Warning: You may find this boring. There’s no violence in it, so of course the corporate media would not be interested in publishing it.
My Story, A Report from the No NATO protest in Chicago on May 20, 2012
By Sue Ann Martinson with Mary Beaudoin May 22, 2012
I have been reading a lot about the behavior of the police at the NATO/G8 protests on Sunday. No, I did not witness the tussle with the Black Bloc and protesters. But I had my own experience with the police. And no, I am not talking about police violence: More like police clearly not caring about any protesters from one group of them, and an attitude of “we need to protect you gray hairs” from a second encounter. And a bit of humor from the third.
The police were not directing the traffic. That job was done by emergency-vested individuals who identified themselves as being with transportation and public safety. But the cops were in lines across the streets that were blocked off.
My first encounter with the police was after watching the march go by. As we did not march, and had someone with us who was able to walk but is elderly and disabled, we were looking for the yellow school buses that were to be at the end of the march.
We didn’t see them at the end of the march, but Mary looked up and saw two school buses behind the behind the police lines. So I asked a policeman if they were protester buses. They said no. Both Mary and I asked at different times. When I asked they were abrupt. When Mary asked they took her to a commander of some sort who was very polite but ultimately no help.
Why we bothered to ask the police, I don’t know. I then decided to ask the bus driver, running across the street behind the police lines to the bus. Yes. It was our bus. And we had to move fast because as soon as the police broke up their blockade at the intersection we had to be on our way, according to the driver. We succeeded in getting on the bus. There were four of us who joined about ten others.
As the bus driver moved forward, she was challenged by a policeman in a white hat with a visor and blue trim who kept trying to argue with her. She explained, several times, that the bus carried seniors and the disabled. Fortunately we had a “kick ass” driver. Ordinarily I wouldn’t use that language, but in the verbal exchange, she won out.
She was challenged one more time and successfully fended off that challenge easily. The second challenge came from a man dressed in black who drove a big black sedan. He probably belonged to another type of law enforcement, not the Chicago police. We loved her.
Our bus driver trailed the march, and we had to wait for the marchers to turn before we could get through to our destination. But she did get through, and high-tailed us—we moved fast!—to the corner of Cermak and State Street by taking another route while the marchers took the intended streets.
We had four people who could not walk well—one with a leg brace, one with a cane, another with foot problems and a young woman with a hurt toe. It was early, only just after 3:00 p.m., and very hot—close to 90 degrees. The Minnesota buses arrived in Chicago at 5 a.m., so we were getting tired. We were debating what to do next. We thought about getting water and food, finding some place to sit, and make slow progress toward the bus pick-up area as a group who could not walk well.
The police then arrived and closed off one side of Cermak and one side of State street with metal barriers. The marchers were to come down Cermak and disburse on State Street.
Police barricades at Cermak and State Barricades prevented our buses from getting through. Photo WAMMToday
The police told us we needed to move because, they said, there was “going to be violence.” Our group now consisted of myself, Mary, Angel and three teenagers, Delia, Joann, and one man named Shawn, who left us, we assume to go to the protest to take photos with the camera he had with him.
There was nowhere else to sit and my feet were giving me trouble, so I sat on a bench in the bus stop with a woman from Chicago who was part of the protest. We had a nice chat, and the cops didn’t bother us there. We got our photo taken by some local press. But eventually I joined our little group as they started to move down the street.
We walked one block down to 23rd Street, where Joann said she could go no farther, so she and Delia stayed on the corner in grassy park in the shade, where they could rest comfortably, while Mary, Shawn, Angel, three teenagers and I went on to see if we could get to our bus pick-up spot; at that time we still expected to be able to get to our original pick-up spot, which was Cermak and Michigan. We were concerned about finding a way to get Joann and Delia to the bus, or alternately have the bus pick them up.
(Just on the other side of 23rd Street, on State Street, there were about 10 city buses lined up, just “sitting” there. It is unclear what these buses were for. Perhaps they were the buses intended to take the protesters to the red line, where they could leave downtown Chicago. Perhaps a more nefarious use was intended, such as buses for protester arrests. Or perhaps they were intended to take the police away when it was all over.)
