Bloomberg News

Chicago Police Take on Ghosts of ’68 in NATO Clashes

May 21, 2012

The last time the whole world was watching, Chicago officers were condemned for engaging in a “police riot” in their clashes with protesters during the 1968 Democratic convention. Yesterday, none other than the unofficial voice of those gathered to oppose the NATO summit offered them a qualified commendation.

“They realized that the eyes of the world were on them,” said protest-march organizer Andy Thayer, whose organization calls itself the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda. “They can read the political tea leaves.”

Even with images of baton-wielding police leaving protesters bloodied, authorities in the third-largest U.S. city moved to revamp their reputation in part through a pair of pre-emptive strikes -- in the courts and then on the streets.

Prosecutors made the first use of a state anti-terror charge, accusing three men of making Molotov cocktails, before demonstrators hoisted a placard. Then police responded to the mercurial movement of protesters with a display of overpowering force.

Protest speeches capping yesterday’s festive and peaceful march by several thousand had just ended when officers began ordering the crowd near McCormick Place to disperse. The convention center is hosting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit where President Barack Obama and other world leaders are meeting.

‘Shut Down NATO’

As the police moved to push the crowd away from the site, some demonstrators shouted “Shut down NATO” and threw plastic bottles at officers wearing riot helmets and carrying batons. They plucked 45 individual protesters from the crowd and arrested them, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters last night.

McCarthy commended the restraint shown by his officers. “Cops are not here to be assaulted,” he said, adding that four officers were injured yesterday, including one who suffered a stab wound to the leg.

Thayer said the city’s 12,500-member police force handled yesterday’s demonstrators well, though earlier in the day he denounced what he called “the wanton violence by police in our streets.” He also criticized the department for “less public” transgressions, including allegedly running down one demonstrator with a police van late at night on May 19.

That protester was taken to a hospital and released as uninjured, McCarthy said.

Boeing Protest

Several hundred protesters gathered peacefully in the street outside the downtown headquarters of Boeing Co. (BA:US), flanked by police who mostly watched from the sidewalk. Between speeches that protested tax breaks, the use of prison labor, and executive-pay packages, protesters played a bugle, lay down in the street and threw paper airplanes, confetti and silly string.

“I’m kinda here to keep the police off my kids,” Nadine Hays, 60, who came from Camarillo, California, to protest the NATO summit, said as she motioned to the demonstrators around her. “These are my kids.”

The protest lasted 75 minutes before the group moved on, leaving Boeing without incident. After Occupy Chicago vowed last week to “shut down” the defense contractor, Boeing encouraged employees to work from home today.

Memories of 1968

The city’s handling of protesters has been a sensitive issue in Chicago since the 1968 Democratic convention. A federal investigation later called the clashes between convention demonstrators and officers a “police riot.”

The National Lawyers Guild today decried the department’s current tactics, saying it engaged in “unprovoked violence” yesterday at the end of the permitted march. The guild said there were at least 60 arrests and more than two dozen serious injuries.

“Police completely overreacted to protesters approaching the security perimeter and unleashed a violent attack on them without an ability to disperse,” guild attorney Sarah Gelsomino said in a statement released today.

Guild-affiliated attorneys are representing three out-of-state men accused of making Molotov cocktails to hurl at the president’s re-election campaign headquarters in Chicago, at the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, and at financial institutions and police stations, according to a statement issued by McCarthy and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Terrorism Charges

Defendant Brian Church, 22, is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, according to prosecutors and police. Jared Chase, 27, is originally from Keene, New Hampshire, and Brent Betterly, 24, told police he is from Massachusetts. They each received $1.5 million bonds.

Yesterday’s march began several hours after prosecutors announced the filing of separate charges against two Chicago men accused of planning to disrupt the summit with home-made bombs. Sebastian Senakiewicz, 24, a native of Poland, is accused of making a false terrorist threat. Mark Neiweem, 28, is charged with soliciting possession of explosives and incendiary devices.

Their cases arose from “related investigations,” though they weren’t charged with any involvement in the terrorist cases announced earlier, Alvarez said in a press statement.

The judge set bond for Senakiewicz at $750,000. Bond for Neiweem was $500,000. Outside the courtroom, lawyers for the men said they would each enter not-guilty pleas.

‘Gloves’ and ‘Mo’

Gelsomino called the May 19 charges and those that followed “sensational, politically motivated and meant to spread fear and intimidation among people protesting the NATO Summit,” in a press statement issued yesterday.

Addressing reporters outside the criminal court on Chicago’s south side, Gelsomino said she and other guild lawyers believe all of the charged crimes were instigated by police provocateurs known only as a woman named “Gloves” and a man called “Mo.”

McCarthy dismissed those allegations as “nonsense.”

Demonstrators at yesterday’s march expressed a range of grievances, from condemnations of NATO forces in Afghanistan to domestic budget cuts. More than two dozen military veterans appeared on a stage with the summit site as a backdrop to renounce the medals they received for their service.

“The military handed out cheap tokens like this to soldiers and service members to fill the void where their conscience used to be,” said Greg Miller, who identified himself as a U.S. Army veteran, as he tossed a Global War on Terrorism Medal and a National Defense Medal from the stage.

As the sun set, small groups of protesters trying to march to McCormick Place were outnumbered by police who met them at every turn.

The rest of the city began to return to business. City workers tidied the streets that had just brimmed with protesters. Residents went out for a walk on a warm May night, as if the afternoon’s tumult had never occurred.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net; Timothy Jones in Chicago at tjones58@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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