Chicago police chief Garry McCarthy (photo: Paul Weiskel)

The consensus being formed by news media is that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) deserves high praise for how it handled the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, especially the protests. The word is that CPD Chief Garry McCarthy and the thousands of police officers he oversaw exercised great restraint including during the biggest protest against NATO on May 20. The brutality, harassment, intimidation, and preemptive policing carried out by CPD and other security forces has been ignored. And the degree to which Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city of Chicago engaged in efforts to suppress free speech and assembly ahead of the summit by denying permits and passing restrictive ordinances is all inconsequential to anchors, hosts, or reporters eager to give McCarthy and the Chicago police a stroke job.

The Associated Press ran with the headline, “Chicago police get high marks for NATO protests, ” entirely disregarding the concerns of protesters by writing, “The sight of Chicago police raising billy clubs against demonstrators was the kind of image that has dogged the city’s police force longer than most of those who clashed with protesters have been alive. But after Sunday’s clash during the NATO summit played out on television, virtually no one was talking about a ‘police riot,’ as they did in 1968 when baton-wielding officers waded into crowds of demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention.” Reuters advanced this narrative with a story published under this headline, “Chicago police erase 1968 stain at last with NATO summit.” And, in a radio segment on WBEZ, host Steve Edwards helped the “General” talk about preparing for his “next battle.” McCarthy discussed how his police officers were “assaulted” by “Black Bloc” protesters that charged police lines on May 20, he called anyone who suggests anything different than his account a “liar.”

This reaction ignores the images of police officers clubbing protesters. It ignores the front pages of newspapers in Chicago that showed police clashing with protesters. It dismisses the climate created by the militarization of the city that took place, where security forces were out patrolling the city and targeting people who looked like activists.

What really happened was premeditated. The city of Chicago, in cooperation with the federal government, created a climate of repression ahead of and during the NATO summit that went well beyond any planned use of force by police at protests.

The May 20 March

Andy Thayer, a lead organizer for the Coalition Against NATO/G8 (CANG8), questions all the praise the Chicago police and the city is getting. He is part of a group that worked for months to secure permits for one of two permitted protest events that occurred during the summit. He notes the news has mostly overlooked the fact that the police “kettled” the march and only after that was there any “discernible amount” of violence.

“They didn’t allow people to flow out to the west, which in turn allowed them to kettle us very tightly at Cermak & Michigan immediately after the program was over,” Thayer recalls. Police then surrounded people setting up “a situation where people who might not have been pissed off at the police became such because it became clear the police were doing a power play on the crowd.”

People were not able to go south, people were not able to go north and people, shortly after the end of the ceremony, weren’t able to go west either. The police created a “cul-de-sac” in violation of the protest organizers’ letter of understanding or agreement with the city.  Police “started pushing into us” and “it was only after they started pushing into us that I saw people throwing things.” Elizabeth, a livestreamer was on the scene with NATO Indymedia, reports they pushed people who had their hands up and started shouting, “Move! Move! Move!” They used police shields to push back the crowd.

What was thrown was “minor,” like “light sticks,” Thayer adds. Had people been planning a “bombardment, they would have come much better armed.”

Thayer finds the “sensible” thing to do would have been to deal with whomever wanted to charge police lines but let people “chill” because this protest was the only one allowed to get in close proximity of the NATO summit. McCarthy contends the police did allow protesters to do that, but the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) urged people to leave after they held their ceremony where they threw away their medals. McCarthy wants people to believe his forces responded to “Black Bloc” protesters intent on harming police officers and not the fact that the crowd was not dispersing. (In the WBEZ interview, he says “we had a lot of undercover cops in the crowd” that gave commanding officers “intelligence.”)

Kris Hermes of the National Lawyers Guild affirms what Thayer asserts: “The Chicago Police Department didn’t really have an effective plan for allowing people to disperse.” A “narrow” path was made for people to leave the protest but “people weren’t really sure which way to go and I think some people ended up being stuck in the area where police were unleashing violence on protesters.”

