Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Police: Protest space a concern for DNC
Credit: Getty Images
Police: Protest space a concern for DNC
by CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR. / Charlotte Observer
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 7:59 AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Back from a trip to Chicago to help the Windy City deal with NATO summit protests, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said they worry that Charlotte’s uptown might not have public spaces large enough to accommodate the thousands of demonstrators who massed in Chicago’s parks.
At a news conference Wednesday, police also said they’re fine-tuning their plans for responding to other issues they saw over the weekend – from roving bands of demonstrators who disrupt traffic to lawbreakers who incite violence while trying to blend in with peaceful protesters.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police sent 100 officers to Chicago to help with the protests and get experience with massive demonstrations. Several members of the department’s command staff – including Chief Rodney Monroe and Deputy Chief Harold Medlock – met with Chicago’s security planners and analyzed that department’s approach to safeguarding the city.
Since the NATO summit was designated a National Special Security Event, a federal grant will reimburse the city of Charlotte for the officers’ salaries and travel expenses.
Police leaders expect thousands of demonstrators to show up for the Democratic National Convention in September, attempting to trumpet their messages before the international media.
CMPD officials said Chicago’s approach to the NATO summit was a success. Still, roughly 50 people were arrested and at least two officers were injured in conflicts with protesters, who paraded in Chicago’s central business district day and night, disrupting traffic.
An estimated 5,000 people protested during the summit.
“I saw a lot of things that gave us some great ideas about how we manage crowds and how we de-escalate some of the crowd behavior,” said Medlock, who’s overseeing the department’s planning for the convention.
He declined to go into detail, however.
“I was encouraged by the number of demonstrators that the city of Chicago had. I think it’s a reasonable number of people and I hope that’s where we are when September comes.”
Here’s what police say they learned:
• Protesters might confront cars and pedestrians. In Chicago, thousands of people gathered downtown for massive protests. Then, sometimes on a whim, the protesters would take to the streets – often chanting “Whose Street? Our Street!” The demonstrators were generally peaceful, but their random routes kept police on their toes. The marchers often walked directly into traffic, or came in contact with tourists or people traveling to or from work.
“How you work vehicular traffic, pedestrian traffic and those who want to demonstrate all in one area,” Medlock said. “That’s a challenge for us.”
During one impromptu march below the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears tower), protesters jumped on a police car, which was driving through the crowd. Police say the officer driving was punched in the face and received a concussion; one of the protesters was injured.
• The city might not have adequate protest places. Most protests in Chicago last weekend centered around large public parks just south of the Central Business District. One drew more than 4,000 people – everyone from Iraq war veterans to representatives of the socialist party to the Rev. Jesse Jackson – who then went on a planned march to the site of the NATO summit.
City of Charlotte officials have said they will have a “free speech zone” with a speaker’s platform, city-issued microphones and amplification equipment for use by protesters. Mecklenburg County has said county parks will be available for individuals and groups to protest.
But crowds could overflow many of the parks in uptown and could force protesters into the streets, making it hard for the city to go about business as usual, as convention planners have promised.
“We don’t have such large parks,” Medlock said. “We have to identify those places where people can gather. That will allow us to support them at the appropriate facilities and make arrangements for basic human needs.”
• Antagonists in the crowd. CMPD believes that the bulk of protesters who come to the DNC will be non-violent, but Medlock said the department will need a strategy to identify and arrest lawbreakers before they can cause damage, foment riots, or even prevent peaceful protesters from getting their points across.
Anarchist groups have frequently been blamed for damaging property and inciting violence during demonstrations using “black bloc” methods — dressing in black clothing, hoods and bandannas that cover their faces.
Medlock said antagonists among the protesters hurled bricks, bottles full of urine and paint, a two-by-four, part of a fence and human feces at rows of officers.
“I think what you’re going to see in September is certainly a lot of demonstrators are going to come because you’re going to have that national and international media here, and you’re going to have some of the criminal behavior that comes with that,” he said.
Medlock said he still thinks Charlotte can conduct business as usual, a goal echoed by convention organizers. He said the department plans to work with individual businesses on security measures, but said he didn’t anticipate the beefed up police presence would make the center city inhospitable to regular Charlotteans.
In Chicago, retailers estimated that half the workers in the city’s central business opted to work from home or just didn’t show up, hurting the restaurants and retailers who serve them. One restaurant owner told the Observer he lost about $5,000 every day of the NATO summit.
Allen Sanderson, an economist at the University of Chicago, said he believes the city broke even. Organizers estimated that the NATO Summit would bring a $128 million economic benefit to the city, a number Sanderson said is likely exaggerated.
“There were in fact a lot of people who lost money – the restaurant owners, the cabbies, hotels over three days,” he said. “On top of that, we probably spent $50 million for police.”
Sanderson said the wave of anti-corporate protests sweeping the nation will make it difficult for parts of Charlotte to be normal in September.
“I think 2012 is a particularly bad time because we’ve gotten into this Occupy fever,” he said, referring to the Occupy Wall Street protest group. Political events like NATO or the DNC can be “very disruptive. You’ve got to cordon off a large area of the city. If you have a Super Bowl in Charlotte, you’re not going to have a big section of people looking to protest. … . The long estimates suggest that national political conventions may be of zero economic value.”
Friday, May 25, 2012
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Charlotte officials get DNC lessons on ground at NATO in Chicago
As Charlotte prepares to host Democrats, city officials, including police Chief Rodney Monroe, areon hand at the NATO conference to get firsthand experience with protesters at an international event
By Fred Clasen-Kelly
and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
Posted: Sunday, May. 20, 2012
CHICAGO Charlotte got its first glimpse Saturday of how street protests could affect the city when the Democratic National Convention arrives.
