NATO Summit: Chicagoans React to Summit Preparations

Matthew Lusby Photo by Yifan Gong

Matthew Lusby talks about holding NATO summit in Chicago. (Photo by Yifan Gong) 

NATO LogoBy Yifan Gong and Xiaodan Chen
The Red Line Project
@RedLineProject

Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Several Blackhawk military helicopters hovered above downtown Chicago in mid-April, which drew lots of attention from Chicago citizens.

“I did see maybe three helicopters fly around about few days ago, but I don’t know what’s that for,” said Miriam Heard, who works part-time at the DePaul Loop campus library.

Heard said she thought that the security should be more concerned about the ground-level issues instead of in the air. She didn’t think there would be any terrorism threat through the air during the NATO summit. (http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/index.htm)

On the other hand, Military officials said that the helicopters were a military exercise preparing for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, expected to be the biggest summit the organization has had since it started more than 60 years ago.

The Illinois National Guard announced last week that hundreds of soldiers will be deployed in Chicago during the NATO summit, scheduled for May 20-21 at McCormick Place, to help move foreign dignitaries around the center of the city, among other duties.

Another contingent of guard troops will conduct a large-scale domestic response drill outside Cook County during the summit weekend, ready to provide support in the event of any problems in Chicago.

But the extra military and police presence may be a small price to pay, some Chicagoans said, for the exposure the city will receive from hosting a global event.

“I think NATO summit is a wonderful opportunity for Chicago to exhibit [itself],” said David Marden, an insurance broker in Chicago.

“The good thing about holding international events here is [they] sort of bring the attention to the city,” said Matthew Lusby of Chicago, “and it’s going to bring in people and money and economic growth and everything. So that would be a positive thing.”

While some interviewed shared Lusby’s optimistic outlook, others had a difference in opinion.

George Maras, a doorman works at 850 Dewitt building, said he thought that Chicago is a peaceful city and while he first heard of those “troublemakers” wherever big events go they cause trouble will come to Chicago, he was afraid of the security problem, “let them stay over there [holding the NATO], in Europe,” he said.

The NATO summit would more or less affect the normal people’s lives, but Marden said, “it’s not going to affect my life majorly, I don’t drive. I walk and I use public transportation, so I would not be affected by any of the traffic blocks or any of the detours.”

Meanwhile, Heard said that holding NATO summit is kind of scary.

“Just being a citizen here and nobody is asking if we think it’s OK,” she said. “People of the event are going to be at local hotel, it’s really going to affect everybody who's trying to get to work everyday,” Heard expressed her worries about the transportation issues, she said that letting the people work on time and find alternative routes is what the government should try to prepare and plan for.

As Chicago is the first U.S. city besides Washington D.C. to hold such event, as well as the summit would focus on some controversial topics including the issues in Afghanistan. A lot of protestors will gather and assemble in Chicago.

 “I do think that the protestors should be able to congregate by the buildings because that’s the freedom of speech as long as they’re being peaceful, they have right to express their opinions,” said Heard.

“This is a free country and free speech is one of our rights, and I think if the protestors are very peaceful protest, the people have the right to say what’s are in their mind,” said Yassime Ibrahimi, a student graduated from DePaul University. “I don't think the government should suppress their voices engage in any violates or anything, I think that’s against all the Bill of Rights. ”

Although the First Amendment protects some rights of our free speech, there will still be a lot of crowding, congestions and many other security problems challenging the government. In order to prevent potential violence from protest groups, the city has announced special policies and fines to deter such behaviors.

“It’s hard to control [the security problems],” Maras said.

Said Lusby:  “There is like a tough balance to follow that kind of thing. Because if we don't have enough security and something goes wrong, we would be embarrassed, like international scene. But on the other hand, we do have to keep mind that you know this is city that people live in, and have rights or anything. We need to protect those as well. So it’s difficult balance to maintain.”

The city had denied the request from the protestors to begin the march at Daley Plaza, and the request to inhabit at Grant Park. On April 4, the city approved a parade permit for a protest march to take place on May 20.

The rally will start in Grant Park at the Petrillo Music Shell, and proceed west down Jackson Boulevard to State Street.

Ibrahimi thought that the city is a big city and personally thought it has capacity to provide security for whoever would attend this summit. “But, still, this is the first experience of Chicago, we’ll have to wait and see. I think Chicago city is ready to provide security service for whoever will attend.” He said. 

According to the school's website, the Loop Campus will be closed on May 18-21. 

“We did received an email letting us know that the school is going to be closed during the NATO summit, at least the Loop campus,” said Heard, “and they didn't say anything as far as protective measures or anything security. They just said the building’s [going to] be shut down, so nobody come to the building.” 

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