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NATO Summit Opens with Massive Demonstration, Violence Against Protesters

Rebecca Burns May 21, 2012

Update: As of 12:30 AM on Monday (5/21/12), the National Lawyer's Guild has reports of 13 arrests from Saturday and at least 50 from Sunday.

In one of the largest anti-war demonstrations in the U.S. in years, thousands marched through downtown Chicago Sunday to protest the opening day of the NATO summit. The permitted march, organized by the Coalition Against NATO/G8 (CANG8), ended with a ceremony outside the security fence surrounding McCormick Plaza, the heavily-fortified site where the military alliance was meeting. Though blocked by barricades and a line of police, nearly 50 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) stood in front of the crowd and threw the “Global War on Terrorism” medals that they had received across the security fence, explaining one by one why they refused to wear them any longer.

“This [medal] is for the 30% of women who experience military sexual trauma while in the armed services. We talk about standing up for our sisters in Afghanistan, but we can't even look out for our sisters right here,” Aaron Hughes of Chicago announced to the crowd. “And this one,” he said, hurling the last of three medals over the fence, “is because I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I've been a part of.” Hughes, who was deployed to Iraq at the age of 20, served in the Illinois National Guard for six years. Former U.S. Marine Scott Olson, who was shot in the head with a flash grenade in Oakland last November, also returned his medals to cheers from the crowd.

Though the march proceeded from Grant Park without incident, police began to move in as soon as the permit expired at 5 P.M. This followed similar police behavior at Friday's National Nurses United-organized rally, where police gave a dispersal order immediately following the permitted rally's end. Chris Geovanis of Coalition Against NATO/G8 said that organizers had been warned by police that if Sunday's march didn't step off from the assembly point on time, rally-goers could also face arrest.

March organizers asked at the rally Sunday morning that all contingents of marchers respect the leadership of IVAW, and a group of about 30 demonstrators in black bloc remained behind the group of veterans throughout the length of the march. But as the veterans and other demonstrators began dispersing, one group of protesters advanced towards the line of police—though this reporter saw nothing more than empty water bottles being wielded by protesters. Within ten minutes, at least two demonstrators emerged from the cluster bleeding from the head as hundreds more police in riot gear arrived and surrounded protesters who had not already dispersed, pushing them away from McCormick Plaza with shields. As of 9 P.M., the Chicago Tribune reported that there had been at least 45 arrests. At the time of writing, several hundred demonstrators had regrouped and were holding a sit-in outside of the Art Institute of Chicago, where a dinner for NATO delegates was being held.

Sunday's actions also followed a massive police presence Saturday night during an anti-capitalist march where Chicago police beat protesters with clubs and ran into one group with a van. Natalie Wahlberg of Occupy Chicago said that she was in front of the van when it struck and could feel it accelerating into the crowd. One man was hospitalized following the hit, and National Lawyer's Guild representative Kris Hermes told In These Times via e-mail that he was handcuffed to his gurney, questioned by police and denied access to an attorney before being released from the hospital Sunday morning. Kevin Gosztola also reports that five civilian journalists were stopped and interrogated at gunpoint as they were returning home from the march Saturday night.

“You cannot execute a war of violence without that violence coming home as well,” said Andy Thayer of CANG8 at a press conference Sunday morning condemning the police brutality. “We are holding Mayor Emmanuel and President Obama personally responsible for violence against protesters, because one phone call could've stopped this.”

Meanwhile, politicians meeting inside the NATO summit today agreed to endorse the Strategic Partnership Agreement laid out by the United States. In addition to the demonstrations held during the first day of the summit, Amnesty International held a “Shadow Summit” for Afghan womens' rights, calling for a Constitutional guarantee of gender quality and for negotiating teams involved in peace talks to include at least 30% women, among other things. Though Amnesty has clarified that it is not calling for NATO to remain in the country, it was criticized heavily by peace activists for plastering posters reading, “Human Rights for Women and Girls in Afghanistan. NATO: Keep the Progress Going!” around the city on the eve of the NATO summit.

Ismail Sabaat, an Afghani who is in the United States for three months on an academic fellowship, marched Sunday with a banner that read “Afghanistan Strategic Agreement = Slavery and Continued War.”

“For 10 years, there has been no security in Afghanistan,” he told In These Times. “I'm marching today because [Afghani] people don't want this agreement, but it's being made here in secret without us.”

This article was originally published by In These Times.

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