Chicago, IL–I was born and raised in Chicago, and lived here twenty-five years. The past four years, I have been away from my city, led by my camera to have and document new life experiences. I traveled throughout the west coast and lived in rural Oregon, which included a couple years of communal living. Even while working in a small café/bookstore in rural Oregon, people would often comment on my accent, and knew I was a Chicagoan.
On hearing Chicago would host the NATO/G8 summits this year, I decided I had work to do back home. I needed to get back in touch with people who were connected to what was happening in preparation for the summits, and I contacted an old friend, Aaron Cynic. We met at Columbia College Chicago, during the 2003 Iraq war protests, so I knew he would be active on the ground in Chicago. As expected, he knew other independent videographers, photographers, writers, and live streamers. When I got into town we met for the May Day protest and made plans to assemble a team of indy journalists to work together documenting the summit protests.
The march of many kettles
After the well-attended “Healthcare Not Warfare” March to Rahm Emanuals house on Saturday, May 19, we regrouped after a quick meal and upload session. Aaron, John and I headed back to the loop for the Anti-Capitalist march, which began at the Haymarket Square, quite a symbolic location. As we exited the train and did equipment check before continuing on, nearby police shot us hard looks. I found it strange, but we had too much to do to pay it much attention at the time. We hit the march, heavily flanked by police on both sides. Soon after we caught up with the march, police kettled the crowd at a dead end street. There was anxiety and confusion between the out-of-towners who were unfamiliar with the city, and with the entire crowd attempting to head in different directions, not knowing where to go next. We found ourselves boxed in, and people became very tense. Thankfully, police lines opened up to the east, and the march continued for some time until reaching the loop.
This became, in my mind, “the march of many kettles.” Kettling is a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests. Large cordons of police form and surround the protest to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters are left only one choice of exit, determined by the police, or are completely prevented from leaving. The feeling of being penned in is very disconcerting, and people tend to react angrily to this tactic. This practice is considered controversial for many reasons, including the inclusion of innocent bystanders, and denied access to food, water and services, and the use of the tactic to create disorder and an excuse for excessive police force.
Another kettle appeared again, this time on State Street. Once more, the crowd became tense and started to get angry. Knowing the history and use of kettling as a tactic, the threat that they would close in and arrest everyone became very real. As the crowd tried to push forward, police began to pull demonstrators from the front lines and arrest them. They used their bicycles as weapons, swinging them at protestors. In multiple pieces of video footage, evidence shows officers swinging their clubs mercilessly at demonstrators. Eventually, lines opened towards the south and allowed the march to continue, this time with an even larger police presence.
The march made its way to Michigan and Balbo, between two hotels where NATO summit delegates were staying. Once again, the march was kettled on the corner. Feeling like they might actually be in earshot of delegates, the energy rose as the crowd chanted loudly. This kettle lasted awhile, and we once again wondered if arrests were imminent. After what felt like at least a half hour, the crowd pushed north Michigan Avenue.
Once again, the march was quickly boxed in. Buses and vans with riot police pulled up and they quickly surrounded the crowd. Aaron and I were caught just outside police lines, but John managed to make it inside. The police presence had grown to ridiculous proportions, making us quite nervous. We had heard many accounts of law enforcement targeting journalists for arrest, and both became preserved in our photography after being followed and watched closely by police. After John made his way out, we decided to head back to home base and get our footage to a secure location.
That evening, we continued to receive reports of arrests and fellow journalists being targeted. A car containing five live streamers was pulled over, and they were handcuffed and detained at gunpoint. The live streamers were able to post video footage of this event, where TWELVE police vehicles surrounded their car. Meanwhile, a police van drove through a crowd of activists attempting to defend fellow demonstrators. The van struck multiple people, sending one to the hospital.
“The CPD, they ain’t messing around. And this is Rahm’s city now. Watch your back.”
The official NATO summit began the next day, for which the largest permitted march was scheduled. Our team assembled at the Petrillo band shell in Grant Park, where many activists spoke out against NATO policies and the activities of Chicago police during the week. As the groups gathered for the march, the police closed in and flanked both sides of the street. We stayed at the front of the march, in what may well have been considered a media kettle. As the march began, we stayed at the front, along with at least 200 other journalists.
