Downtown Chicago was filled with chaos Sunday as protesters marched their way toward McCormick Place, the location of the NATO summit. Police had been concerned about the possibilities of the protest for months and were prepared to take on the political activists. The rally was one of the largest demonstrations Chicago has seen in years.
This was the first time the 63-year-old military alliance held its formal meeting in a U.S city other than Washington. President Barack Obama hosted the meeting that was set to discuss the war in Afghanistan as well as European missile defense. Police expected protesters to air their grievances about the war, but they didn’t expect to hear complaints about the economy, global warming, and a wide range of other issues that NATO isn’t directly linked to. Esther Westlake, a recent graduate of Northeastern Illinois University, marveled at the size of the crowd as she said, “It seems like there’s so many messages and people aren’t really sure what they want to get accomplished.”
Police couldn’t agree more, as they believed the diversity of the large crowd is exactly what made the turnout so much less than what they initially expected. In other words, the lack of focus led to a lack of support.
The protesters who were present, however, were violent and forced police to use brute force to push them back from McCormick Place. Demonstrators clashed with police, throwing bottles and sticks at them. One officer was even stabbed in the leg during all the chaos. With the use of shields and batons, police were able to gain control of the massive crowd, making 45 arrests before the protestors finally began to disperse. There were four police injured during the march, but none of the injuries were severe. Westlake believes that most of the violence wasn’t even caused by actual protestors but rather people using the protest in order “to do stupid things.”
The police had an additional aid in their fight against the demonstrators: the heat. The high temperatures forced most people to go about their day in shorts and t-shirts, which meant the demonstrators who sported bulky black gear were easy to spot. The rally was predicted to be much larger when the G-8 summit of leading industrial nations was scheduled for Chicago but President Obama relocated the G-8 summit to Camp David in Maryland earlier this year.
Just a day before the chaotic protest erupted, three activists were taken into custody after being accused of manufacturing Molotov cocktails that they planned to throw at Obama’s campaign headquarters, Emanuel’s home, and several other government targets.