Report on NATO Policing

photo by Luke Rudkowski 

New Report Analyzes Policing of Chicago NATO Protests

August 30, 2012

Alex S. Vitale

A new report was released today that looks at how the Chicago Police Department and the City of Chicago handled last spring’s NATO Summit protests. The report praises the CPD for showing a great deal of tolerance and flexibility in allowing numerous unpermitted marches throughout the summit period. It raises several concerns, however, about the use of force during the May 20th demonstration at Cermak and Michigan Aves., the use of undercover police to infiltrate and possibly entrap political activists, the treatment of the media, and problems with the granting of permits.

The report was compiled by sociologist Alex S. Vitale, who teaches at Brooklyn College and has written several such reports in the U.S. and abroad. Vitale traveled to Chicago to observe the demonstrations firsthand and consulted with the CPD, the ACLU, and the National Lawyers Guild before releasing the report.

While there were many complaints by demonstrators about a heavy presence of CPD officers and the use of some aggressive tactics, the report finds that overall people were able to demonstrate in Chicago that week. Unpermitted marches were held throughout the Loop area and to the Mayor’s home. Some of these marches lasted several hours and while there were occasional minor clashes, arrests and use of force were minimal and no attempts were made by police to prevent marches through mass arrest or “kettling,” a practice of surrounding protestors for hours and then forcing them to disperse in small groups.

The most critical part of the report deals with the violent clashes on May 20th in which several demonstrators and police officers were injured. Video linked to the on-line report shows that some demonstrators used improvised shields and sticks to try and breach police lines at the conclusion of the permitted rally. Police responded with baton blows. In the melee that followed some officers sustained minor injuries including a stab would to the leg, and several demonstrators suffered serious injuries including broken bones, lost teeth, and concussions.

The report argues that these injuries could have been avoided if police on the front lines had either been in a more defensive posture behind steel barricades or if they had been equipped with riot shields. Such equipment was available at the scene but was not deployed at this crucial flashpoint.

In addition, the report criticizes the use of baton strikes aimed at the heads of protestors. This is widely considered to be a very high level of force, which many police departments specifically prohibit.

The report is also critical of Superintendent McCarthy’s claim that officers had no choice but to respond to violent attacks with overwhelming force. Police force must always be proportional to the threat posed, and baton strikes to the head represents potentially lethal force, which could have been avoided if appropriate equipment and tactical placement had been used.

The report makes a series of recommendations designed to improve police relations with demonstrators, which should serve to enhance the department’s legitimacy in the eyes of both the demonstrators and the general public, which has been a major concern for Sup. McCarthy since arriving from the Newark Police Department in spring of 2011.

The report was funded by a Leonard and Claire Tow Faculty Travel Fellowship and can be accessed on line at