This week the world took to the streets. One third of gas stations across France were dry because of fuel blockades initiated by unions and executed by students and other rabble-rousers to protest Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempts to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. In Greece, students objected to austerity measures in an effort to get Greece’s spiraling deficits and debts from becoming even more out of control. On the Western or American front, however, it was pretty quiet. A chance to reflect on the amendments history has made to our own demonstrations, police riots, anarchist takeovers, call it what you will.
As a native Chicagoan, no single event meets the category of this historical revisions than the 1968 Democratic National Convention, which depending on your perspective was a counterculture takeover or a police riot. In 2009, 41 years after the fact several law enforcement veterans of the collision decided to hold a reunion on the pretext of fundraising for the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. They ordered pizza, they maybe drank a few beers, but they did so behind closed doors as a small conglomeration of 1968 protesters and left-wing protest regulars got together for a little song and dance that made light of the presence in scale and seriousness of 1968. A story by Monica Davey, “41 Years Later in Chicago, Police and Demonstrators Still Clash, but With Words,” appeared in The New York Times on June 28, 2009.
But there was one small problem. In fact, the problem warranted a correction, which bears reprinting:
A picture caption on Monday with an article about a reunion of police officers who clashed with demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention misidentified the scene shown in a photograph being held by a protester outside the reunion. The picture showed Chicago police officers after the killing of the Black Panther Fred Hampton in 1969, not police officers at the 1968 clashes.
The restated caption reads, “A demonstrator in Chicago on Friday showed a picture of city police from 1969.” Such are the distortions of history, imagery, and politics. It was my first and hopefully last correction that taught me a powerful lesson about trusting the word of demonstrators with regard to the imagery they staked their claims on – and the same can be said of governments, NGOs, corporations and others who effectively make use of photojournalistic work for the purposes of advertising. If I had been alive for the demonstrations and Fred Hampton’s assassination the following year at the hands of the Chicago police, perhaps I would have recalled as a New York Times reader no doubt did. The absence of this memory as living is regrettable, but there is nothing that can be done to change the fact that I was born more than a decade later in that famously Orwellian year. The image in question: