NATO Summit: Safety at Summit Requires Common Sense Policy

Joseph Schwieterman photo by Bartosz Brzezinski

DePaul University Public Policy Professor Joseph Schwieterman said the
summit could push demonstrators to engage in violent behavior. (Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski)

NATO LogoBy Bartosz Brzezinski and Vicky Chukwuka 
The Red Line Project

Posted: Friday, May 4, 2012

The NATO summit is set to bring hundreds of diplomats and military officials along with thousands of protesters to Chicago in May. But some experts can’t agree on what are the most pressing security issues. 

The summit will be one of the most important international events organized by Chicago in recent years.

Hundreds of diplomats and military officials will arrive in Chicago for the weekend of May 20-21 to discuss the alliance’s ongoing mission in Afghanistan and strengthen NATO’s network of partners across the globe.

Dignitaries will be allocated in hotels all over the city, causing a real headache for the police and security personnel responsible for their safety, with the need to ensure smooth passage of motorcades coming in and out of McCormick place, where the summit is going to take place.

“When you have so many dignitaries coming in and out of the city, you have to coordinate with their security details and you have to worry about their safety from the minute they land, to the time they actually leave,” said DePaul University History Professor Tom Mockaitis. “You’re talking about safeguarding them at the airport and the motorcade to and from McCormick Place. (And then) there is security at hotels and things like that. The added dimension brought on by protesters is that there is potential for disruption.

In January, Adbusters, a Canadian not-for-profit organization credited with starting the Occupy Wall Street movement, released a “Tactical Briefing #25” on its website that called for 50,000 protesters to come to Chicago on the day of the NATO summit.

 That same month, Mayor Emanuel passed a new public space ordinance that includes fines for resisting arrest at $25 minimum a $500 maximum, changing City of Chicago park hours of operation to 6 a.m. until 11 p.m, installing surveillance cameras throughout the city, and giving the Chicago Police Department power to deputize different types of law enforcement personnel.

The ordinance, which has since sparked a lot of controversy among activist organizations, is meant to ensure smooth proceedings during the summit.

With so much publicity and international attention, public policy expert and DePaul University Public Policy Professor Joseph Schwieterman said he believes that the significance of the summit could push demonstrators to engage in violent behavior.

“There’s sort of a ceremony around NATO that makes it very visible and that sometimes brings out the worst in people,” he said. “To make a statement, to get on the news, to show that [they’re] interfering with something that people disagree with, means protesters sort of have to up the ante. They have to do something that shows this protest is different.”

Video: Experts talk about security and protest concerns surrounding the NATO summit. 

Don Zoufal, a former Homeland Security adviser, has warned about anarchist groups such as Black Bloc or Anonymous that might come to Chicago in May to cause serious damage.

“There is a core group of individuals that will come to Chicago with the expressed purpose of disrupting the city and then there is even a smaller core within that that will come here with the expressed intent of causing significant damage to property,” Zoufal said.

Zoufal focused on “Black Bloc,” individuals who at any given time might separate from the larger group of protesters, and dressed in all black clothing and hoods, begin damaging public property, smashing windows and destroying cars.

“The city has responsibility for public safety,” Zoufal said. “As these crowds are gathering we are definitely concerned about everyone’s safety.”

However, Mockaitis, an expert in the field of counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency, argues that protesters, such as the Occupy Movement, should not be the organizers’ biggest concern.

“Ninety percent of them will be engaging in their constitutional right to disagree,” he said of the demonstrators. “Most of these protesters are going to behave appropriately. They’re not nearly the worry as those who might be interested in engaging in a terrorist act. That’s the far more serious concern.”

With the NATO forces currently involved in Afghanistan, and potential for another military conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Iran now high on the table, Mockaitis believes international terrorists could use the summit to make a strong statement

“Terrorists love the dramatic, they love to have an event where they can strike a blow and have a big success in front of a world audience,” he said.

According to Mockaitis and Schwieterman, the city has discussed plans to shut down the Loop transit lines and the Metra station beneath the McCormick Place  a proposal that security officials later dumped in what Schwieterman referred to as a “common sense decision.” 

“I think right now the key is to have some flexibility – to have police presence, to have demonstrations that are under control but they’re not sort of violently stopped,” said Schwieterman. “I think you need to recognize that McCormick Place is a vast place. When leaders are in McCormick Place, there is buffer, there is lots of room for safety.”

Schwieterman also argued that it is important not to rush with policy planning 

“It’s a game of trade-offs here and shutting things down wholly brings the city to a standstill – it’s overkill,” he said. “And that’s why I think it’s important that things just cool down a bit and we don’t overly respond with caution. The common sense at the end of the day, is what’s needed.”

Asked what he thinks of the protesters’ presence during the summit, Mockaitis said:“I think it’s a healthy thing that people get to exercise their First Amendment rights. But they have to understand that those rights have to be balanced against the overriding concern for the security of the participants and the smooth functioning of the proceedings.”

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