It's been a week since the NATO protests and I've been thinking about them on and off, especially after reading a few Crain's Chicago Business articles that questioned whether the whole shebang was really good for the city and its businesses. A sample below:
What seems like a good idea at the start can quickly go sour, as anyone who's ever offered to pick up the tab in a crowded bar can attest. Still mildly hung over from the NATO experience, we now await a full accounting of the weekend's total cost.As I thought about public event rowdiness and violence, I remembered how some of our sports fans get really riled up after a close game with a hated rival. Not pleasant to be around as they surge into the streets. Even our storied St. Patricks Day Parades have ended badly some years as fake Irish with their leprechaun t-shirts grappled with police while barfing up green beer.
Our guess is that the “Blues Brothers”-scale army of security personnel so visible throughout the NATO conference will be pricey, though presumably the feds will chip in something to defray that particular expense. Just how much we won't know for a while.
The city's restaurants, retailers, cabbies and museums—idled as Chicagoans avoided the Loop the way a preschooler avoids a salad bar —won't be so lucky. Could these businesses apply for federal disaster relief? They may have a case...
And oddly, in its zeal to train the locals to duck and cover, Chicago may have inadvertently reinforced the cow-town image we seem so eager to shake: Out-of-town media reports, while highlighting the city's charms, also noted the overwhelming police presence and the almost otherworldly emptiness of the downtown area.
The anti-war protesters did not shut down half the downtown, that was the city government's idea. As for the small businesses on the parade route, the ones who stayed open that Sunday did a booming business. Dunkin Donuts was packed with both protesters and cops getting snacks and the convenience stores selling drinks were busy as well. I bought a quart of mineral water from a bar that stayed open and downed the whole thing because of the heat. There was a line at the cash register.
BTW, Chicago has parades for every occasion, handled properly, they provide revenue for the vendors who sell refreshments and trinkets. Chicagoans are quite used to parades of all types. In fact, why didn't the city welcome the anti-war protesters instead forcing ridiculous restrictions on them and making the whole permit process more unpleasant than an IRS audit. The city could have presented itself as fair minded and open to all sides. Nah, this is Chicago where dissenters are viewed by the city authorities as no better than stray urban coyotes lurking in Grant Park.
And what were those Blackhawk helicopters doing when they buzzed the city and suburbs? I mean besides terrifying the locals.
In my opinion, the city government wanted violence. As parades go, the Sunday May 20th anti-war march was fairly small, only about 10,000 people. Most of them left when the veterans ceremony was over on Cermak Road. I went home about 30 minutes before the trouble started to accompany a neighbor who looked distressed because of the heat, but being surrounded by aggressive shoving riot police, constantly being nearly run down by bike cops, fenced in by barricades and being ordered to move to one area only to find that was blocked was an invitation for trouble.
I don't have any details about the stabbing of the cop in the leg that the media referenced or how the officer received it. It's been a week and I have seen no further mention of it. The Chicago Police are not a reliable source of information, so that does not surprise me.
Most of the injuries were among peaceful demonstrators caught up in a violence they did not want any part of. I might add that most of the police were well behaved and just wanted to collect their paychecks and go home. We had a few thugs on our side, the police had many more. If the police command wanted a peaceful ending they would have cooperated with the parade organizers.
Parade organizers had worked hard to reason with the Black Bloc but received no cooperation from the police at the end of the march.The police chief obviously wanted to be the "hero" of the day and get column inches in our local news tabloid.
As for the Black Bloc, there were a couple of hundred of them and most of them were not violent in any way. They had some obnoxious chants and dressed in black on a hot day so that they were pretty sweaty by the end, but other than that, they were just being theatrical. I'm sure they were well infiltrated and that the police had a pretty good idea of who they were and their capabilities.
The few anti-war demonstrators who were looking for trouble ensured that the veterans ceremony was shoved out of the media attention so that they got their headlines along with our "heroic" police chief who penned us in like animals and then pretended to be surprised when there was pushing, shoving and violence. The Battle of Cermak Road ended ignominiously, but with no fatalities.
The few jerks among the demonstrators did not bomb villages, unleash drone strikes, massacre peasants or fight wars for oil and geo-political control over resources. In fact, neither did the more numerous jerks among the cops. There were no people left with catastrophic brain injuries, scarred bodies or missing limbs. There were no crippling instances of PTSD. There no graves, marked or unmarked. That kind of violence was the responsibility of the NATO leaders who were a few blocks to the east of us.
The real violence was being planned there. Not by some assholes in black, either in riot police uniforms or with anarchist slogans on their t-shirts.
After inflicting this whole NATO G-8 debacle on the beleaguered citizens of Chicago, Mayor Emanuel (aka Mayor 1%) is now trying to screw the cops out of the overtime they earned during the NATO weekend. He did offer them some Sox tickets though. The police union was not impressed and has several formal grievances filed against the city.
Rahm, please find some other line of work where you can do no harm. You clearly have no idea how to govern a major American metropolis.
Editorial: Chicago was sold a bill of NATO goods from Crains' Chicago Business
OpEd: Did NATO spiff up Chicago's image? Who knows? by Bill Savage
Here's something to protest: big banks by Greg Hinz