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Letter From Chicago

photos by Edward Lawton

On May 20, 2012, a few friends and I rolled out of our sleeping bags outside a Bank of America branch in West Chicago. The day before we met members of Occupy D.C. who invited us to join the “Sleepful Protest” they decided to hold there for the weekend, while the leaders on NATO held their annual summit. We all walked to Grant Park for the opening rally of Sunday’s Veterans’ March. A relatively calm atmospere filled the streets, despite scuffles between police and protesters the night before.

At 2pm, we began to march through Chicago to McCormick Place, where the world’s military leaders were planning and discussing, presumably, the next war. The march stopped at Michigan and Cermak, where veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars gave speeches and, symbolically, threw their combat awards towards the site of the summit. No sooner had the speeches ended than police officers, covered head to toe in riot gear, began to surround the mass of protesters. The police went block by block, separating groups and kettling us in. Over a speaker we could hear an order to disperse but were given no way out. We had nowhere to go, so a small group of us sat down to face these lines. Then they charged.

One baton just missed my face, hitting the man on my right. The police grabbed him as the man to my right and I tried to pull him back to no avail. Then the man on my right was taken and beaten behind the lines. A sea of blue helmets came flooding down the street. This was only the beginning of, what would become, a long night of standoffs.

The situation in Chicago turned bleak for anyone without a badge. Reports circulated of journalists being pointed out and beaten, undercover police pinning protestors with “smiley stickers” to be marked for arrest, children and seniors caught on a lopsided battleground. With the police forces avoiding arrests and just leaving their victims to bleed in the streets, we have black bloc tactics to thank for our escape. It seems these clusters of black were maneuvering as a distraction for people who wanted out.

While the world leaders who came to Chicago call their summit successful and praise the “effectiveness” of the police force, I’m left questioning the integrity of our system of laws.

- Edward Lawton, Buffalo

Several days of protests attended NATO’s annual summit, held last weekend in Chicago. The largest of these demonstrations occurred Sunday. Edward Lawton of Buffalo sends these photographs documenting the march. In all, fewer than 100 arrests were made during the week; according to Lawton, however, the police presence was not so restrained and peaceful as those numbers and many news media accounts suggest.

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