is not good. All the kids who have been wound up so tight from listening to all the inflammatory speeches in the park are the ones were going to take it in the head.

“Charge!” one little kid screams and runs for the police line. “Charge!” the cry comes back as about a dozen more follow him.

Anyone who tells you he can see everything that goes on at moments like this is not telling a straight story. It comes at you in little pieces, and if you’re lucky you can put a few of them back later. But never get it all.

The squadrols are in the intersection and kids are being thrown into them as quickly as possible. One policeman is leaning over a squad car holding his head . He has been hit by a rock and he’s bleeding and he’s mad.

But the kids aren’t stopped yet. Some of them head to Lake Shore Dr. Another group turns back and races west along Division.

This was the first confrontation you will see three more different intersections before it ends at Crilly court on North. just west of Wells.

There are only about 50 kids left and this is a time it scares you.

Walking in the middle of the street you’re amazed to see cars heading towards you is if they meant to run you over. This is something new. For an hour every motorist on the near North Side has been running for his life.

The cars are filled with policemen. Some in plain clothes some in uniform. As they leap out, you can see at least three of them have their revolvers drawn. The others are welding clubs.

The kids run out they don’t have a chance. It’s all over with him now.

They have been asking for a confrontation all night and now they finally get one.

Within minutes the street is cleared, and Deputy Supt. James Rochford is walking towards Sgt. James Clark of the 18th District to get final report.

But there’s no smile of triumph on Rochford’s face. He was through the same thing during the Democratic National Convention, and he didn’t take any delight in it then either.

“All right,” Rochford says to Clark. “Get the men to clear the streets. Let’s just all get out of here.”