NATO Summit: Police, Protesters Clash After Veteran's Rally

Video: Injured protesters move through the crowd at the protests
at Cermak Road and Michigan Avenue. (Video by Michael Chamernik and Drew Mentock)

NATO logoBy Michael Chamernik and Drew Mentock
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, May 21, 2012

After several thousand people took the streets to march against NATO, approximately 30 US military veterans returned their medals as a sign of protest on Sunday afternoon.

While intended to be a nonviolent, poignant way for the veterans and the public to protest the world leaders that are in Chicago for the 2012 NATO summit, violence broke out between Chicago Police and protesters who refused to disperse the staging area west of McCormick Place after the ceremony.

Forty-five people were arrested or detained and 11 protestors and police injured in the melee, according to police reports late Sunday night. The Chicago Tribune reported that 20 protestors were released early Monday morning.           

Much of the commotion started because the city permit for the march expired after the veterans left the site. After a ceremony in which the veterans returned their war medals, which ended at around 4:30 p.m., it was time for the protestors to vacate the intersection at Cermak and Michigan. The Chicago Police instructed the protesters to “disperse to the west.” Yet many people -- including several members of the Black Bloc anarchist group -- remained.

“Some people did not want to leave the intersection,” said Joe Iosbaker, a CANG8 official and a tactical leader for the protest.  “They wanted to keep protesting NATO, which is righteous, but we don’t have a permit and it’s our responsibility to tell people that they are here without a permit, they could be arrested, or they could be hurt. One person already got hurt.”

Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski

A protestor gestures at police. (Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski)

About 10 feet from Iosbaker, a man sat on the edge of the sidewalk with bandage over his eye, which was doing a poor job from hiding all the blood that was running down his face. He was one victim from the rugby scrum-like altercation that several protesters had with the police, many of whom wore full body armor and light blue helmets with clear face shields.

Other protestors suffered heat exhaustion or were hurt during the altercation and needed medical attention immediately. Several medics on site treated the injured.

But the altercations enraged the protesters, who began shouting and cursing at officers, contradictory to the views of love and peace that they were supporting just moments before.

Some protesters threw full or half-full Gatorade bottles at the throng of police officers, and fearlessly taunted them. A common refrain to the mounted police was “Get those animals off those horses!” Also, the word “coward” and many curse words were directed at the officers.

Protesters emerge from the confrontation with head injuries.
(Video by Lisa Klier and John Dickow/Good Day DePaul)

As more announcements to disperse came, some protestors began worrying about the use of tear gas, pepper spray, billy-clubs, sound cannons and other forms of crowd control. Officers wearing riot gear donned gas masks at one point, but no canisters were fired.

The police got as many people as they could off of Cermak Road, directing them to the street’s sidewalks. Yet pushing them to the sidewalk did not make the people disperse. Protestors, bystanders and media members continued to stay around the area. Store owners, including a worker at the Chef Luciano restaurant on Cermak, came out to make individuals get down from standing on his window’s ledges.

Incidents like what happened on Sunday were why some protesters say they were not thrilled about the fact that NATO was in Chicago -- even if it did give them a chance to have their voices heard.         

“My uncle pointed out to me that it’s kind of nonsensical that the NATO summit meets in a big city like this,” said Wes Bremer, 22, who showed up with an anti-war sign at Grant Park, where the protest began. “They have military bases to meet at, so why disrupt a big city like this? Having summits relocated, and also having the United States stop paying so much into NATO, and into war in general.”                            

Earlier in the day, the schedule called for an anti-NATO rally at Grant Park, in the Petrillo Band Shell. From there, protesters made the march west into the South Loop, south on State Street, west on Harrison Street before turning south on Michigan Avenue toward McCormick Place.

While the march went smoothly, the media at times were unable to stay out of the veterans’ way while they marched. After about an hour of walking the police stepped in and made sure the media did not slow things down.  

Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski

Chicago Police push on protesters in an attempt to get them to disperse
after the Iraq War veterans ceremony outside McCormick Place.
(Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski)

When the veterans did make it to the McCormick Place demonstration area, they began their medal ceremony on an erected stage. They started with by retiring a United States flag that flew over NATO military operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya. The flag was then presented to Mary Kirkland, a mother whose son committed suicide while on tour in Iraq.                                       

Next, after a few short speeches, it was time for the veterans to cast away their medals. Each veteran spoke for about a minute or two about why they no longer saw value in their medals before tossing them in the parking lot behind them, with McCormick Place in the distance, two blocks away.                     

“I want to tell the folks behind us [McCormick Place], in these enclosed walls, where they base more policies based on lies and fear, that we no longer stand for them,” said medal-returnee Iris Feliciano, who served in the Marine Corps. “We no longer stand for their lies, their bill policies, and these unjust wars.”

Logan Square's Alejandro De La Toro, a sergeant who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said that he hoped the ceremony would be a turning point in the war in Afghanistan.

“We did not get the care promised to us by our government,” De La Toro said. “All of us watched failed policies turn into bloodshed. Listen to us, hear us, and think, Was any of this worth it? Do these medals thank us for a job well done? Do they mask lies?”

Photo by Drew Mentock

A veteran throws his medal away. (Photo by Michael Chamernik)

Mark Strudad, a veteran from Chesterton, Ind., had the most interesting speech. He addressed the crowd first.

 “I just wanted to say thank you for being understanding, inviting and wonderful,” he said, “even these guys in black and blue.”

His reference to the police drew very tepid and confused applause. After throwing his medal, he said “This is a Good Conduct medal. Ha!” That drew a laugh from the crowd.

After all the veterans had their moment, the ceremony wrapped up with three women from the organization Afghans for Peace speaking to the crowd about the injustices and war crimes that are being done in Afghanistan, citing these as reasons for NATO leaders to pull their troops out of the nation.

To close, the emcee of the event encouraged the protesters to disperse to the west, where buses waited to take them back to downtown.

But many did not.

Video: Protesters talk about the purpose of the march and Iraq veterans
throw their war medals off the stage. (Video by Michael Chamernik and Drew Mentock)

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