Police, protesters clash in Loop
By Matthew Walberg, Lolly Bowean, Jeff Coen, David Heinzmann and Annie SweeneyTribune reporters
9:33 p.m. CDT, May 19, 2012
Chicago Police and NATO protesters clashed repeatedly in a series of pushing and shoving confrontations Saturday night in the Loop following a day of cat-and-mouse marches that tested the physical and mental stamina of both sides.
Police detained several protesters but allowed the march to continue as night fell and the crowd — as few as 300 strong earlier in the day — swelled to many times that.
At one point, marchers were moving en masse north on Michigan Avenue, toward a line of police at the North Michigan Avenue Bridge. But the protesters were diverted west, back toward the Loop, where they continued to march after 9:30 p.m.
The first big confrontation flared at Washington and State Streets when protesters tried to push through a line of police on bicycles. An officer went down, police in heavy garb and riot helmets moved in and several protesters were detained.
Later, a female protester tried to take a police officer’s bike. When a police officer grabbed her, other protesters came to try to free her. As the crowd surged toward the officers, at least one officer took out a baton and struck a protester. Another officer pushed a protester to the ground.
Confrontations continued every time protesters tried to turn in a different direction from the way police were trying to channel them. Eventually, the march returned to Michigan Avenue for a least the second time today, and police succeeded in herding the crowd into a small park at Michigan and Congress.
The protesters were soon surrounded by police on horseback and others on foot dressed in riot helmets and carrying batons.
Police in riot gear are for the first time becoming a significant presence, after days of largely peaceful protests leading up to Sunday, the first day of the NATO summit of world leaders.
From Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s North Side neighborhood to the streets of the Loop, a long blue line of police on bikes and on foot guided, herded and diverted a near continuous series of marches all day today.
Using methods they’ve practiced on the streets since a May Day protest and at smaller marches all week, police shifted and rolled with the marchers. Officers on foot lined the sidewalks while dozens of cops on bicycles fanned out. Some of the cycling officers rolled alongside the protesters while others darted out in front to form wheel-to-wheel barricades at intersections.
Never far away was the real muscle of the police force, officers with batons in black garb and white vans of officers in riot gear who maneuvered to hot spots to provide backup. The more heavily clad officers remained in the background for the most part, emerging only when situations got tense.
After a series of close-quarter maneuvers aimed at slowing or turning the largest march of the day, police and protesters had the most serious confrontation of the weekend in the middle of the Loop. Several protesters were detained after a police officer was knocked over and heavily clad officers moved in to assist the bike patrol that had guided the march for hours.
Protesters got a similar full treatment earlier Saturday when they tried to repeat Friday’s maneuver of crossing the Michigan Avenue Bridge, which resulted in a scrum with police in the middle of the bridge.
As a few hundred protesters approached the bridge Saturday from Wacker Drive, police were waiting in three-deep wedge of police bikes. Protesters paused only briefly before turning south on Michigan and avoiding a confrontation. It was clear that police had put a premium on keeping marchers off the Magnificent Mile through the city’s premier shopping district.
As protesters slowed late in the day on one of their many circular journeys, Chicago Police Chief Debra Kir by, head of the department’s international relations office, was on the scene to monitor the march.
Asked how far police would let the crowd go, she said “‘Till they tire out.”
However, protesters did not tire out, gaining momentum and increasing their number as the evening wore on. But the police were succeeding in their objective of keeping the large crowds south of the Chicago River, the gateway to the city’s ritziest downtown streets as well as to the hotels housing many of the dignitaries in town for the summit.
- Cops: Protesters wanted to hit Obama HQ, mayor’s home – chicagotribune.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Police, protesters clash in Loop (chicagotribune.com)
- NATO Protesters Charged With Terrorism (myfoxdetroit.com)
- Protesters rally in Loop, police presence enormous (wgntv.com)
- Tensions rise during NATO 3 march (suntimes.com)
- News & World Events – Re: Thousands protest in Chicago ahead of NATO summit (disclose.tv)
- Saturday Read (99getsmart.com)
- One protester detained at 18th and Michigan (suntimes.com)
- NATO Protest Weekend Kicks Off in Chicago (theatlanticwire.com)
- NATO Summit Leaves Lasting Impression on South Loop Businesses (chicagotalks.org)