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.”