CHICAGO — Hundreds of demonstrators staged raucous protests against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget cuts and other economic issues on the eve of the Nato summit, but police said there were few arrests and only minor clashes.
The crowds were in the hundreds on Saturday, down from an estimated 2,500 people on Friday at Daley Plaza, named for long-time Mayor Richard J Daley, who headed the city during bloody clashes between police and anti-Vietnam War protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention.
The violence that was anticipated before the Nato summit never materialised, although the biggest rally was expected yesterday.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said late on Saturday there had been 18 arrests during the week.
One protester was taken to a hospital after a group of people swarmed on a police vehicle and slashed a tyre, McCarthy said. Local media showed video of the man in front of the vehicle trying to stop it but it was unclear if he was run over.
Another protester spray-painted an “A” for anarchy on the door of a Verizon Wireless store.
Saturday’s marches began early, with an estimated 500 people protesting outside Emanuel’s home to criticise cuts in city mental health services.
McCarthy said protesters were “making noise and disrupting some people’s lives,” but that overall, events were going well.
While the city of Chicago had not granted a permit for Saturday’s protests, police allowed several groups of protesters to wander around the city guided by officers mostly on bicycles. There was some pushing and shoving between police and protesters but no major clashes.
Saturday’s protests followed the announcement that three men arrested earlier in the week had been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. Prosecutors said the three self-described anarchists were planning to attack President Barack Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters and Emanuel’s home.
Again on Saturday, the protests stressed economic and social policy issues rather than international questions, such as the war in Afghanistan, expected to be discussed by world leaders at the Nato summit yesterday and today.
Three protest leaders said they met with Nato Ambassador Kolinda Grabar of the military alliance’s public diplomacy unit.
“My message to Ambassador Grabar was that we are very aware of the immense violence and oppression that the US in its Nato guise does to the world, and that no amount of words from her or pronouncements from the summit itself will obscure that,” said Andy Thayer, one of the protest leaders.
Many of the protesters were from the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last autumn to protest policies that lead to income inequality. The group says one per cent of the US population holds too much of the nation’s wealth.
The protest included some former patients of six city-run mental health clinics that shut at the end of April to save $2.3 million to help close the city’s $650 million budget deficit.
“He (Emanuel) hasn’t talked to us once, not once, since he’s been in office,” said Marti Luckett, 60, a patient at one of the shuttered clinics. “We want him to show up.
“I think President Obama should be calling Rahm Emanuel and say, ‘Shame on you.’” Emanuel is Obama’s former White House chief of staff.
The city says patients should be able to receive care at the six remaining clinics or some run by outside groups.
Small groups of protesters, some carrying signs that read: “Food not bombs” and “Seize the peace,” accompanied former patients of the clinics dressed in green hospital smocks going door to door to talk to residents in
Emanuel’s neighbourhood. The former patients wore signs saying: “Welfare not warfare.” — Reuters