NATO Summit: Anarchist Groups, Protestors and Traffic Among Many Challenges City Faces

Don Zoufal Photo

Don Zoufal, a security consultant, talked with DePaul journalism students about potential security threats during the NATO summits, as well as First Amendment rights of protestors.
(Photo by Josclynn Brandon) 

NATO LogoBy Laura Funk
The Red Line Project

Posted: Tuesday, April. 10, 2012

The NATO summit  will have Chicago public safety officials on high alert in May as they prepare for possible anarchist groups and violent protestors, a Homeland Security expert said.

Many groups will come to cause public damage, but determining how many and the scope will be hard to tell, SDI Safety and Security executive Don Zoufal said.

“They’ll be out there for sure,” he said. “You can bet on it.”

An anarchist group high on the watch list during the on May 20-21 summit will be "Black Bloc" – a group of violent protestors named for their black clothing and hoods. During the 2009 NATO summit in France, MailOnline reported that members of the group set fire to the customs station on the French side, threw projectiles at police and sprayed graffiti on the walls of buildings.

The U.S. government will be researching groups that will be in Chicago and the violent actions they have been apart of in the past, Zoufal said. As long as it’s related to concerns of criminal activity, it's legal to research people or a group’s past actions, he said.

However, since the G8 summit has been moved to Camp David it is possible that some of the more violent groups may not come, Zoufal said.

“The consolation of G8 will take some of the edge off,” he said.

Zoufal also addressed many other issues with the NATO summit, including crowd control and traffic congestion. There will be large groups of  people with different issues and concerns prepared to showcase their grievances, he said. 

“People [will be] coming from all around the world, from all around the country,” he said.

While the First Amendment protects their rights to free speech, authorities have to deal with crowding, congestion and whether to allow protestors to camp in Grant Park overnight, which violates a city ordinance.

People traditionally protest along sidewalks, in the front of buildings and in parks. Yet, public parks, including Lincoln Park and Grant Park close at 11 p.m., and protestors will be planning on camping out there, Zoufal said.

“The bottom line is, that’s going to be a huge issue,” he said.

While the First Amendment protects people’s freedom of expression and shields it from government interference, the city maintains its public parks  rules and regulations year-round. Therefore, public officials are warranted  enforce those rules at any time, including during the NATO summit protests, Zoufal said.

“If they make an exception [for NATO protestors], they have to make an exception for everyone,” he said.

Public officials will also have to make sure people are safe and address particular issues including whether or not to accommodate human needs for the preservation of property. For example, transporting porta-potties to parks and high-traffic areas in order to keep the city clean, Zoufal said.

Yet, some critics might assume that the extra public services that allow such accommodations represents support for the protests.

“In many cases you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t,” said Zoufal, who worked on security and planning during Chicago's last major political event, the 1996 Democratic National Convention.

As former First Deputy for the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, Zoufal said decisions also need to be made regarding traffic congestion and emergency services. City and federal officials are expecting as many as 170 dignitary motorcades for the summits, and a May 19 protestor parade will close down streets as well. Ambulances and fire trucks need to get through, but can't if roadways are clogged, he said.

“[NATO] impacts real people with real jobs,” Zoufal said.

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