We turned up 23rd street and walked up to Michigan Avenue. I guess we didn’t seem very threatening, but police, maybe 15 of them, were blocking the sidewalk, the street, and Michigan Avenue at that intersection. We had a narrow view of McCormick Center down the street.
We spotted other city buses on the street and hoped they were ours. Alas, no, these were two buses full of Robocops that were headed for the intersection of Michigan and Cermak two blocks away. Through the windows of the buses I could see their Robocop armor, different from what the other cops were wearing on the street.
We could hear the Iraq Veterans Against the War, who had led the march, announcing they were throwing their medals back to the generals in McCormick Center. We could not hear well enough to know exactly what they were saying, but we knew who it was.
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Eventually one cop wearing a cloth cap with a visor approached me and said that we should probably go down the street to a Burger King, because very soon there was to be action with the Black Bloc and that he didn’t “want anyone to get hurt.” This intersection of 23rd Street and Michican Avenue and the actions and interactions there were most interesting. More about that at the end of this story.
I was more than willing to take a Burger King break, although ordinarily I wouldn’t go near a Burger King. There I found an orange smoothie, but even more important, ice water. My face was hot to touch and my feet were burningly tired and hurting. So I iced them all.
By now it was nearly 4:30. Mary decided to call our bus driver to tell him that he would not be able to get through to our originally planned departure area at Cermak and Michigan. A good idea. From that point on, there were lots of calls between bus drivers and bus organizers from the larger group of 100 protesters from Minnesota. We headed back to the group, trying to figure out the strategy of getting Delia and Joann, who was not able to walk easily, back there as well.
The human face of copdom: Just as I was stepping out of the booth, three woman police officers came by. Here’s how Mary describes them: “All appeared to be in their thirties or early twenties. One was blonde. One seemed younger, was petite, and looked Latina. I felt like she looked at us as though she was not comfortable in her role and felt like she was on the wrong side today. The blonde and the other one had that kind of crisp, all-business, militant appearance”
I said I knew where they were going, and could I go first. (We were in a hurry at this point.) I walked behind them to the restroom. They did let me go ahead. In honor of world peace, I was wearing my Peace in All Nations t-shirt with a logo on the front of a large peace dove in a peace symbol. They were not quite so friendly when I came out of the restroom. By then they had probably spotted the StopFBI.net sticker on my back.
They had so much gear (Mary noticed that it included a handgun and a baton), they had to hold it for each other so they could use the restroom. I commented on my way out to a blonde officer that I thought we had a lot of gear, but you really have a lot, or some such thing. She replied yes, we have a lot of gear. Not particularly friendly, but civil. I also told her she was sunburned, which she was. And then I was on my way.
We had been told our safety could not be guaranteed on the street after 4:30, the agreed upon time between the organizers and the City of Chicago. When leaving Burger King, as we walked by the corner of 23rd and Michigan on the way to Cermak and State, we noticed the police had brought on a new group who were wearing light-blue hard-hat helmets, as if expecting trouble. A sea of these helmets appear in the video below. Although they often look white in the video, they are the riot police’s light-blue helmets that match their light blue shirts.
Mary says about the police on the corner of 23rd and Michigan:
I didn’t think those guys were trying to protect gray hairs and Angel’s family, ordinary rally protesters, but rather we were not their target so they wanted us out of the environment so they could focus on their target. They didn’t want collateral damage. We were obviously ‘family friendly, permitted, nonviolent’ protesters –that is, old protesters and family people, like Angel and teenager children.
Whatever their motives, it was clear the wanderings of our rag-tag little group were somewhat of a problem and they wanted us out of the way.
Eventually we made it back to Cermak and State, where our group of 100 from Minnesota had gathered. But the police had blocked it off (see the photo above) and our buses couldn’t get through!
