Chicago, during the anti-NATO protests May 18-21, was a stark reminder that we already live in a police state. It’s a chilling fact that the ruling elites and this government which serves them have the power and resources to turn any city in the US into a police state overnight. Out in the streets in Chicago, our 1st Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly were trampled repeatedly by the CPD. The massive presence of thousands of police in the streets day and night was meant to intimidate and control us. Despite police and city officials’ lip service to “allow” us to exercise free speech and dissent, but not to “tolerate crimes,” it was the police who were allowed to break the law, violate our constitutional rights, and commit crimes against us with impunity for the most part. In this climate of state/police repression, how can we claim that our rights to free speech and assembly are protected by the 1st Amendment when we were continually subjected to police intimidation, and the threat of being arrested or attacked whenever we were out in the streets?
In the months leading to the protests, city officials and the CPD fabricated the narrative of dangerous “terrorists” in black masks and hoodies (i.e. anarchists and Black Bloc) invading Chicago, hell bent on committing acts of violence and destruction against law-abiding citizens. Predictably, the corporate media disseminated this propaganda with the eagerness of poodles chowing down on designer food. Andy Thayer, organizer with the Coalition Against NATO/G8 (CANG8), claimed that this scare tactic was used effectively to discourage people from participating in the Unity March for Justice on May 20, which drew about 15,000 people, far short of the anticipated 50,000-100,000. We’ve seen this police tactic used before at the Boston National Convention in 2004 and the FTAA protests in Miami in 2005, where residents who believed the media/police hype, fled their cities or stayed at home during the protests. Thayer described it as a “Direct attack on the First Amendment.”
For the people who did participate in the protests, the police were prepared with a vast arsenal of tactics and equipment. The police were out in full force on bikes, horses, and vehicles, roaming the streets of downtown Chicago, sometimes with police dogs. Police snipers were on rooftops, while helicopters buzzed by, and Coast Guard boats armed with machine guns patrolled Lake Michigan. Everywhere, we were aware of the constant police surveillance, as police freely videotaped us at every action. The CPD also detained, searched and at times arrested protesters that looked “suspicious” while they were walking down the streets, or on board CTA and METRA trains.
Other effective tactics used were pre-emptive arrests of activists, where police raided residences without search warrants or consent. According to the NLG, of the 9 activists arrested at gunpoint, 6 were later released without any charges. It’s clear they were wrongfully arrested in the first place. Three were arrested on “terrorism” charges (a felony) for plotting to make and use explosives. Their lawyer claimed that the defendants were just making beer, and were entrapped by two infiltrators, who came up with the plans and materials, which they planted in the defendants’ home.
The police also targeted protesters for snatch and grab arrests by placing “smiley face stickers” on them, according to eyewitnesses. Livestreamers who had collaborated with Occupiers were also detained, searched and interrogated, three of them at gunpoint. Other journalists and photographers did not escape being attacked by the cops. I witnessed a police van run over a protester in a “hit and run.” And I also saw police in riot gear inside a building covering their badges in clear violation of their guidelines.
On May 20, we were boxed-in during the Unity March by hundreds of cops flanking us on both sides, and at the front and rear. We were tightly corralled during the entire march. The anarchists and Black Bloc had their very own media and police escorts, who followed their every move. After the Iraq veterans ended their moving testimonies against the US/NATO wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many protesters claimed that the police blocked exits to the north, south and west on Michigan and Cermak when orders were given to disperse. The east, which led to McCormick Place where NATO officials were meeting, was heavily guarded by 5 rows of cops in riot gear and on horses. There was no place for us to go, even though many tried to leave the area. Then suddenly without warning, the police charged into the crowd and beat the protesters brutally with batons. According to the NLG, the police intentionally aimed at the heads of protesters, and there were at least 70 head injuries, including concussions, as well as broken bones and teeth. I was disappointed that the Iraq veterans left after the permitted march, instead of standing in support with us. Their presence would have sent a powerful message of solidarity, especially to the cops, many of whom had earlier shook the hands of the veterans in a gesture of respect. I’m sure the irony of cops smashing the heads of veterans after shaking hands with them would not have been lost. The NLG reported that a total of 115 people were arrested. However they still don’t know who all the protesters were and with what they were charged.
Yet despite the increased militarization of the police and state repression, they are more afraid of us than we are of them. That’s because they know that when we rise up and resist, we will be truly unstoppable. The day after the brutal police attacks on May 20, several protesters showed up with new signs, “Fuck you, cop!” In the face of everything they threw at us, we still took to the streets during the days and most of the nights, shouting, singing, chanting, “Another world is possible, we are unstoppable!” “Down with Capitalism!” “No NATO! No wars! No Occupations!” Although they succeeded in restricting our mobility and our rights to protest, our spirit of resistance was undaunted, our energy stayed high, and the fire in our bellies continue to burn fiercely. And we will be back, as we struggle on, inspired by the words from our comrades in Tahrir Square, “The power of the people is greater than the people in power.”