What occurred at the end of the march included clear police brutality (at least 70 instances, according to the NLG). Legal observers noted most of the injuries came from baton blows or closed fists to the body. They found most baton blows were to the head. There were broken bones, broken teeth, concussions and stitches. At least one person had to get ten stitches in his head. Blood could be seen on police shields, but McCarthy claimed it was paint or “fake blood.”

Beyond the May 20 March – Preemptive Raids

How police handled themselves at the May 20 march (and a few other marches) is what defines people’s understanding of police activity during the NATO summit. What they do not realize is that McCarthy, Emanuel, city officials and others were fully aware of what they were doing. They shifted tactics to give the appearance that they were providing room for dissent at the summit, however, there had been a constant message in the media that at least a small group of people were coming to Chicago to create chaos. This had city businesses and residents needlessly on edge.

As Thayer recounts, like the Boston Democratic National Convention in 2004, a good portion of the city was scared into taking vacation and “getting the hell out of town.” A lot of people were scared to participate or be near the planned peaceful march on Sunday, “a direct attack on the First Amendment.” There was talk of violence, traffic, and graduations and weddings were moved around and this “steady drumbeat for like six months,” Thayer believes, eventually had a “real effect” on the number of people that showed up to protest.

The fear factor was ramped up when headlines on the Chicago police “discovering” a “terrorism plot” against the NATO summit were published. Illinois State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez declared people who were “self-described” anarchists and members of “Black Bloc” had come to Chicago to commit “terrorist acts of violence and destruction.” It fed into the narrative of protest promoted by the establishment—that anarchist or “Black Bloc” protesters are not peaceful and come to major protest events to wreak havoc on cities and be violent. Few considered the impact of these charges on the people, who were in Chicago to protest.

Police raided an apartment in Bridgeport, Chicago, on Wednesday night. They came in with guns and pointed them in the faces of nine activists who were staying in the apartment. They rounded these people up along with two other people, “Mo” and “Gloves,” who are now suspected to be infiltrators.

The activists’ apartment was ransacked. Arrestees were disappeared for 18 hours before attorneys were able to locate the nine activists. Attorneys were not shown a search warrant initially. Chief McCarthy refused to talk about it.

There were other raids that occurred in neighboring apartment units. Tenants were asked to provide information on what they knew about activists. The six activists, who were eventually released without charge, were threatened with terrorism charges and asked during interrogations to snitch on the movement or make false confessions. No evidence was shown to attorneys and disturbing allegations about the three individuals arrested in the raid, who are now charged with terrorism, were not shared with attorneys until they read them in the newspapers on Saturday morning just hours before a bond hearing.

William Vassilakis, who leases the apartment, and Zoe Sigman of Occupy Chicago, who had been staying there, came home to her friends being rounded up. They didn’t go home. The next day it was evident they knew they could become targets before the summit was over.

Sigman told the media during a press conference, “We have been planning to protest NATO and there is nothing illegal about expressing our feelings about a war machine. Now, we are being treated as if we are criminals, as if we are part of an organized crime unit that is trying to take down who knows what, whatever they are going to pin on us. We have no place to stay. We don’t know if they are trying to catch us. We don’t know what to do.”

Natalie of Occupy Chicago adds, “CPD framed my friends as terrorists and with no evidence.”

Chicago police at the NATO summit (photo: Michael Kappel)

The Fear of Being Made a Target Next

In the aftermath of the raid, Occupy Chicago released photos of the suspected infiltrators. “Mo” and “Gloves” (aka “Nadiya”) participated in the occupation outside the Woodlawn mental health clinic that Emanuel would like to shut down. And now both Emanuel and McCarthy are outraged that activists would release photos of undercover cops. Emanuel says, “If what has been reported is happening – any issue that deals with what police are doing on a professional basis, more than just upsets me.” McCarthy called the publishing of photos “personally disgusting” and claimed he had never seen anything like this done before.  Of course, neither Emanuel or McCarthy care that activists’ friends are likely the victim of a political frame up as a result of these possible undercover cops. They don’t care about how activists were essentially disappeared and many here to protest in Chicago feared they could become a target next. That is not outrageous.