I later heard the story about how Meredith had managed to commandeer a commander and a fire department SUV, the fire department also being at the corner. They had a very different role from the police and were helping at least one of the Black Bloc members who had been injured. They also gave Joann a ride to the bus.
Meredith (wonderwoman) explained how 100 of us were trapped, an obviously nonviolent group, and our buses could not get through. They took an SUV and went through all the blockades (Meredith along for the ride!) and brought the buses to the intersection of 23rd and State Street, a block from where we were, and we happily boarded for our trip home.
A note about the police warning us about the Black Bloc confrontation:
I find it most interesting that the police knew they would be confronting the Black Bloc as soon as the official march was over, as was told to me when the officer recommended we move to the Burger King. Was this confrontation planned? Did the BB’s tell the police what they were planning to do? Were at least some of them part of the police or FBI? It was so perfectly orchestrated: the march ends, it’s 4:30, and the BB’s are miraculously there for the Robocops police to “clash” with; they knew just where to put those two buses of Robocops, and obviously many more, as you can see in The Blue Helmets video below. I have no answers; it just seems too perfect!
In reading the discussion on the internet, I found this comment from Sean, which also posits that the police action was planned and notes the Black Bloc did not come in until the beating started. It appers that it was supposed to look like the Black Bloc had started it.
I was just reminded by my partner that an agent provocateur was the one repeatedly yelling out “charge” on the middle of the kettle of people. I wasn’t near the line of police that began the senseless beating, but Chris is right, there were mostly OC people up there. It was reported that the black bloc didn’t even move in until the CPD began the beating, despite the provocateur calling charge. [Name removed] was right, the media coverage on this one is the most biased and fabricated that I have ever seen any march portrayed. They won’t even replay half of the raw footage recorded at the front.
So the yelling out “charge” was perhaps a signal for the Black Bloc provocateurs, not those trapped in the kettle by the police.
Scott Thompson of Occupy St. Paul noted in his Report Back [posted on WAMMToday]:
Media later described the Black Bloc as having “military-like” [emphasis WAMMToday] discipline at this event. They moved together as one coordinated unit throughout the day, stopped to “huddle” under a black blanket when they wanted to discuss tactics, and even had people along the sides of the march to tell them when to speed up or slow down or watch out for approaching police.
Here is a video that Mary calls The Blue Helmets. The green fluorescent baseball caps in the crowd belong to the National Lawyers Guild legal observers.
When I think about it, there we were, our little group, trapped in the middle of the police cauldron, but not being treated violently. They did not attempt to arrest us. We could have perhaps walked the opposite direction from the protesters down Michigan Avenue to get out (they let us through to the Burger King, which was in that direction), but obviously we were not walking any distance with our sore feet and toes and braces and canes. Besides, we had to stay close to our larger group to catch the bus.
Our proximity to the violent action and our relative “harmlessness” gave us a unique vantage point and perspective that other protesters did not have. Our interactions with the police were also different. I think the police did not plan to have anyone in that area, but there we were, walking back and forth or sitting in a grassy area under a shade tree. A piquant feeling of irony is what I am left with at the end of the day in relation to our rag-tag group.
A wonderful and successful march, with many groups represented, was the highlight of the day, as well as the speeches by and power of the Iraq Vets Against the War members throwing their medals at the generals inside the NATO conference (the video is on Democracy Now!). Because we did not walk, we were able to watch the whole march go by to the end, in all its glory.
The corporate media did not feature the 15,000 people marching. They were as usual focused on the violence. The march was a beautiful sight to behold, with so many groups and issues stepping forward with their own banners, yet clearly saying NO to NATO. I think those who complain about there always being too many issues represented in these antiwar marches are viewing the diversity the wrong way around.
To see all these groups in agreement, yet holding their own issues forward, was powerful. There was no question about the focus on NO to NATO. At the same time there was wonderful diversity and the march was very colorful with flags flying and banners and signs of all sorts. All in all it was a glorious day, with the exception of the police brutality at the end. But of course they had to try to ruin such success.