Chicago protests on eve of NATO summit small, peaceful
CHICAGO, May 20 — Hundreds of demonstrators protested peacefully yesterday on the eve of the NATO summit in Chicago, gathering outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home to criticize cuts in mental health services before moving downtown under the close eye of police.
An estimated 500 demonstrators participated in the march to Emanuel's home, police said. There were also several smaller rallies.
The gatherings were much smaller than one attracting some 2,500 people on Friday at Daley Plaza, named for longtime Mayor Richard J. Daley, who headed the city during bloody clashes between police and anti-Vietnam War protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention.
The biggest rally during the NATO summit is expected to be today near the convention centre where world leaders will gather.
Fears that violence would erupt have so far proved unfounded. Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said 14 arrests had been made in connection with protests in the past week.
McCarthy spoke before a Reuters reporter witnessed the detention of a man who gave his name as Taylor Hall, 23, from Pittsburgh. Police said he shoved an officer with a bicycle.
There has been little destruction of property. One protester spray-painted an "A" for anarchy on the door of a Verizon Wireless store.
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 showed restraint and allowed several groups of protesters to wander around the city guided by officers mostly on bicycles.
One symbolic protest on Saturday was held in the Haymarket neighbourhood, where a bomb exploded at a workers' demonstration in 1886, killing eight police officers and four civilians. Eight anarchists were convicted in connection with the explosion, but the legal proceedings were later discredited.
The protest on Saturday followed the announcement that three men arrested earlier in the week at a house in the Chicago area had been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. Prosecutors said the three self-described anarchists were planning to attack President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters and Emanuel's home.
'Shame on you'
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 on Sunday and Monday.
Three protest leaders said they met with NATO Ambassador Kolinda Grabar of the military alliance's public diplomacy unit on Saturday.
"My message to Ambassador Grabar was that we are very aware of the immense violence and oppression that the U.S. 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 anti-Wall Street Occupy movement that began in New York last autumn. The group says 1 percent of the U.S. population holds too much of the nation's wealth.
The protest on Saturday began with about 50 people, including some former patients of six city-run mental health clinics that closed at the end of April to save $2.3 million in an effort 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 who is bipolar and suffers from depression. "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."
Less than a block from the mayor's home, Colette Kelsey and Doug Anderson were among the few residents who opened their doors to Saturday's protesters.
"We can all empathise, but when you have limited funds, what can you do?" Kelsey said of the clinic closures. — Reuters