'Hood fends off NATO problems
Protesters, cops clash, but little fallout for others
05/23/2012 10:00 PM
NATO is gone, and the South Loop survived largely unscathed, despite serving as the home turf for world leaders at the summit, on the one hand, and masses of protesters who followed.
In the end, all the precautions, extra security guards and boarded-up businesses seemed wholly unnecessary, as little, if any, property damage occurred in the South Loop.
Conflict broke out in the South Loop on Sunday, but protestors seemed content simply to rail against the government with words, and troublemakers sought to antagonize only the police, not business and property owners.
From Friday, May 18 until Monday, May 20, the South Loop hosted protests that ran the gamut from impromptu to heavily planned.
Protesters first entered the South Loop on Friday after the National Nurses United Union’s rally in Daley Plaza let out, when a group of a few hundred rolled out and began meandering the streets with a police escort blocking off intersections for them.
On Saturday, an non-permitted Anti-Capitalist march ended up roving the streets of the West and South Loop, weaving back and forth throughout for hours, again with a police escort following and directing the seemingly aimless march. Both protests forced few arrests, with protesters arrested only on Saturday when they attempted to break through police barriers at 18th Street and Michigan Avenue and later, State and Washington streets.
It was at the largest and most heavily planned rally of the weekend where the most problems occurred. On Sunday, several thousand protesters gathered in Grant Park for a march organized by the Coalition Against the NATO and G8 War and Poverty Agenda. They traveled from the Petrillo Music Shell to Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road.
Spanning as many as seven blocks at one point, the rally had protestors standing up for causes that varied from NATO’s military policies to immigration and even the effects of global warming on the humble fishing cat. The event culminated with a moving display by Iraq Veterans Against the War (not all were veterans of the Iraq War proper), who made a show of returning their medals to NATO’s generals. One by one, they hurled them towards McCormick Place, where world leaders were discussing how best to exit the war in Afghanistan.
After the rally ended, organizers implored protestors to leave to the west, away from McCormick Place toward the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line station. But one group of protesters wasn’t having it, called out “NATO’s east!” and began trying to push toward the convention center.
Police counter-surged toward the group, and objects began to fly. Water bottles, sign poles, even a light bulb filled with paint, were hurled at the cops. Police began to fight back and started beating protesters with batons. Dozens of protestors were arrested and injured, and as many as four police were injured as well, including one who was reportedly stabbed in the leg.
In the end, the intersection was cleared. No protesters got through to McCormick Place and no South Loop property was damaged in the skirmish.
In a press conference the next day, CANG8 organizer Andy Thayer contended that Sunday’s clash was caused by the police, not the protesters.
“I saw police pushing aggressively, and that’s what started this. Let’s be clear about that,” said Thayer. The police tactics in swiftly clearing protestors out of the intersection after the rally, he added, was over the top.
“There was no pressing national security need to clear one damn intersection in the city of Chicago,” Thayer said.
“You could have let the people who wanted to stay there do that, even though our permit was over. But no, you decided to be a big macho man.”
In an interview with WGN Morning News on Wednesday, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy made a distinction between the protesters who left quickly and the rabble-rousers who stayed behind.
“We facilitated the marches while preventing criminals from doing criminal acts,” McCarthy said. “It’s being reported that on Cermak we had clashes with the protesters. No, that’s not the case. We had clashes with criminals.”