NATO summit brings out protesters

Monday , May 21, 2012 - 10:36 AM

NATO Summit Chicago

Protesters march down Michigan Ave. in Chicago during this weekend's NATO summit Sunday, May 20,...

Andy Grimm, David Heinzmann, John Chase

CHICAGO -- For several hours on a muggy Sunday, police and protesters coexisted more or less as it was drawn up on the city permit: demonstrators rallied in Grant Park, then marched south to Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road.

But after the anti-war speeches were done, and the military veterans had disavowed their war medals, protesters had a decision to make: stay or go.

A core group of a couple hundred protesters, many wearing black, wanted to march east, where President Barack Obama and more than 60 world leaders met at McCormick Place on the opening day of the NATO summit. Chicago police, however, weren't going to let them pass.

And so protesters pushed forward into the line, some hurling bottles and at one point, a metal barricade, at police. Under the watchful eye of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, dressed in his white uniform and wearing sunglasses, thick waves of blue-helmeted police in riot gear wielded their batons.

Several protesters were bloodied. More were arrested. The clashes were the worst so far in three days of NATO marches. With protesters regrouping late Sunday, police were gearing up for another night of steering hundreds of impromptu marchers around the Loop.

Sunday night, several hundred protesters approached the Art Institute, where police officers, some on bicycles, blocked them from getting within 50 feet of the building. The protesters shouted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, NATO has got to go," and then most kept walking down south Michigan Avenue.

About 50 protesters stayed in front of the Art Institute, saying they wanted to see the Obamas. Earlier Sunday evening, first lady Michelle Obama had an event at the museum.

Sunday's confrontations followed a march and brief rally at Michigan and Cermak for a group of veterans who tossed their military decorations in a demonstration against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

NATO protest activist Andy Thayer implored demonstrators to move west, shouting through a bull horn, "We went to a lot of trouble to make sure this march was a safe and peaceful march."

That ran counter to what some protesters wanted.

"We were trying to go east to NATO. That's kind of the whole point of the rally," said Max Dischar, a 22-year-old demonstrator from Cincinnati who was treated by volunteer street medics after he said he was struck by riot police on the arms and ribs as he covered his head. He declined hospital treatment.

Police said nearly four dozen arrests were made. Seven protesters were treated at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said. At least one Chicago police officer was admitted to Stroger Hospital with "minor injuries" and was in "good condition," a spokeswoman said.

There also was no official number of arrests immediately available.

Police set up a detention area on Michigan Avenue just south of 21st Street where protesters were processed. Protesters nearby shouted at the detainees to spell out their names. Lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild wrote down their names.

The Secret Service said two people were detained for attempting to get over protective fencing near 25th Street and Michigan Avenue, spokesman George Ogilvie said.

In addition, around 1 p.m., police detained seven men and women, all wearing black, at the Grant Park rally. A police sergeant said the protesters were carrying rocks, cans of spray paint, pry bars, urine-filled bottles and other "dangerous weapons." The group was detained in the shade while they were taken one-by-one to be cuffed, searched and placed in a Cook County sheriff's police bus.

Along the march route, a brief scuffle occurred between protesters and police at Roosevelt Road and Michigan Avenue. A group dressed in black linked arms and tried to break through the sidewalk police line while others threw water and a stick from a protest sign. Police kept them in the street.

At one point, police officers could be heard warning not to let protesters approach them. "Don't let them break our ranks. That's what they're trying to do," one officer said.

Police appeared to brush off a fusillade of often expletive-filled taunts from some protesters.

One man taunted police in riot gear, "You live for this kind of stuff, cracking peoples' head and watching them die in the street." And to a woman officer: "I can't believe you got a little female here."

Police didn't respond, but two female protesters in pink shirts rebuked the taunter. "Hey! None of that sexist stuff."

When tense confrontations are taking place -- almost always over protesters trying to turn on a street in a direction police don't want them to go -- the screaming is more of a cacophony of "let us go ... out of our way" demands.

But it has been during the more controlled moments when police have been called every name in the book.

On Sunday, as the protesters were turned off Michigan Avenue into Grant Park at Congress, horses created a barricade. Protesters started a chant of "Get those animals off those horses," which at different times morphed into "Get those pigs off those horses." Whenever the horses appeared, some version of the chant arose from the crowd.

During the past three days, protesters have returned again and again to various versions of the rhyming chant that ends in "F -- -- the police."

Policing expert Charles Wexler said taunts are part of the job, and the ability of police not to react to them are part of their training.

"Officers recognize that today, everybody has a camera, and there's going to be a lot of opportunities for people to try to bait the police and so forth," Wexler said. "As long as people are exercising their First Amendment rights, police have to try to maintain control and not get drawn into something."

The concept, he said, is "not to treat all of them like they are bad guys, but to distinguish the people who are marching."

Saturday night's protest stretched on for hours, taking a toll on both protesters and middle-aged police commanders who had been walking for miles and showed signs of fatigue. The taunts from young protesters became more obscene and juvenile, including scatological taunts referring to police officers' batons.

The taunts aren't always so heavy, however.

On Sunday afternoon, a group of officers stood behind the Petrillo Music Shell, observing the scene and drinking from water bottles for a respite from the heat. One protester strolled by with a single doughnut dangling from the end of a makeshift fishing pole.

The officers did not take the bait.

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(Tribune reporters Rick Pearson, Matt Walberg, Lolly Bowean, Jeff Coen, David Kidwell, John Byrne, Jon Yates, Dan Hinkel and Becky Schilkerman contributed.)

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(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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