Chicago Gears Up for NATO Summit: This is What a Police State Looks Like

From Revolution 

For many months leading up to the May 20-21 NATO Summit, Chicago news has been filled with stories about new laws passed, new police equipment obtained, and military training exercises conducted.

These NATO Summit "security" measures are part of a many-sided militarization of society. This includes creating a security state atmosphere which is meant to be threatening to potential protesters and the broader public while at the same time it covers over that this is a summit of war criminals. 

The buildup to the NATO Summit, as well as the G8 (Group of 8) Summit initially scheduled for Chicago then abruptly moved to Camp David, Virginia, has occurred at the same time as atrocity after atrocity carried out by U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan have come to light, and when NATO's military role in the world is escalating with the intervention in Libya and threatened interventions in Iran and Syria.

Sights and sounds in Chicago in recent weeks include Black Hawk helicopter gunships swooping down the Chicago River and doing simulated troop drops on building tops. Five to six hundred National Guard troops will be deployed during the NATO Summit, including with armored vehicles, and federal officers in full battle dress will be on patrol in a designated "red zone" in the central city well before the summit begins. For months, people have been fed a daily diet of news about military preparations for the summit. In December the media reported that state and federal sharpshooter teams were "plotting sight lines for sniper units" who will secure rooftop locations on the McCormick Convention Center, at downtown hotels, and at O'Hare Airport. 

There have been regular stories like the one about drills performed at 10 Chicago hospitals simulating a radioactive dirty bomb explosion, involving an estimated 500 medical professionals and others wearing protective suits with radiation detectors. The American Red Cross in southeastern Wisconsin has been asked to place a number of shelters on standby for use in the event of the evacuation of Chicago. At times these stories are covered in a sensationalist manner, other times they're portrayed as just a normal part of the current culture.

There are reports of new equipment, training, and power to deputize many new members for the Chicago Police Department (CPD). This includes a new airborne surveillance system linking helicopters with the CPD emergency management center and police commanders on the street. The CPD announced it will deploy sound cannons in the streets against protesters, which can emit painful and potentially harmful tones over long distances. Also announced was a purchase (referred to by one news source as a "Valentine's Day gift" to the police) of 3,000 new helmet shields with special seals supposedly to protect against, according to a Fraternal Order of Police spokesman, "bags of urine and feces." A new ordinance also gives the city unlimited power to deputize extra law enforcement for the summit. These kinds of outrageous reports are routinely put out with no critical comment in the media.

In late April, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart floated out a proposal to re-open the long-shuttered Joliet Correctional Center to serve as a detention facility for those arrested at the NATO Summit. He also talked about tents being set up at Joliet or possibly Cook County Jail for detainees.

Criminalize Protest, Spy On Everyone 

In January repressive laws were pushed through the Chicago City Council giving vast new powers to surveil, suppress and criminalize protest. One of the new city ordinances (dubbed the "sit down and shut up" law by activists) requires that a permit be obtained in advance not only for all marches in the street but any gathering, picket line or march on the sidewalk. In many instances it requires march organizers to register in advance all banners carried by more than two persons and sound equipment on wheels, as well as the power to require organizers to obtain $1 million of insurance and liability policies. This is backed up by penalties of up to $1000 fines and 10 days in jail that can be levied on protest organizers.

The ordinances also gave the city a green light for thousands of new surveillance cameras. ACLU Illinois reported that, even prior to this, the camera system in Chicago was the most expansive and integrated system in the nation. The ACLU has also warned about the introduction of tracking and facial recognition technology into the super-surveillance system. 

In the neighborhoods of the oppressed, where a long-standing clampdown on the youth has been in effect, Chicago Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy in April announced a new wave of ramped-up repression. McCarthy's war-style words fit right in to the tenor of the times: "The idea is to fight this like a ground war and you take it spot by spot by spot and hold on to it and fill that void with police, community and resources to prevent the backslide of that community."

The scenario planned is: intimidated protesters, massive police, and empty streets. The authorities aim to tightly restrict protest and make sure that few people will be around to see it or join it. Protest will be allowed, authorities assure us. But only highly controlled protest will be allowed to take place under their guns and in their surveillance sights, harassed and restricted at every step, with protesters facing threats of arrests and worse. 

The city's plans include both restricting protesters' right to assemble and speak out and clearing the public out of the area. Columbia College, a large arts college downtown, was prevailed upon to shift its entire spring semester schedule in order to shut down early and get students out before the summit. More than a dozen other schools have canceled classes or moved them out of the downtown area during the summit. Symphony performances and high school graduation events originally scheduled in the downtown area during the summit have been re-scheduled. The media has featured interviews with downtown condo owners and students where interviewees talk about staying away from their homes or campuses for the summit, and where the parameters of concern pivot around issues of personal routine.