Throughout the summit, Natalie of Occupy Chicago was “terrified” that she would get put in jail for the rest of her life on “some lie charge just for walking on the public street.” She adds:

In the morning I left to go to the CANG8 rally and I was walking to the bus when four police officers drove by and I was too afraid to walk to the bus. I made one of my friends come get me and take me as close as they could to the rally because I was afraid to stand on the street. When I was there, I was afraid that I was going to be snatched or I was going to be targeted. I’ve been a very outspoken member of Occupy Chicago. And it was the most unsettling feeling.

This is the fear that activists had. As Hermes reports, police and the FBI went around to homes of known organizers. They swarmed these homes with squad cars. They showed pictures of people and were asking questions about the protests. In addition to what Hermes shares, there were other reports of real estate managers apparently being visited. They were being told this space was on a list of “suspected anarchist spaces,” as if it was a crime to be an anarchist.

Police targeted “specific activists” with snatch and grabs. Mark Neiweem (one of two activists who was charged with terrorism-related crimes a day after the NATO 3 were charged on Saturday), was, according to Hermes, “picked off the street coming out of a restaurant at Halsted & Maxwell. During the May 20 march, smiley face stickers were being put on people whom officers thought were suspicious and might deserve to be arrested if necessary.

People on the streets who looked like occupiers, anarchists, “Black Bloc,” etc, were subjected to arbitrary searches. Police boarded Chicago Transit Authority train cars where they knew activists were sitting and subjected activist-looking people to searches. For example, according to Siun, she witnessed police board a train on May 20 to identify “occupiers” and check their bags. Livestreamer @OccupyAir and others were forced to show what liquids they had in their water bottles. The train was not going to move until police finished this inspection. However, the rest of the train car, including O’Connell, were not subjected to any sort of search.

Livestreamers known for covering Occupy protests were apparently targeted. @Korgasm refused to consent to a search and had her vehicle impounded on May 19. @AnonSikko, who was with her, was subjected to a search, and when police allegedly found marijuana or trace of marijuana, @AnonSikko was arrested and jailed. That same day, @TimCast, @Lukewearechange, @Jiraffa were targeted by police who stopped them while they were headed to where they were staying and police searched, detained and interrogated them at gunpoint. The police took hard drives and intentionally tried to damage them. The livestreamers were afraid to return to where they were staying afterward because there had been disturbing things going on earlier, such as police showing up and an alarm going off. (They now have good reason to believe they were setup.)

Police Violence During Planned May 19 Marches in the Afternoon & Evening

There was police violence during a march in solidarity with the NATO 3 and during an anti-capitalist march later in the evening. Natalie of Occupy Chicago was hit with a bicycle. An officer picked up a bicycle and began to use it as a baton, like a billy club, and smashed it into her. He aimed for her face with the front tire, she says, and now has cuts and bruises. She notes she had to be careful because she knew if she put her arms up and tried to block the bicycle or made contact with the bicycle she would probably be charged with “assaulting a police officer.” (Here’s a video showing police officers swinging bicycles at protesters.)

Jack Amico of Occupy Wall Street was plowed over by a police van that drove right through a crowd of protesters. Police nearly committed vehicular homicide (see video here). No officers were reprimanded. Instead, Amico was arrested, taken to hospital; and while he received medical treatment, he was handcuffed to the hospital bed. He was eventually released without charge; but depending on how the outrage against the incident played out, officers were considering the possibility of pressing charges.

