NATO protest fizzles in final hours

Police superintendent scoff at brutality reports

May 21, 2012

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
NATO protest wind down speeches late Monday near Grant Park.

NATO summit protests ended slowly but peacefully in downtown Chicago Monday evening near Grant Park. In the summit’s final hours, protesters moved away from international issues to focus on domestic ones, primarily immigration.

It marked perhaps for the first time since protest began last week that protesters found a common theme. Monday’s protest kicked off in the morning near the headquarters of Boeing. It moved midday outside the campaign headquarters for President Barack Obama at the Prudential Building near Randolph and Michigan.

Police put the crowd at 300 to 400 people.  

Protesters spent much of the afternoon chanting, dancing and overall held a peaceful demonstration. Around 3:30 p.m., protesters began their march through the streets of the South Loop, snarling traffic and chanting various slogans.

Marchers paused for several minutes at the Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue and shouted support to striking union hotel workers. Eventually, protesters made their way outside the offices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to protest deportations of illegal immigrants and the proposed building of a detention center in far south suburban Crete.

Dozens of Chicago police, some riding bikes, some wearing riot gear, surrounded the marchers, but allowed them to move on without incident. The march ended at Michigan and Congress with more speeches about NATO and police brutality.

One person shouted, “The police brutality I witness yesterday (Sunday), was the worst police brutality I had ever experienced. Don’t let them get away with it!”

Earlier in the day, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy scoffed at such reports that some of his offices exercised brutality Sunday night following a march at 22nd and Cermak.

"Quite frankly, I think that the department did an amazing job in showing the restraint and professionalism that we expect from officers," McCarthy said.

In all, McCarthy said, his officers made about 90 arrests of protesters over the last few days. By comparison, he said, Pittsburgh police arrested more than 140 when the G-8 summit met there a few years ago.

When asked why he chose to be so visible during the summit, often standing side-by-side with his officers in tense situation, McCarthy said he had no choice.

“At the end of the day, I’m a police officer. I’m out here with the guys and gals on the line and enjoying it. And, at the same time, if I’m responsible for what’s happening, I have to lead from the front. I can’t behind closed doors saying ‘Oh my god, what’s going on,'” he said. “I’m privileged to be here is what it boils down to.”

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