Environmental defender John Froines, who was tried with the Chicago 7, dies | Region

LOS ANGELES — Long before he became a renowned scientist who fought for environmental justice in Los Angeles and beyond, John Froines was an anti-war activist who became a familiar face as a member of the legendary Chicago 7.

The Vietnam War was in full swing, the nation was in the throes of racial tension, and college campuses had become battlegrounds when Froines joined Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden and the others at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago to protest against the long and increasingly unpopular. war.

The convention was a noisy, blurry and chaotic event. Activist Jerry Rubin tried to nominate a pig for president and then speak for the pig. Dan Rather was roughed up by police as he tried to interview delegates, and author Norman Mailer waded through the crowd trying to figure out what it all meant – if anything.

There was so much tear gas in the air that it seeped into nearby hotels, including the suite where Vice President Hubert Humphrey had set up camp.

A year later, Froines and six others were charged with conspiracy to incite a riot at the convention and stood trial in a show that became an enduring emblem — and a pair of films — of a when the nation was practically at war with itself. .

Froines, who was one of two acquitted at trial, lived comfortably with the memories of his days as a street activist, but even more comfortably as a leading environmental scientist who helped shape government standards. on lead and clean air, especially in poor neighborhoods.

“We still need student protesters because many of the issues from the 60s persist and new issues have arisen,” he told the Los Angeles Times shortly after being named director of the workplace health center at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“But no one is a student activist at 50. You should get your head checked.”

A contented grandfather who ran marathons and was an obsessive skier, Froines died Wednesday in Santa Monica, said his wife, Andrea Hricko, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. He was 83 years old and suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

As the ’60s slipped into the rearview mirror, the life of the Chicago 7 scatter in all directions.

Hayden married Jane Fonda and served 18 years as a California Assemblyman and state senator before dying in 2016 in Santa Monica. Rubin became an author and stockbroker who was fatally hit by a car while crossing Wilshire Boulevard in 1994. Hoffman committed suicide and Bobby Seale – co-founder of the Black Panther Party whose trial was split from that of others – became a lecturer and college recruiter and wrote a book on barbecue.

Froines returned to university. And the fervor he once aimed at the war in Vietnam he has now directed against lead, diesel fumes and other environmental hazards that have affected the lives of so many people, and often those who lived in near-poverty.

As head of the Vermont Department of Health’s Occupational Health Division, he helped persuade the state’s nuclear power industry to accept higher health standards than federal regulations. . As director of a division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Washington, he was the primary author of federal standards regulating worker exposure to lead and cotton dust.

As a professor at UCLA, Froines led a study to determine which Southern California jobs and industries were most exposed to 500 different chemicals. And as head of UCLA’s Center for Occupational Health, he oversaw a study to determine how certain industrial chemicals cause early brain aging and how others help trigger early stages of cancer.

John Radford Froines was born June 13, 1939 and grew up in Oakland, where his parents were shipyard workers. His father was murdered on his way home from the shipyards when John was 3 years old. He became a star in high school, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and earned his doctorate from Yale.

At Yale, he joined Students for a Democratic Society, then a center of leftist activity, and met Hayden, Rennie Davis, and David Dellinger, all future members of the Chicago 7. The three persuaded Froines, as well as Hoffman , Rubin , Seale and Lee Weiner, to join them in protesting the convention.

Thousands of protesters were met by riot police and dozens were injured in the ensuing violence.

The trial that followed was a circus. Hoffman wore court robes and marched past the judge shouting “Heil Hitler!” Dellinger called the judge a liar and Rubin put his boots on the defendants’ table and pretended to be asleep. Seale was so furious with the attorney the court appointed him that the judge ordered him bound and gagged. In all, the judge cited the defendants nearly 200 times for contempt of court.

Froines was acquitted, and an appeals court dismissed most of the charges against the others.

After the trial, Froines went on an anti-war speaking tour and joined the Black Panther Party defense committee, which worked with Seale and Ericka Huggins in their controversial murder trial. Both were released when the jury was deadlocked.

Froines kept in touch with some of his co-defendants and attended a Chicago 7 reunion in 1996, staying long enough to catch Crosby, Stills and Nash’s concert before heading to an environmental conference in Mexico City. .

“People always say, ‘Is John Froines the same radical he was in 1968?’ he told the Los Angeles Times years after the trial. “No one is the same now as they were then. I think it’s more useful to look at a person’s story – to see if it’s been consistent within the context of their values. And I believe Yes.

Froines is survived by his wife of 42 years; one daughter, Rebecca Froines Stanley; one son, Jonathan Froines; and two granddaughters, Kayla and Jessica Stanley.


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Elna M. Lemons