Violations of Freedom of the Press

Many journalists and photographers were in town to cover the summit protests. As documented by Free Press’ Josh Stearns, a photojournalist was injured in the head, photographer Joshua Lott was arrested, journalist Laurie Penny was shoved by police, credentialed photographer Tracey Pollock of The Uptake was attacked by police, photographer Paul Weiskel was hit with a bicycle and complained multiple times of police putting their hands up to interfere with his camera shots, etc.

As mentioned previously, livestreamers Tim Pool and Luke Rudkowski were detained. The CPD deleted Ustream footage from Rudkowski’s camera. In another incident, livestreamer @Rebelutionary_Z was arrested by riot cops. (His father captured the clip of his arrest from his stream.) Taylor Hall, a livestreamer with Occupy Pittsburgh, was arrested and charged with a felony for allegedly assaulting a police officer.

MyFDL blogger “TarheelDem” was arrested in the Bridgeport apartment raid on Wednesday night. He left a comment the morning after he was released from jail:

Note to friends here from TarheelDem. I was one of the persons arrested in an early morning police raid in the Bridgeport neighborhood early Thursday morning. I was release with no charges this morning (Friday). I am fine. There are still five or six in custody. (Tracking down where folks are held has been difficult for the NLG.) Calls to Rahm Emanuel’s official voicemail would be helpful. The folks at Occupy Chicago and NLG worked rapidly and effectively to ensure our release. The whole charge is transparently bogus and meant for the media to reduce turnout to the march on Sunday. The permitted march will be relatively safe, providing you leave fairly soon at the end of the march (unless you want to risk arrest yourself by intentionally staying). A large turnout is crucial. Everyone who can make it to Chicago should; a larger crowd makes the entire effort safer.

Looks like a 'Black Bloc.' Is it a 'Black Bloc'? (photo: Paul Weiskel)

The “Black Bloc” Boogeyman

Police, city officials and other security personnel took advantage of this narrative that “Black Bloc” protesters were here to attack. They put pressure on organizers to control or distance themselves from people, who would show up in black at the protests.

“They kept on baiting us with this and we refused to take the bait. I mean, we’re not going to trash fellow protesters,” explains Thayer. “For one thing, there have been plenty of evidence from Miami Free Trade of the Americas conference, where alleged Black Bloc, some of them were police officers that melted into police lines after starting shit that justified police violence against all protesters. We weren’t going to take that bait and say, “Black Bloc this and Black Bloc that.” (In fact, photojournalist Paul Weiskel took some photos of people he believed to be possible agent provocateurs.)

They used “Black Bloc” protesters as a pretext to justify raids, arbitrary searches, restrictive ordinances, obstructing the granting of permits, police force and brutality, the rounding up of people on the streets, etc.

McCarthy and his police department want to take all the credit for there being no real “riots” or mass chaos. There is no acknowledgment of the thousands of protesters who obeyed the law and did not bring destruction to the city. There is no acknowledgment of the fact that perhaps the authorities and media were wrong to suggest people were coming to do damage because no windows of businesses were broken as part of the protests against NATO. McCarthy wants the world to believe his police force prevented that with special newfangled tactics they rolled out that involved placing bikes and police officers along areas where protests or marches were occurring.

The truth is that the Chicago Police Department and the city of Chicago, like other cities that have hosted NSSEs, hyped up the threat posed by “Black Bloc” and were wrong. Other than violent rhetoric from members and some throwing of materials (which police handled), no major destruction or uncontrollable violence took place. That is because around 99% of people in Chicago to protest had no intention to pursue some vendetta against police and just wanted to protest NATO and have the space to exercise their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, the city and federal government chose to not fully respect people’s desire to engage in speech and assembly and the specter of being harassed, intimidated or targeted haunted people in town to protest throughout the duration of the summit.

[*Note: The NLG reports at least 115 people were arrested during the summit. The NLG still doesn't know who all the people incarcerated are or what their charges and bail are. The NLG is not legally allowed to help raise funds for arrestees to help them get bailed out. Activists in Chicago have planned a bail fundraiser that will take place this Sunday for anyone wanting to help friends and family get their loved ones out of jail.]