The Nato Summit Template for Policing the 'Other Chicago'
Mayor Emanuel is spending millions entertaining Nato – and millions more to stifle protest at Chicago's dire levels of poverty
Chicago is bracing itself for the upcoming summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) this weekend. An unprecedented convergence of summit delegates and their entourages, protesters, and police, is meeting in the third largest city in the United States – the first time in the United States that a city other than Washington, DC will host a Nato event.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff of President Barack Obama, lobbied for the summit to be held in Chicago. Last summer, when it was announced, Emanuel enthusiastically claimed:
"From a city perspective, this will be an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country … It's an opportunity for the City of Chicago economically, but also a message internationally about why Chicago is a city that's on the move and, if you're thinking of investing, Chicago is a place to invest."
Bringing Nato to Chicago fits with Emanuel's plans to project Chicago as a "world-class city", where the rich and powerful come to wheel and deal. In fact, the central business area of Chicago, the Loop, has been turned into just that, with multimillion-dollar parks, adorned with posh restaurants, hotels and, of course, the Michigan Avenue shopping district. This is the Chicago that millionaire Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes to show off during the Nato summit.
To successfully showcase Chicago, the Emanuel administration has for months tried to limit the protests that inevitably accompany these international gatherings of the global elite. Protesters have been portrayed as violent lawbreakers whose only aim is to cause trouble. Emanuel has used the pretext of hypothetical violence to rewrite the laws governing protest, while spending millions of dollars on new police riot gear and other crowd-control equipment, and bringing thousands of federal, local and state police into the city for the summit.
Beginning last fall, Emanuel cracked down on the Occupy movement in Chicago by arresting 300 people participating in successive attempts to establish an Occupy camp, as was happening across the nation. The message was sent that protesters would be aggressively handled.
But that was only a short-term goal for the Emanuel administration. The investment in new riot gear, including hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on masks for police helmets, is not just for the two-day affair of the Nato summit. Rather, their long-term use has to do with the "other Chicago".
The other Chicago will not be on display during the Nato summit. Though only a few city blocks from where the summit will be held, the other Chicago is a million miles from the gala and parties that will accompany the global 1%'s Chicago enclave. This other Chicago is racked by poverty, unemployment, and home foreclosures – and is hemmed in by a notoriously violent police force.
Just days before the summit is to commence, Cook County (which encompasses Chicago) has agreed to pay yet another African-American victim of police torture, who spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit – after his confession was extracted savage beatings and having a plastic bag placed over his head. Chicago is, of course, home to the nation's first African-American president,; it also has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of black unemployment and the highest levels of black poverty, at 21% and 33% respectively.
From these conditions of poverty has arisen such an intense hopelessness that Chicago has become the youth murder capital of the United States. More than 530 young people have been killed since 2008 – nearly 80% of them living in the 22 neighborhoods that comprise the majority of blacks and Latinos living in the city.
It was also this Chicago that Emanuel had in mind when he introduced new regulations governing the right to protest in Chicago. The new requirements, referred to by activists as "the sit-down-and-shut-up" ordinance, increases fines for non-violent civil disobedience, calls for protest organizers to secure a $1m insurance policy for demonstrations, and a requirement that " all banners, signs, or other attention-getting devices" be registered with the city beforehand, among many other regulations. When the ordinance was first introduced, the Emanuel administration suggested that the ordinance would be temporary and just for the Nato protests. But it soon declared it permanent.
Meanwhile, it is estimated that the city will spend between $55-65m to host the summit. Emanuel has pledged that this money will come from private donors and the federal government. Maybe so, but for ordinary Chicagoans, merely the idea of spending tens of millions of dollars to host Nato for two days is a kick in the teeth – wherever the money comes from. Since Emanuel came into office, a year ago, he has advocated cutting hours at public libraries, closing mental health clinics, raising fees for city services, and has led the charge to either close or privatize public schools.
Even if this summit funding is raised privately, the idea that Emanuel can persuade wealthy philanthropists to host dinner parties for Nato delegates, but not to keep libraries or desperately needed public health clinics open shows the mayor's real priorities.
This clash of priorities against the backdrop of a Nato summit where countries will discuss how to spend billions more on the failed war in Afghanistan has prompted a wide range of protests in the week leading up to the summit. From demonstrations for immigrants' rights to protests against evictions and foreclosures in Chicago, local and national activists have looked to connect the costs of war to the crises of poverty and austerity driven budgets. The culmination of these protests will occur on Sunday 20 May, when the diverse and broad Coalition Against NATO/G8 War and Poverty (CANG8) will lead a march of thousands to protest Nato and its presence in Chicago.
© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited