The last day in a week of planned downtown Chicago protests related to the NATO summit were non-violent but tense, following a weekend for which police arrested 60 protesters outside McCormick Place convention center Sunday and the state of Illinois charged four protesters this weekend with plotting terrorist acts.
Sarah Gelsomino of the National Lawyers Guild claimed “there are almost 60 accounts of police brutality” stemming from yesterday’s violence outside the convention center, which is hosting the NATO summit that started yesterday and concludes today.
“Most of these instances of police violence were with batons and most have been baton strikes to the head,” Gelsomino alleged.
At a press conference this afternoon, staged outside President Barack Obama's re-election headquarters, Gelsonmino would not say if the Guild would pursue legal action against the Chicago Police Department.
“All of our options are open to us,” Gelsonmino said. “First, we need to focus on those very high-priority issues of representing everyone who faces criminal cases.”
Gelsonmino and activists such as Andy Thayer of the Coalition Against the NATO and G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8) denied protesters incited the violence. They laid the blame with a police department that they unfavorably compare to U.S. and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, news outlets including the Chicago Sun-Times report that the ‘Black Bloc’ anarchist group of roughly 100 protesters significantly provoked the confrontation.
Regardless of who is to blame, yesterday’s confrontation overshadowed today’s protest where activists took aim at a number of targets including military contractors like Boeing, big banks like J.P. Morgan Chase, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for closing down public schools and mental health clinics.
Protesters circled downtown from Boeing headquarters to the Obama campaign offices.
Police acquiesced to the protest in closing off major downtown intersections. There were few commuters to inconvenience – with businesses nervous about NATO, most downtown denizens were police, protesters, and journalists.
A few protesters said they marched in response to yesterday’s conflict.
“Last night I watched the news coverage and I thought it was absurd how the cops reacted,” said Anna Frendl, who said she was an undergraduate at DePaul. “Cops are part of the community – they might even agree with some of what the protesters are protesting.”
Protest organizers' focus on a number of specific issues raises the question of whether people will remember their substantive complaints, or just the spectacle of police and protesters.
Micah Philbrook, of Occupy Chicago, argued that the week of protests have “highlighted inequalities here in Chicago and around the world.”
Joe Iosbaker, of CANG8, claimed that protests raised awareness of what NATO is and why some Americans oppose the decades old North American-European military alliance.
“We have exposed NATO,” Iosbaker said. “A year ago, no one in Chicago knew what the hell NATO is. Now it’s a topic of every dinner table conversation in the city.”