The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7: the true story on which is based the new Aaron Sorkin’s film

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (MA15+) film review | Canberra Weekly

Some days ago, the Academy Awards officially published this year’s Oscar nominations for the celebration which will take place on 26th April 2021. 

As you may have noticed, if you have read the list of the lucky films which have been nominated, one of the movies that the Academy liked the most is The Trial of the Chicago 7, which received 6 nominations in different categories. This film was  written and directed by the American director Aaron Sorkin. The cast includes a lot of well-known actors, such as Eddie Redmayne, Sascha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and many others. The movie is a masterpiece from different points of views: the performance, the soundtrack, the cinematic technique  and the screenplay, so basically the way the story is told. 

As a matter of fact, The Trial of the Chicago 7 tells the true story of a group of 

defendants, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, John Froines and Bobby Seale, who were arrested and charged by the FBI with trying to incite a riot in August 1968. They were all anti-Vietnam war protesters and their aim was leading a peaceful protest at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in order to end the war. The riot actually took place, but not peacefully and many rioters and police officials were seriously injured.

At the trial, this group of liberal activists except Bobby Seale was represented by two lawyers, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, while the prosecutors  were Richard Schultz and Tom Foran. The judge who presided over the trial, Julius Hoffman (who is not a relative of one of the defendants even if they share the same surname), showed significant prejudice for the prosecution. As a matter of fact, he removed some of the jurors who sympathized with the defendants. Several undercover local police officers testified during the trial, while the testimonies of some of the witnesses proposed by the defence were annulled and were not written in the minutes. The agents obviously gave  a negative description of the defendants, included in their testimonies some false elements and omitted important facts which  would have portrayed the rioters positively. No one of the defendants instigated the riot, but when the police took control of the hill in the park where the manifestation was taking place, then a conflict ensued. Even if Kunstler made a point that some hecklers sympathizing with the police tried to rape one of the protestors, no one cared about this case   and the unfair trial went on.

Judge Hoffman declared Bobby Seale’s case a mistrial after Fred Hampton, one of the members of the Black Panther Party (Seale was the chief of this group) was killed during a police raid. Another defendant, David Dellinger was arrested at this point of the trial because he had punched one of the officers in the courtroom. As a sign of disrespect, the rioters decided not to stand up for the judge that day.

On one of the last days of trial, Abbie Hoffman himself testified. He affirmed that every defendants’ word was misconstrued and he also stated his disdain for the US government’s leadership. 

At the end of the trial, despite the judge’s instructions and objections, Tom Hayden used his closing statement to name the 4,752 soldiers killed in the Vietnam War since the beginning of the trial.

Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger were found guilty and sentenced to 5 years each in federal prison. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, but this proposal was declined by the US Attorney and Kustler was charged with 24 counts of contempt of court.

After 5 years spent in jail, every defendant set up a new life. Jerry Rubin became a stockbroker and died in 1994, hit  by a car. Abbie Hoffman wrote a best-seller, though the number of copies in circulation is unknown as the title is Steal This Book. He committed suicide in 1989. Tom Hayden was elected to the California State Legislature in 1982 and was re-elected 6 more times. Then, in a recent survey, 78% of Chicago trial lawyers described Julius Hoffman as "unqualified" for the case.

Anna Donà, 2^D

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