After nightfall, things grew increasingly tense as hundreds of protesters surged through the streets.
Police, some in riot gear and at times with billy clubs, stood at the ready. Journalists from the Observer, in Chicago to report on the city's interaction with protesters, witnessed a particularly sharp clash in front of the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower. As protesters marched against traffic, they came upon a police van.
The protesters refused to move. They started pounding on the van. The driver refused to stop, even though one man was hanging off the hood. One demonstrator slashed the van's tires.
As the van passed by, one of the demonstrators could be seen on the ground, apparently in need of attention.
The increasingly tense clashes between protesters and police resulted in 18 arrests, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told the Associated Press.
Earlier Saturday, extraordinary security measures meant to protect President Barack Obama and other world leaders at the NATO summit turned parts of this normally bustling city into a ghost town.
Police barricades blocked dozens of streets. Museums usually teeming with weekend tourists stood empty. And businesses closest to the event covered windows with plywood.
The U.S. Secret Service, which dictated almost every aspect of the plan, will also oversee security during the DNC in September.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police got a hands-on look Saturday when they toured the city and met with planners from the Chicago Police Department and other agencies. Some 100 CMPD officers will help provide security when the NATO summit commences Sunday.
Security planners have essentially closed a large part of downtown Chicago near the convention center hosting the summit.
CMPD Deputy Chief Harold Medlock, among the visiting officers, said that Charlotte would likely avoid such a move. “It will be a secure site, but will it be completely devoid of people? No,” Medlock said.
Chicago leaders have the same hopes for the NATO summit as Charlotte does for the DNC: They want international exposure that casts the city in a positive light while minimizing safety risks.
Authorities said Saturday they arrested three alleged anarchists they charged with plotting to hurl Molotov cocktails at police stations, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home and President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters.
Chicago leaders are hoping the summit will reinforce the city’s status as one of the world’s leading cities.
Civic leaders of the nation’s third largest city were embarrassed when Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics was rejected despite help from President Obama.
City fathers also want to erase the memories of the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention which erupted into violence between protestors and police.
Charlotte hopes the DNC, expected to draw 35,000 visitors, will elevate its national profile after a decade of unprecedented growth.
Large demonstrations expected
Thousands of protestors have converged here in a show of force they hope will capture international media attention on war, economic inequality and other issues. The largest demonstrations are expected Sunday.
On Saturday, more than 1,000 marched in an impromptu rally planned via Twitter and text messages. They blocked streets and chanted, “Whose street? Our street,” as they walked, flanked by dozens of police officers on bikes, in cars, on horseback and on foot.
Thomas Zeitner, a member of Occupy Chicago, said protesters were responding to the arrests of the three people accused of making homemade bombs. Protestors claim the men arrested are innocent.
Jared Hamil, who attended the march, said he was recruiting demonstrators to attend the DNC in Charlotte and the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Hamil said he belongs to a group called Fight Back Florida and said the goal is to bring 5,000 people to the conventions.
“We don’t support any one party’s agenda,” Hamil said. “We oppose the parties of the 1 percent.”
‘Slow’ in normally bustling sections
Sections of the city typically filled with pedestrians and traffic tie-ups stood silent on Friday and Saturday. The summit drove business away from restaurants and shops accustomed to brisk weekend sales. “It’s slow,” said Christina Sauseda, a waitress at the Marquette Inn restaurant and bar. “The construction workers aren’t even working because they don’t have access to the buildings.”
Near the summit site, plywood covered windows on some buildings to prevent possible damage from protests. Workers were putting boards up in front of a Ford dealership near a rally planned for Sunday.
Steve Blessman, who lives near the city’s NFL stadium, said the people who manage his condominium complex warned him that protests could grow violent. Building managers sent out memos that discouraged the people who live in his building from wearing jewelry. They should be cautious when using a cellphone outside, the memo said. Still, he said he feels no danger. “If I didn’t feel it was safe, I would have left for the weekend with my family,” Blessman said.
From his 43rd floor apartment, he watched as law enforcement agents and city officials walled off a large segment of the cultural district near his home – Soldier Field, three museums, a concert venue and a planetarium. Lake Shore Drive – normally busy with cars – was completely empty. Concrete barricades were in place to stop cars and, behind them, metal fences to impede pedestrians, one day before the president and other dignitaries were expected to be on site.
“Everything east of me is shut down,” he said. “When the protesters march, once they start moving people, I won’t be able to get out.”
CMPD meets Chicago counterparts
CMPD officers arrived in Chicago Friday night. On Saturday, they still hadn’t received notification about where they would be policing, CMPD spokesman Brian Cunningham said.
Until the nighttime incident, the protests Saturday were relatively peaceful. That allowed CMPD leaders to meet with their Chicago counterparts.
DNC Committee CEO Steve Kerrigan has said Charlotte’s will be not only the “safest convention, but the least disruptive in terms of impact on daily lives.” Said Medlock: “We’ve been able to test some of the assumptions that we’ve made.”
The biggest tests will likely come Sunday and Monday, with large rallies planned each day. McCarthy, the police superintendent, has said planners tried to ensure safety without creating the appearance of a police state. But throngs of police officers – some from as far away as Philadelphia – blanketed street corners and kept close watch on some buildings.
An intense effort
Federal Homeland Security officers circled a post office repeatedly in SUVs. Other officers stood nearby with a police dog. At the Chicago Hilton, squad cars surrounded the building. Hotel security prohibited passersby from stopping near the hotel’s entrances.
Visitors to one of the few museums that remained open Saturday had go through a metal detector before they reached the door.
A Secret Service member shooed away bicyclists who wanted to use the path normally open to them. One woman rode off saying of the NATO summit, “They shouldn’t have had this in Chicago if there’s so much risk.”