We joked that we should just document each other, since we felt practically cut off from the actual march. The march was lead by a double-decker media bus and two police trucks. There were bicycle and police on foot following along on both sides, and there was a line of police behind us leading the march. Frustrated by the lack of action, I contemplated leaving to go back into the march. But with the police lines as thick as they were, I was not confident I could get back in.
The route was long, and the weather pushed a sunny 95 degrees. The mainstream media falsely reported that protestors had access to water and cooling buses, but those were only for police. When we were asked for water, we were denied. I saw many journalists drop out simply because they did not have water.
The march ended with a rally at Cermak and Michigan, for that was as close to McCormick Place as demonstrators were allowed. Emotions were high when veterans spoke about their regrets participating in unjust wars and threw their medals towards McCormick Place (because the officals refused to come out to receive them I person.) Women from Afghans for Peace also spoke of the trauma caused in their country. It was a moving and peaceful event. Although the 10,000+ people were hot and crammed together, they cheered in support and the mood was celebratory. Sitting up on a friend’s shoulders, I was able to finally see the extent of the crowd, which was incredible. I had walked these streets every day when I went to school in this neighborhood, and seeing them full of people expressing their rights filled my heart. I felt proud to be a part of this event and movement, and proud it was taking place in my home city. Sadly, that feeling of joy was short lived.
The veteran who was acting as emcee of the event told the crowd they would be marching out to the west, that the rally was over and people should leave to the west. Some people started to move out to the west on Cermak, which was flanked by metal fencing. The majority of the crowd stayed, continuing in their excitement and celebratory atmosphere. We heard no order to disperse, but suddenly, the CPD presence increased dramatically. Before we knew what was happening, riot police flanked the crowd.
They came in aggressively, yelling “Move!” and pushing those of us on the outskirts west. Yet the majority of people were inside the police line. This incited tension very quickly. Many people started chanting, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” and others linked arms and sat in the street. It all happened very quickly, and what was a peaceful rally quickly had turned very negative. The LRAD device started being used for communication, telling people to disperse to the west. I followed suit when I saw people putting in their earplugs, in fear of being deafened by LRAD if they decided to use it to disperse the crowd. I continued shooting what was happening as the tension built. I could hear a conflict deeper within the crowd, but I could not see nor get beyond the police line. It ends up this was the incident where protestors pushed forward, followed by harsh retaliation from the CPD. I started hearing cries for medics at this point.
After about ten minutes, things had not escalated any further. I had been out of water for over and hour, and was refused service by the only open business in the area (although they were happily serving police.) After seeing stars and feeling faint, I knew I had no choice but to leave. I regrettably exited the police line, knowing I would not be allowed back in.
I saw video footage days later of what happened after I left. Police pushed forward and overtook the people sitting in the streets. They also broke rank and did a target arrest of livestreamer Rebelutionary_Z. I also got to see the footage of the commotion and violence inside the crowd that I could not see while I was there. I was appalled at the violence I saw in these videos. There is no justification for fully armed police officers to be indiscriminately swinging their clubs into a crowd of unarmed people, many of whom were trapped. My heart also went out to my fellow journalists who were injured. I was saddened to see pictures of a Getty photographer who had taken a billy club to the head, and to hear of others who were targeted, arrested, and had gear destroyed.
As I fell out and left the barricaded area, I was in shock at the police presence I saw for nearly a mile. CPD in full riot gear were lined up outside. As I continued on, I also saw battalions of Illinois State Police, with full riot gear and billy clubs that were twice as long. When I saw the state riot police with automatic weapons, the fruit punch I had just gotten from White Castle was the only thing that kept me from passing out.
It was a shock to see my city in this militarized state. I was aware that this was a National Security Event, and had expected a hefty police presence. But I could see no justification for a literal army going up against a group of mostly peaceful protestors. What I saw on Sunday I will never forget.
