As I tried to catch the 146 bus to head home after a long and productive day photographing the city, I saw police lights flashing seven or so blocks north of me on Michigan Avenue. I had already read that the Black Lives Matter ("BLM") protesters had unsuccessfully tried to shut down the Taste of Chicago earlier in the day. Not surprising: The Chicago Tribune reported that there were just 100 or so protesters, Not enough manpower to shutdown a sprawling event with thousands of people in attendance. In Chicago, protest organizers keep the group moving, and apparently that is exactly what the BLM organizers did.
When I finally caught up with the flashing lights, I was standing in front of Water Tower Place. A police paddy wagon was parked in the middle of Michigan Avenue. About 150 people chanting, "Let her go." I assume "her" was already in the back of the wagon. As I stood on the sidewalk with 150 or so other folks, I saw two or three other people join her. In terms of presence, my sense is that the police far outnumbered the demonstrators. As in the past, a group of police officers blocked the doors to Water Tower Place with interlaced bicycles.
Things were noticeably tense. At one point, the demonstrators moved or were pushed back on the sidewalk on the westside of the street just under the Uniqlo store display. It was like watching the Green Bay Packers defensive line take on the Chicago Bears offensive line. There was contact. Eventually things settled down, with the Chicago Police Department doing what it does best, controlling the crowd. It basically works like this: Cops on bicycles get ahead of the crowd, interlocking bikes and blocking three of the four directional options, thereby forcing the crowd in the desired direction. While the pick is being set, another group of cops on bicycles heads to the next intersection to set the new pick. This tactic also thins the herd, as small groups of marchers get stranded in the confusion.
As good as the cops are--I assume they perfected the technique during the NATO protests four years ago--they did make one big tactical mistake tonight, or maybe not. The demonstrators were funneled south on Wabash. That makes sense when the demonstration is north of Chicago Avenue, but about six or seven blocks south sits what has become a politically charged Chicago landmark: Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago. About three blocks before arriving, the protesters realized where they were headed, as did the police. That wasn't a hard realization to come by: People had begun chanting "Fuck Trump." The bicycle cops responded, racing down the far sidewalk in an effort to reach the Trump International Hotel before the demonstrators got there. Trump had to put his name on the building in two-story letters.
After about 15 or 20 minutes in front of the Trump Hotel, the crowded headed south, eventually ending up on State Street. At that point, it was dark, so I hopped the 146 bus, which whisked me home.
I suspect most Chicagoans wanted to enjoy a lovely evening after the incidents this week in Dallas, Baton, Rouge, and St. Paul. Everyone is a little raw right now, particularly in Chicago, where the heyjackass website is reporting tonight that exactly 2,100 people have been shot in Chicago year-to-date, with 346 of the victims deceased. For those who want detailed statistics, this site is for you, but it does contain some dark humor--as in the 2016 Selfie-O-Meter and the 2016 Shot-in-the-Junk-O-Meter. Despite what many will view as poor taste, the site does an excellent job of depicting the devastation that has hit Chicago.
I certainly saw all sorts of Chicagoans enjoying the evening. People were dining al fresco, shopping with kids, and just hanging out. Many of these folks wanted a photograph of the marchers or the police, some who were caught in traffic honked their horns in support, and others gawked at what can best be viewed as street theatre.
After the marchers were directed off Michigan Avenue, the tension that I first observed seemed to subside. The police were relaxed, chatting with each other and smiling. But at one point, one marcher got into a shoving match with police. Instantly, the smiles disappeared. The marcher was surrounded and neutralized. Surprisingly, he was not arrested, at least as far as I could tell and I was just feet away from the confrontation.
Of the 150 to 200 marchers, I would say about 50 were hard core and angry, with a few exhibiting intense hostility toward the police. The others seemed to be along for the ride, taking selfies and enjoying the breezy summer evening.
At some point this summer, BLM Chicago will put together a larger and better organized demonstration. Rahm and the merchants may concede the streets, like they did last year on Black Friday. I, however, will not be surprised if violence erupts. The police were very restrained, but it was clear that they were ready to bust heads if things got out of control. Chicago is not Dallas, where I read that a police officer wiped the tears of a woman who was crying.
Whatever you want to say about the police, they do have a sense of humor. As I was crossing the Wabash Street bridge, a female demonstrator yelled, "Fuck You" to three or four police officers who were walking next to me. One officer responded, "Why would you say 'Fuck You' to this nice man who wants to take your picture?" She posed for me, following the cops instructions.
Postscript: The Chicago Tribune reported that the march ended on Michigan Avenue around 10PM, when the marchers headed toward Taste of Chicago. Batons were drawn. There were 15 arrests. Interestingly, there was a march in Evanston that apparently included 200 participants.
Copyright 2016, Jack B. Siegel. All Rights Reserved