Peaceful rally and march followed by police/protester stand-off

May 21, 2012

Download Story
(WBEZ/Robert Wildeboer)
Streets and Sanitation workers refill a street sweeper as they clean up Michigan Avenue immediately after the last protesters walked through Sunday.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says police showed restraint and successfully facilitated a lot of protests over the weekend. He says about 45 people were arrested Sunday, which is a small number given that thousands demonstrated. Most protesters were peaceful. Some were not.

The crowd marched from Grant park to 2200 south Michigan Avenue, the corner of Michigan and Cermak near McCormick Place. The crowd stretched several blocks with different groups shouting competing chants like, “We are the 99 percent,” “Whose streets?  Our streets!” and “We gotta beat, beat back, the NATO attack.”

The marchers were all different ages and people had signs to support their various causes. One large banner read, "Stop government attacks on unions, Muslims, immigrants and communities of color." Then there was a guy on a bike towing a trailer stacked with speakers hooked up to an iPod. He was surrounded by people dancing.

Behind the marchers, an entire block was filled with police cars and vans and several CTA buses carrying police officers. Right behind them, within feet, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Thomas Byrne was directing a clean-up crew.

“We got four, five street sweepers, a garbage truck that pick ups, probably 20 laborers working curb to curb pushing everything in the centers, the sweepers pick up everything in the street,” said Byrne.

The workers refill a street sweeper with water by hooking it up to a fire hydrant. Others are busy emptying garbage cans into the truck waiting nearby. “Lot of sticks, there was a lot of signs stuff, we wanna get ridda all da sticks for da police, so there's no objects that can be thrown around and just trying to help out,” says Byrne.

At about 4 p.m. marchers arrived at Michigan and Cermak where there was a stage set up for a demonstration.

Duc Dang, pulling a grocery cart stuffed full of brightly painted cardboard from the protest, is headed away from the demonstration. He says, “I heard that there's the permit for the march, and it was officially over at four.  I think it's participate at your own risk at this point.”

On the stage at 22nd and Michigan Avenue,  members of the group Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke and threw away medals they said they'd won serving in the military.

“My name is Aaron Hughes. I served in the Illinois national guard from 2000 to 2006,” said the man on stage holding the mic and wearing a desert camouflage jacket. He turned around and threw a medal down the street behind the stage in the direction of McCormack Place where NATO officials were meeting.

“And this medal right here,” said Hughes showing the medal to the crowd, “is 'cause I'm sorry.  I'm sorry to all of you.  I'm sorry.”

By 4:40 p.m., after observing a moment of silence, organizers asked people to disperse. Most people left, many in a respectful silence but several hundred stayed in the street. They were mostly young people, many wearing bandanas covering their faces. Reporters were also among the protesters and made up a large percentage of the people standing on the front line of where a clash was expected.

Police in riot helmets forced the protesters out of the intersection onto the west bound lanes of Cermak.

Protesters were sandwiched between a building and a planter in the middle of the road blocked off by cops. Police were eye to eye with protesters. Periodically the police would force the protesters 10 or 15 feet west down the street by thrusting their shields and billy clubs into the protesters in rhythm while chanting, “Move back! Move back! Move back!”

Superintendent Garry McCarthy was commanding the scene, often standing on the planter. Officers on the planter and on the roof of the building were video recording as some protesters threw sticks and bottles of water, some still full, at police. Other officers were identifying individual protesters in the crowd and trying to radio information about them, their race, the color of their bandana and where they were positioned in the crowd.

Protesters shared information with each other as well and were changing the colors of the bandanas they were wearing accordingly.

One man, who had the hair and beard of a wizard and a rubber boot upside down on his head, ended up being a voice of reason among protesters. He was making jokes, thanking police for their restraint and advising them through his bullhorn. “When you are ordered to do your stupid police maneuvers,” he said, “there's no reason you have to be hyper aggressive.  There's no reason you have to try and hurt anybody.”

While protesters clashed with police, they also argued among themselves. Andy Thayer helped organize Sunday's march. He got a permit from the city so that people could come out and protest without risking arrest, but with the event officially over he used a bullhorn to notify people. “If you want to go peaceably, if you want to avoid arrest, we simply ask that you go to the west," said Thayer.

But another protesters scolded him for his effort. “Why don't you let the cops do the speech you're giving right now?"

A young man jumped into the discussion yelling, “All peaceful demonstrations demonstrate is that you're peaceful in the face of exploitation and oppression.”

Another young man weighed in saying, “You're trying to monopolize the protest.  It's called diversity of tactics.  It doesn't work and it never will.”

Thayer defended himself and ended up insisting he wasn’t a Gandhiist.

For more than two hours police moved in on the crowd, restricting where they could go and broadcasting repeated warnings that they could be arrested or subject to other police enforcement. The announcement continued, “Other police enforcement action may include actual physical removal, the use of deterrent noise, riot control agents, and/or less lethal munitions and other force necessary to affect your arrest.  Thank you for your cooperation.”

By 7 in the evening, most protestors had left or been arrested. Lacy MacAuley was one of the few people left on the sidewalk next to a muffler shop one block down from where the protest began two hours earlier. “We need to stand against the oppression, the economic domination and the violence that NATO stands for and that's why I'm here, standing on this sidewalk facing down this police line,” said MacAuley.

MacAuley says the right to peacefully protest is older than time and she's not impressed with the way police forced the crowd to disperse. “They're allowed to arrest us.” she says. “They're allowed to tell us they're going to detain us if we're not going to leave, but they are not allowed to beat us into submission.”

With only a few people left on the corner Bobby Wengronowitz wanted to join up again with other protesters. “Us ten people.  Let's role!” he said.

Wengronowitz’s plan was scuttled, though, because no one left on the corner used Twitter and so they weren’t sure how they’d find  out where the other protesters were.

The police in riot gear packed up and started leaving the area.

 

Categories