Weather Updates

One arrested as NATO protesters disperse downtown


Updated: July 1, 2012 12:02PM

For a moment, it looked as if everyone’s NATO nightmare was about to come true.

Chicago cops raced their bikes between cars on Michigan Avenue. They sped toward a swelling crowd of angry and rowdy protesters at Wacker Drive. Some in that group had begged — literally begged — cops to throw a punch, shoot a gun, anything to set off the crowd.

The masses looked potentially violent.

The cops appeared ready to meet force with force.

In the heart of Chicago’s business district, the scene was primed to explode.

But it never happened.

Several hundred people marched, simply marched, through the Loop Friday afternoon until they exhausted themselves at Grant Park. And the Chicago Police Department managed the crowd protesting this weekend’s NATO Summit without any apparent violence.

The protesters carried their signs — “Fossil fuels are dead” — and shouted their slogans — “While you’re shopping bombs are dropping!” But aside from tying up downtown traffic they caused no real damage.

Chicago police reported one person was arrested when police turned protesters back on the Michigan Avenue bridge Friday afternoon, but authorities provided no additional details.

An earlier run-in with police prompted complaints from protesters. They let loose after 1:30 p.m. at the end of a crowded but uneventful nurses rally in Daley Plaza, after they said police unlawfully arrested a man who wouldn’t speak to officers.

The man’s friends, their faces covered in black masks, yelled “Pigs go home” and invoked the violence of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago before spilling into Clark Street. They sneered and tried to provoke the cops, but no one in uniform took the bait.

So the protesters chanted and cheered. They blew random notes into trumpets — when they weren’t playing the “Imperial March” from “Star Wars” — and they turned their ire toward NATO. They documented their own protest, pointing their camera phones toward the crowd.

Many wore masks, some dressed like clowns with make-up and red noses. Others wore devil horns.

And they amassed on the Michigan Avenue bridge where one person jumped up and pulled a NATO banner down as police in riot gear stopped them from heading farther north.

From there they wound around the city. Workers and shoppers peeked from offices and boutiques to watch, snap pictures or gripe. The group stalled for a while outside the Chicago Board of Trade building, where they held an “occupy” rally.

“I occupy!” one man yelled, “because we’re gonna shut it down! And make a better world!”

Police kept watch from the sidelines. A few protesters warned police might be getting ready to “kettle” — detain the entire group together. But again, Chicago cops let them chant and have their say.

They eventually got up and marched again down Jackson before finally stopping at Congress and Michigan to rest.

The group there included Lacy MacAuley, a 33-year-old communications specialist in Washington, D.C.

“There are mothers in Afghanistan who are just asking why NATO had to bomb their houses, why their children had to die,” MacAuley said. “I’m here because of them.”

The march through the city seemed amorphous and rambling. Meanwhile, hours before, the nurses’ rally came to a tidy end with the nurses bundling onto buses surrounding Daley Plaza.

Those determined to march took off, and folks from Occupy Chicago served up paper bowls of salads out of coolers marked “free lunch” to those who remained.

A mom and her three small children settled near the cordoned-off Picasso sculpture to eat.

Jessica Keirns called her sons, Brendan, 9, and Austin Walden, 7, out of school Friday to talk about NATO and show them and their 3-year-old sister, Avery Allen, the demonstration.

Keirns has frequently taken her children to protests, and checked the conditions before shuttling her children downtown on the train from their home in Wrigleyville.

“Most people aren’t violent nut jobs,” she said. “If the rest of us don’t show up, that’s all there is at these events.”

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