Various protest movements throughout U.S. History have been met with brute force of law enforcement. Police have historically used militaristic tactics to suppress unwanted assemblies of people. During the Vietnam War, a huge anti-war attitude spread among the American public. In order to express their views and pressure politicians to change America’s involvement in the conflict, several protests were held. A particular incident that was met with a strong police force took place at a Chicago convention in 1968 seven years after Kennedy had initially sent troops into Vietnam. When people gathered outside the Democratic Party Convention to voice their antiwar views, the mayor of Chicago responded powerfully, sending 27,000 law enforcement agents to the scene. Officers arrived in Jeeps equipped with machine guns and hand-to-hand combat occurred between police and civilians, while journalists and protesters fell victim to batons and tear gas. Over one hundred protesters were hospitalized and thousands were treated for injuries by on-site medical teams. This event is known as the “Battle of Michigan Avenue”, and was televised nationally. The militarization of the U.S. police force set a precedent that social change through protest was not a viable option, rather one that would just be suppressed by an overpowering police force.
Although police response varied among different locations and years, police militarization played a substantial role in the civil rights movement as well. Images of protesters, children and adults, being hosed down by high-pressure water jets and attacked by police dogs epitomized the brutality inflicted on civil rights activists by law enforcement agencies. African-Americans fell victim to police brutality so often that it sparked the creation of the Black Panther Party of Self Defense in 1966. The Black Panther Party was founded with the mission to act as protection for African American neighborhoods against police brutality. The group had no issue with violence as a means of civil rights acquisition and ultimately turned into a quasi-Marxist party. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover viewed the BPP as the nation’s number one internal threat. There are several factors that can be attributed to the growth of militaristic police practices in the 60s. A major one is that instead of attempting to create tactics to deal peacefully with assemblies, focus shifted to a more imminent goal of suppressing potential rebellions. Additionally, the growing size of public protests in the late 50s and 60s and the police force’s lack of experience in dealing with such situations also lead to an emphasis on enhanced militaristic practices and weapons. The only other mass-demonstrations that compared in magnitude occurred in 1919 during the great depression. Thus, law enforcement agencies were rather inept in ability and knowledge to deal with such forms of civil unrest, causing a resort to violence and increased militaristic practices of police forces.