As I regrouped with my team in Chinatown, I went to freshen up in the restroom. A middle aged black woman came out of the stall and looked at me with concern. “You from around here?” I told her I grew up in Chicago, and she seemed a bit releived. She still gave me a warning. “Be careful out there, girl. The CPD, they ain’t messing around. And this is Rahm’s city now. Watch your back.”
After some much needed sustenance and a recharge, we hit the streets again. Like expected, we were not allowed to get anywhere near Cermak and Michigan. We were watched very closely, and with suspicion, by the police that lined the streets. We started getting word of people gathering in another location and headed north. The looks we got from people we passed on the streets were unforgettable. Although we were all carrying cameras, we were looked at with fear and uncertaincy. Perhaps it was the bandanas around our necks, which were good for preventing sunburn, and a weak protection against tear gas. I was amazed the fear we generated in people while the police-military was out in full force, and the real criminals were having their meeting at McCormick Place.
We one again ran right into a small impromptu march heading north on Michigan Avenue. Soon more small groups joined this group, and before long a large group took to the streets and circled back into the loop, where they met with the CPD again. The atmosphere was emotional, chaotic, and disobedient, but the march remained peaceful. There were attempts by police to reroute or stop the crowd, which lead to some small clashes. It was one of these moments where I got this picture of journalist Laurie Penny being shoved by police, even though she is holding her press pass.
The march eventually ended in a sit in at the Art Institute, where earlier in the evening Michelle Obama hosted to wives of the NATO delegates. A sit-in happened, and the mood was surprisingly celebratory. Once again, we called in a night and left to upload our material. On the way to the train, we passed a federal building surrounded by state police in riot gear holding large guns. When one of us asked what kind of weapons they were, they refused to tell us.
The following day the protests were calmer, but the police presence was not. After an afternoon of peaceful actions and marches, there was a rally at “The Horse” where Occupy Chicago holds G.A. Although nothing happened to incite any response, CPD once again closed in around the group. Our nerves were on edge, hearing about more “snatch and grab” arrests and the presence of police infiltrators. When a march broke out into the streets, we got the information to be careful, because the march was led by police informants. When I got back and looked at my pictures in detail, I found this picture of “anarchists” holding a sign, and was surprised by their footware. This woud be the first time I saw any protestor wearing dress shoes. They are hardly the best for days of marching through the streets.
Opposite Narratives, Opposite Worlds
One of the most frustrating things was to get home after 16+ hours in the streets (and 3-4 more hours of uploading) and turn on the news. We often wondered what they were reporting on, because it sure was not the truth we had just experienced. The biggest shock was Sunday evening, when reports were grossly underestimating the number of people at the march. Although the number was estimated around 10,000, the mainstream media gave numbers from 3,500 to as low as 1,200. It was infuriating. We were literally on the edges of our seats, cursing the television and the lies it was spreading. It is such a strange and sickening feeling to have lived something and then hear an entirely different reality from the media.
Considering the fear-mongering and oppression that happened leading up to and during the protests, I suppose I should not have been surprised by the lies I heard spread by the mainstream media in the days following the protests. And as the media says, so does the general public. I found myself having to correct people I knew who were spreading that misinformation they picked up from the news.
The misrepresentation in the media I have spoke of proved to me how history will inevitably write this truth out of the textbooks, as perhaps it always has. But I will continue to speak my truth and show my images so that people might understand what really happened this weekend. The people of Chicago and the entire country need to be aware of this militarization of the city, the oppression, and the lies. Chicago will always be my home, the place where I was born and big part of who I am. However this is not the city I grew up in. So much has changed. Political and corporate interests combined are destroying its character. Rahm Emanuel is doing whatever he can to break the unions. The cameras everywhere have Chicago as the second city again, this time in regards to surveillance. But the days following the summits gave me hope, for after the buses of out-of-towners left, many Chicagoans continue to meet, Occupy, and express their dissent. They continue to fight for those still in jail and the human rights violations that took place. It is time for the city of big shoulders to rise up and say no in the face of this destruction and oppression.