Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NATO Summit shows Chicago's Finest at their best

The TV stations tried to be fair and balanced when they edited the raw footage of the clashes between Chicago Police and anti-NATO protesters Sunday evening; they showed both the proud Superintendent of Police, Garry McCarthy, praising the actions of his officers and clips of anarchists claiming that the police had turned a peaceful demonstration into a violent fiasco.

But that wasn't fair and balanced. It was totally unfair to the Chicago Police -- as anyone who'd watched the live coverage of the events could tell.

There'd been a big demonstration as close to McCormick Place (site of the NATO festivities) as the Secret Service would permit. Veterans of the Afghan and Iraqi wars addressed a crowd of ex-hippies, hipsters, peaceniks, and whatever. It was a largely peaceful protest, even when some of the veterans hurled their combat medals in the direction of McCormick Place. And when it was all over, protest organizers (not police, mind you) took to the microphones to encourage the crowds to disperse; buses were parked west along Cermak, waiting to whisk the protesters to their next destination. Many left as requested.

But some did not. Chanting "don't move west!" these agitators tried to encourage those around them to stay and... do what?

Yes, that was as close as the protesters were allowed to the NATO conference table; did they think they were going to rush security and present their case to Mr. Obama or any of the other assembled world leaders in person?

The police then ordered the crowd to disperse. The protesters had secured a permit to block the intersection of Michigan and Cermak until 4:00pm or so, but the permit had expired. The medals had been thrown. The buses were still waiting.

There were masses of blue-helmeted Chicago police hemming in the dawdling protesters. State police backed them up. The plan was clearly to herd the happy radicals back along Cermak and away from McCormick Place.

But, again, some in the crowd were not cooperating. Whether all of these were members of the so-called "Black Bloc" of anarchists who have allegedly triggered violence at other international gatherings is beyond my ken. What was not beyond my ken, thanks to live TV feeds from the rooftop of an adjacent building, was indisputable proof that these protesters were doing more than exercising their right of free speech. Some were also throwing stuff. Water bottles were one of the items that could be easily recognized by viewers at home. What was in those water bottles was hotly contested.

It was a hot day Sunday. The police said that some of the protesters had emptied their water bottles and, um, refilled them... if you know what I mean.

Not every water bottle was a urine missile. They did not have to be; it was enough for the cops in the front line to know that at least some of these objects being hurled at them were likely to contain bodily fluids.

Some contained bodily solids.

These had been thrown, not just at police, but also (according to Facebook posts from his circle of acquaintances that Middle Son told me about) at workers in the financial district during protests earlier in the week. (In other words, I'm not just relying on the police blog, Second City Cop, here.)

A TV camera, many feet away, can not necessarily detect the contents of a bottle, only that a bottle is being thrown. If a police officer showered with bottled water reacts by blazing away with his billy at anyone within reach, that would be an overreaction -- and justification, to the anarchists at least, for further acts of violence in response. If that same bottle contained something other than water... would a violent reaction be so unjustified?

Not so far as I'm concerned, I can tell you that.

But the Chicago Police took whatever was thrown at them stoically.

Watching the live feed (on WGN) Sunday afternoon, it was obvious that the missiles were being hurled from well within the groups of protesters. They were hoping their brothers and sisters in front of them would take the brunt of anything they provoked.


It also became obvious, when the bottles and other tossed objects didn't provoke a sufficient reaction, that the anarchists tried other tactics. They would rush -- or push others in front of them, which is much the same thing... only safer (for the people pushing, not those pushed) -- the police lines. Some would get in a cop's face and scream... something. The TV cameras couldn't pick up what was being said, necessarily. Sometimes the protesters had big, dumb smiles on their faces as they screamed -- and, yet, I don't think they were singing Kumbayah.

When a protester would try and push a cop, the line of cops would push back. If a protestor tried to grab a baton, he or she would get a whack -- and be pulled into the knot of police and escorted to the rear.

Yes, the police eventually... slowly... moved forward... pressing or compressing the demonstrators... some of whom got bored (or had a momentary flash of intelligence) and left on their own... but there was no overreaction by the police.

The police lines were rotated periodically. Fresh officers were brought up to relieve their brothers (most were men in the front, from what I could see) so that no one had to take the abuse too long.

At one point, the protesters grabbed a metal crowd control barricade and passed it hand over head, intent, apparently, on using it as a battering ram against the police line. The police took it away from them, passing it back, moving forward slowly yet again.

It was a bravura performance by Chicago Police.

Having shown this live, for the reporters to later air stories with protest organizers decrying random police violence and overreaction and all sorts of other stuff that patently did not happen was irresponsible. The reporters were not siding against the police, necessarily; they were trying, I think, to get both sides of the story.

But sometimes there is no second side.

Phil Rogers on NBC-5 last night reported on a press conference staged by protesters at which various acts of police violence were denounced... but he reported that the press conference was abruptly terminated when reporters began asking for names, dates and places... because they hadn't seen it either.

They hadn't seen it, because it hadn't happened.

Chicago's Police Superintendent, Garry McCarthy, was at the protest Sunday, in his white uniform, with no visible protective gear, directing his officers and appearing to provide encouragement for those in the line.

My mother always said don't take the bait, don't hit back -- teachers on the playground only see the second punch. The Chicago Police apparently listened to their mothers this weekend, and did well for it.

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