These days Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy sounds like an exception to the rule, a head of a police department who shows an unusual understanding of what can happen if police violate citizens’ civil liberties. As the NATO/G8 summits near, he is a sober voice who appears to be trying to calm down local reporters or business leaders in Chicago that believe chaos will ensue when people come out to demonstrate against the NATO and G8 summits being held May 19-21.
McCarthy, who spoke to a room of “500 business professionals at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago” recently, told the audience whether police would be relying on tear gas when handling protests:
…no one should expect that.
“I’m trying to figure out how tear gas helps you control a crowd,” McCarthy said. “It’s never really become clear to me.”
If demonstrators who are breaking the law appear in a large throng of people, “my expectation is we’ll have an extraction team” that would go in and arrest them, McCarthy said.
“I don’t think that something like tear gas is a good idea, because now you have a whole bunch of little crowds running around,” McCarthy continued. “Just as a concept, tactically, it just doesn’t seem to make sense to me.”…
This was said to a room of people that one can presume are more sympathetic to the well-being of the 1% than the 99%. McCarthy addressed many who asked questions predominantly focused on containing disruptions created by protesters during the summits. The business officials, of course, are primarily concerned with whether the protests that come with national special security events will result in an impact to profits. But, since the summits are being held on a weekend (which they probably lobbied to ensure), businesses should relax.
Also surprising—especially if one thinks the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Oakland Police Department (OPD)’s handling of protests is the new normal for law enforcement in America—is the fact that McCarthy said that he had Chicago police approach arrests of Occupy Chicago participants in Grant Park last year with the psychology in mind that if you treat them as a mob, they will be a mob. If you treat them as individuals, they will be individuals. [cont’d.]
Yes, McCarthy’s talk overlooks how the police can be polite in public but brutally mistreat individuals when they are in custody and being held in jail. McCarthy could be saying all this because it will help the police look good in the event of major incidents of police brutality during the NATO/G8. On the other hand, he may want people to chill out. During the event with business people, he did say 10,000 people would probably come protest, not some unknown amount that police would never be able to handle.
He isn’t only reluctant to see police use tear gas. He also supports the right of citizens to live stream or record protests. He said, ““I actually am a person who endorses video and audio recording…There’s no arguments when you can look at a videotape and see what happened.” He would not be opposed to a change to the Illinois eavesdropping law that made it legal for citizens to record police in public. [Watch: McCarthy speaks at forum on “Citizens’ Right to Film” (video produced by CANTV).]
Contrast McCarthy’s recent public statements with the actions of politicians in Chicago and one might think an ACLU lawyer was superintendent. The City Council let Mayor Rahm Emanuel shock them into passing protest ordinances that permanently change the law so there are more restrictions for protests in Chicago. Emanuel claimed the ordinances were necessary for “security” during the NATO/G8 summits. And now there are four aldermen, who want to silence citizens who might attend the council meetings and express approval or displeasure with proceedings.
The four aldermen are pushing through rules to stop “cheering, yelling, clapping, foot stomping, whistling, booing or jeering.” They also want to forbid any signs that are not pre-approved by the chair of the City Council.
The local media, for what it’s worth, seem to get this is connected to the upcoming NATO/G8 summits. They want to change the rules after Chicagoans protested against the protest ordinances recently passed. Edward McClelland for NBC Chicago notes this is “inviting suspicion that the city is using the G-8/NATO summit as an excuse to impose all sorts of new security measures that will never be repealed.” (Not to mention, one of the aldermen pushing the measure, Richard Mell, is a massive hypocrite, as he once stood on his desk in the City Council chamber yelling at the chair to recognize him.)
There is no measure rolling back civil liberties in Chicago that the City Council is likely to deny as the summits approach. The politicians want people out of the chamber and into the streets. Then, on the streets, police can deal with them instead. They can use the new ordinances as tools to remove them if they want—or not. It is up to police. Out on the streets, the city can now make money and slap fines on people for protesting.
The very chaos which City Council members want to prevent with rules to silence citizens becomes increasingly inevitable. History tells us when citizens want to be heard they will go to great lengths to be heard. Politicians can listen and face frustrated but mostly calm and passionate people. Or, they can face angry groups of people, who will be up in their face like a mob with pitchforks that have come to tar and feather them (figuratively speaking).
The political class of Chicago bears responsibility for what form attempts to be heard take because they can regulate the environment which allows or represses dissent. The clamping down on expression does have inevitable negative effects. These ordinances and rules are destined to backfire.