Chicago History Repeats Itself As Cops and Protesters Clash
POSTED: May 21, 4:35 PM ET | By Rick Perlstein
In 1972, writing in Rolling Stone about a looming confrontation between protesters and police in the streets in front of the Republican National Convention in Miami, Hunter S. Thompson described the moment he slipped off his watch. “The first thing to go in a street fight is always your watch, and once you’ve lost a few, you develop a certain instinct that lets you know it’s time to get the thing off your wrist and into a safe pocket.” Times have changed: Few people wear watches any more. So when the first objects starting flying in Chicago yesterday night on the corner of Cermak and Michigan, I buttoned my cell phone into my cargo pants pocket instead.
I’d begun marching, four hours earlier, from the bandshell behind the Art Institute of Chicago to a temporary protest zone with 2,000 people (by city estimates) protesting NATO’s role in the Afghanistan war. Our destination was a half mile east of the NATO summit taking place at the south-of-downtown McCormick Place Convention Center; it had been an awkward traipse. I was following legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild; they were watching the police, who were everywhere: thousands were deployed for the summit, plus ringers from forty other agencies from as far away as North Carolina. At least a few hundred were in my field of vision at all times. Volunteers surrounded the parade column with yellow cord; just outside that perimeter hundreds of officers kept stride, all of us starting, stopping, slowing up at a pace dictated by the police wagons inching along ahead.
Up ahead, from sidewalk to sidewalk, marched another row of cops, walking backward, sometimes joining hands red-rover style. Flying squadrons of riot police in those fearsome security-visored blue helmets, chest-protectors that make them look like black turtles, and massively bulging shiny shin guards sometimes appeared, then disappeared down abandoned side streets. Then, at the march’s culmination at a makeshift stage 800 yards and innumerable eight-foot-tall steel security barriers west of where 65 world leaders were gathering to talk, largely about the course of the war in Afghanistan, they were suddenly among us, en masse: black turtles, row upon row, arrayed on the elevated median strips that afforded them the high ground for whatever battle might ensue.