Distortion to Justify Repression

A tone has been created over months to justify repression. In January, an outrageous Illinois State Police "training video" appeared on the nightly news. It depicted a large scale exercise in preparation for the summit involving members of the Illinois State Weapons of Mass Destruction Team storming a hotel to disarm an improvised explosive device and apprehend terrorists. This news story was framed on one local network news report as an example of how both the authorities and the demonstrators are getting prepared. And it finished by showing images of supposed protester websites and YouTube videos with the reporter pointing to and reading the phrases, "Who is ready to riot?" and "get some payback."

On top of all the inflammatory distortion, we are subjected to truly world class hypocrisy. The bloodiest military commanders in the world warn about violence at a time when hardly a day goes by without a fresh report of a drone massacre or sickening atrocity carried out by US-NATO troops in Afghanistan or in the Middle East. The world's economic leaders will gather at the G8 summit in Camp David as the system is driven to feed even more voraciously on the people of the world, where suicides in China's iPad factories or millions in Greece driven into destitution by austerity measures are simply seen as the "cost of doing business."

A NATO Summit protest organizer sharply challenged the media, asking why is he endlessly questioned by reporters if protesters are planning violence while the police chief or mayor are never asked this question?

This clampdown is not entirely unprecedented, particularly for major national or international events. The Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2008, as well as the 2009 Group of 12 (G12) conference in Pittsburgh, witnessed extraordinary repression and violation of people's rights. Yet the full scope of this clampdown in Chicago represents a new level of repression, along with the normalization of fascist-like conditions.

The many months of Chicago authorities, in conjunction with Homeland Security and the Secret Service, carrying out military exercises, unveiling new weapons, and passing new ordinances add up to a new level of militarization in the heart of one of the U.S.'s biggest cities. This will also set a precedent and tone for upcoming high-profile events like this summer's Democratic National Convention (DNC) and Republican National Convention (RNC). A law recently passed in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the DNC will be held in September, empowers police to search people's backpacks in designated zones where protests may be occurring. This unconstitutional practice, similar to policies like stop-and-frisk in New York, is broadening the target of those the government considers suspect and deserving of no rights. 

Dripping in Blood, Talking Peace

In recent months it has been especially hard to hide the brutal and bloody nature of NATO's occupation of Afghanistan. And Afghanistan is, we are told, agenda item #1 for the NATO Summit. The larger backdrop for the imperialists includes global economic disorder, upheaval in the Arab world, and social unrest in large parts of Europe. The last year has witnessed NATO intervention in Libya as part of its response to the Arab Spring, and NATO currently threatens intervention in Syria and war in Iran. In the world today, for a lot of people the rule of the "1%" is increasingly seen as the problem and even as illegitimate. NATO is the enforcer of the largest block of global capitalists—with military aggression often done under the guise of "humanitarian intervention."

The US-led imperialist NATO alliance relies not only on massive military force, exercised directly through occupations and interventions as well as through many client regimes around the world. It also relies tremendously on keeping popular struggles erupting around the world trapped in a framework where the goal is seen as "democracy"—strictly within the framework of capitalism—and the direction of the struggle doesn't aim to break out of the US-led imperialist network of global relations in which the vast majority of people are exploited and oppressed.

Potential for Storms of Resistance

It's a big problem for the authorities that they have to turn the site of the NATO Summit into a virtual police state, while at the same time they want to convince the world that the NATO military alliance represents a force for peace and democracy… and ignore the trail of drone assassinations, torture black sites, bloody occupations, and interventions. It is widely understood that the abrupt moving of the G8 Summit to Camp David from Chicago had much to do with the changed political situation in the world over the last year with the eruption of mass struggle throughout the Middle East last spring and the birth of the Occupy movement.

The powers-that-be in Chicago and nationally are turning the central city into a virtual war zone. The measures being taken are frightening, and deliberately so, sending a chilling message to people considering protesting the crimes of the U.S. and NATO. A vital yet not fully formed ingredient for this security state is legitimizing and normalizing the sweeping violations of basic rights. The extraordinarily repressive measures have sometimes been marketed simply as steps needed to run the summit smoothly—how a modern city runs a world-class event. But more fundamental, and always present and constantly evoked, is the danger of "violent disrupters." The authorities and media have been mobilizing public support for this repression, on the one hand, as legitimate "security measures." But at the same time the exercise of massive force and the highly orchestrated campaign of public opinion is designed to create a numbed acceptance of this repression.

The system hopes to give an answer to the Occupy movement's fierce indictment of the rule of the 1% and to its cry for social justice. This is what you are up against—shut up or at least accept your place as a toothless critic on the sidelines. The campaign of repression underscores the ruling class' need for acquiescence and their fear that the crimes they are committing all around the world, combined with the new spirit of refusal, have the potential to spark big storms of resistance.

The NATO Summit comes at a moment when powerful mass resistance—in front of the eyes of the whole world, exposing the actual role and crimes of NATO, and consciously standing with global humanity—can have far-reaching impact, including by providing oxygen and giving heart to people rising up across the planet. A different future for humanity, in stark opposition to the imperialist nightmare which NATO's role is used to enforce, needs to be expressed by people in the streets.