City balancing act

By Vanessa Morton

As thousands of protesters, delegates and reporters descend on the streets of Chicago this May during the G-8 and NATO summits, the city must find a way to handle the volatile mix without showing a repressive side to the public.

Hoping to bask in the spotlight as it hosts both summits for the first time, Chicago plans to use the opportunity to boost its status as a world-class city and give an exponential boost to its economy.

However, city officials are walking a fine line, as security measures must be heightened enough to protect the world leaders, NATO officials and an estimated crowd of 15,000 delegates and international journalists who will be attending the event, not including the influx of protesters.

But as various security measures are put into place to ensure safety, the city needs to avoid a clash between protesters and Chicago law enforcement that would remind the world of the riots and police brutality that marked the 1968 Democratic Convention, as well as charges that the police are stomping on First Amendment rights.

Former Mayor Richard J. Daley’s intentions of showcasing the city’s achievements during the 1968 convention were overshadowed by the large number of anti-Vietnam War protesters and the excessive force used by the Chicago Police Department to control them, according to Howard Saffold, a 26-year CPD veteran.

Saffold is also the founder of the Afro-American Patrolman’s League and director of the Positive Anti-Crime Thrust, an organization that advocates educating people about wrongful convictions.

He said in the ’60s, police enforcement was dictated from the top down, and the mayor’s attitude toward the demonstrators had a lot to do with police behavior. He said he believes things could have been handled differently with respect to crowd control and clearing out particular parts of Grant Park.

“There were a lot of specialized unit police officers being assigned initially before they started to take people out of the routine patrol,” he said, adding that the police were being trained to be aggressive and were evaluated by the number of arrests they made. “Back in those days, those were the mindsets, those were the individuals whose attitudes were already aggressive and very proactive, so they were hyped up and were taking it much more personal than professional people should have taken it.”

According to Saffold, during that time in history, the rhetoric from city officials had the effect of alienating protesters coming into the city, something he said might happen during the G-8 and NATO summits.

“It was a learning experience, or at least it should have been coming out of the Democratic Convention on things not to do,” Saffold said. “I don’t know if the average police officer of today is prepared to deal with the domestic and social issues that police are expected to act on. I think that it’s more militaristic than it’s ever been.”

According to Edwin Yohnka, director of Communications and Public Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, defining specific guidelines for protester rights is extremely complicated, but he said the ACLU is currently working on a 50-page document that will be released to the public.

“We’re actually in the process of putting together a whole ‘know-your-rights when-you’re-protesting’ document, but to no surprise, it is long and complicated,” Yohnka said. “I don’t know that I can give you a specific set of guidelines, but what I would say is that government cannot infringe upon or limit somebody’s right to protest, so to speak, simply because they don’t like the message. They have to treat all messages equally.”

He explained that there are legal regulations activists have to follow, such as the time, place and manner of when protests are allowed to happen. He said the degree of restriction placed on protesters depends on the number of people involved and what they are doing.

Yohnka said this is why communities mandate that people get a permit in order to organize parades or large demonstrations.

“Your rights, as a general rule, are to be able to protest and express yourself, but there are limitations in terms of where you can go and what you can do,” he said. “Certainly, one cannot act in a way that is disruptive in terms of breaking laws, and as a general operating principle, it continues to be the law that is recognized in most places and certainly in Chicago.”

But the way police will handle crowd control during the May summits is not as much a concern for Pat Camden, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police.

He said demonstrations are handled on a daily basis in the city and insisted that police would deal with the situations the way their department directs them to. However, Camden said specific procedures have yet to be determined.

“As long as [protesters] do it peacefully and do it according to the permits they’re getting if they are large enough, then it’s not a problem,” he said. “I can’t tell you exactly what we’re going to do to control civil disorder because we don’t have an idea of the amount or the intensity of what’s going on.”

While Camden said law enforcement would be prepared to handle any type of civil disruption, he expressed the concern of not having enough manpower on the streets.

“Manpower of the police department has been decreasing on a steady basis since three to four years ago, and they haven’t been replenishing the numbers that are there,” he said. “Hopefully, we will have assistance from other law enforcement units, but up to this point that hasn’t been indicated by the city that it will be taking place, so it’s difficult to tell.”

Jennifer Martinez, spokeswoman for the G-8 and NATO Host Committee, said the focus should be making sure the city is successful in hosting both summits.

“We’re very fortunate and honored that Chicago was chosen to host the summits, and it is the first time that an American city, outside of Washington, has been chosen to host a NATO summit,” Martinez said. “And it’s the first time in 30 years that they’ll be hosted simultaneously.”