CHICAGO (CBS) — Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Wednesday that Chicago police officers assigned to NATO protest duty have passed their first test ahead of this weekend’s NATO summit.
WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports McCarthy pointed to a protest march down Halsted Street on Tuesday, through the Back of the Yards, Canaryville and Bridgeport as evidence.
The march was led by masked protesters decrying police brutality and shouting vulgar chants of “F*** the police.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports
McCarthy accused the protesters of trying to goad police into losing their cool, making arrests, and generating sympathy for the protesters.
“The goal last night, I believe, was to try and taunt and abuse police officers to make arrests, and then try and use it as a rallying point for bigger events,” McCarthy said.
He said the only one to react was a Bridgeport resident who threw a few punches at protesters, but was quickly restrained by police.
Many other Bridgeport residents were not happy with the demonstrators.
“I pay taxes, I pay all my taxes,” one local resident said, as a protester screamed back at him, “then you fund NATO. You fund murder.”
No one was arrested during the protest. McCarthy said that kind of poise is what he expects to see all weekend, with much larger crowds.
“If you wanna scream, if you wanna yell, that’s protected. Don’t commit criminal acts, and we’re gonna have a great event,” McCarthy said.
He said police are ready to accommodate protesters.
“The people in Chicago may not agree with some of the issues that people are protesting about, and therefore there could be confrontations,” “We have strategies, we have tactics, as far as getting between those, breaking them up. Last night got a little bit difficult, because it was not a permitted event. It happened on the street, and our goal was not to let anything happen, which I think we were successful in doing.”
Only a few dozen people took part in that protests, but they repeatedly ignored police orders to stay on the sidewalks and tried to block traffic, and taunt police officers into confrontations.
A Sunday protest set to coincide with the start of the NATO summit could draw 15,000 people. McCarthy said police will be ready if the crowd is larger.
“Come, feel free to express your First Amendment right to free speech. We are going to provide a safe environment to make sure that happens,” McCarthy said. “We are going to provide a safe environment for the protesters, and the people who live in this city. And we are going to be intolerant of criminal behavior at the same time.”
The superintendent said Chicago police routinely handle crowds much larger than the one expected for Sunday’s protest, and they’re prepared for this crowd as well.
He also stood by his decision to place officers on NATO protest duty in regular field uniforms, rather than riot gear. He said studies show the result is a calmer crowd, although he insisted police will be ready if things turn ugly.