NATO security perimeter revealed
As peace summit goes smoothly at UIC, South Loop frets over NATO restrictions
04/25/2012 2:47 PM
The sky was blue, the streets were calm and the cops looked almost bored on Monday morning in University Village. Just a block up Halsted Street, inside the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Forum convention center, were a bevy of former world leaders.
They were former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of South Africa Willem de Klerk, former President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias and former president of Poland Lech Walesa. They all sat inside the Forum, speaking to a gathered crowd of thousands at the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.
And yet despite the star power inside, the cops and the plain metal barriers outside didn’t look like they were too needed. As Carter, Gorbachev and others gathered to share their vision of the future, traffic breezed past smoothly along Roosevelt Road and Halsted. People walked unknowingly down the street. Life went on.
It was a scene of tranquility that many hope can be repeated next month, when a different set of world leaders comes to town for the NATO summit at McCormick Place on May 19 and 20. The difference is that they’ll be active, not former heads of state, and while like the Nobel Laureates they’ll be talking about peace, the discussion will mostly revolve around their militaries.
As a result, there’ll be much more security to deal with than the Nobel summit. And on Tuesday evening after months of curiosity and consternation, protest organizers said they’ve finally been told the boundaries of the security perimeter for the NATO summit.
Instead of the Nobel summit’s small, unenforced crowd control gate, traffic will be shut off roughly a block all around McCormick Place, as well as on Lake Shore Drive between Roosevelt Road and 31st Street, according to protest organizers Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda. The Stevenson Expressway will also be shut down between the Dan Ryan and Lake Shore Drive.
Much of the lakefront east of Lake Shore Drive north to Roosevelt Road will be shut down as well, partially because of a gala at the Museum Campus, coalition organizer Joe Iosbaker said Tuesday night.
But the security perimeter, as described by Iosbaker, is much smaller than what many in the neighborhoods feared. At only a block in each direction to the north and west of the convention center, hardly any residences will be encompassed in the security perimeter. The hard perimeter won’t encompass Michigan Avenue, so Motor Row residents and business owners on the strip will likely be able to get in and out without having to go through a security checkpoint.
But Iosbaker said they’re disappointed in the size of the security perimeter. The restrictions will knock a block off their protest parade route from Grant Park, forcing them to end their march at the intersection of Michigan and Cermak rather than Indiana and Cermak. The end result of that, he said, is that they’ll be out of sight and sound from the officials at the NATO summit.
“We’re not actually going to be within sight and sound of the delegates, which is really unfortunate,” Iosbaker said. “It’s an act by the feds that shows they don’t actually respect the free speech standards that they claim to uphold.”
On top of that, Iosbaker said they’re now worried that the city will use the security boundaries — set up by the Secret Service, which is quarterbacking security for the NATO summit — to push the protestors even further away or restrict their time even more.
“Here we are now with a new logistical change, and our concern is that yes, the city will do as it has twice before in the past 10 months and come up with a pretext to deny us our location to rally,” Iosbaker said. “We’re concerned that the city will come up with an excuse that they can’t let us stay in Michigan Avenue for another hour.”
At a community meeting held by South Loop neighborhood group the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance Monday night, before news of the perimeter leaked out, the two heads of security firm Hillard Heintze addressed resident concerns about the summit. Run by former Chicago Police Chief Terry Hillard and former Secret Service agent Arnette Heintze, the firm has been hired to support and advise the NATO summit planning team.
When asked how residents should prepare, Heintze told the crowd they shouldn’t worry. They’d be able to get to their apartments, as long as they had an ID or a piece of mail with their name and address on it.
Regardless, though, Heintze said neighbors should put the security perimeter out of their minds, and not worry about the protestors.
“Think about it. Who are the protestors?” he said to the crowd of hundreds packed into the Second Presbyterian Church on South Michigan Avenue.
“They’re teachers. They’re nurses. They’re Rev. [Jesse] Jackson. These are individuals who are not violent.”
This article has been corrected to reflect that the original protest route was planned to end at Cermak and Indiana.
Photos by J. GEIL/Photo Editor