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Scuffle Breaks Out During Tense Chicago Anti-Police Brutality Rally

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 16, 2012 2:00PM

"From Chicago to Greece: fuck the police."

I could hear the small group of protesters chanting that as they marched north on Emerald Avenue—three blocks from my home—last night, where they were directed by riot gear-clad police on bicycles west on 32nd Street toward District 9 Headquarters at West 31st Street and South Halsted.

This march, billed as a rally against capitalism and police brutality, began 20 blocks south at Halsted and West 51st Street. Police continuously re-routed the crowd—officials said 100 marched, but I counted at least that many with their faces covered by bandanas and balaclavas—up side streets to keep Halsted clear for traffic to pass, since the marchers didn't have a parade permit.

The march worked its way through Back of the Yards, Canaryville and eventually Bridgeport, three largely working class neighborhoods with a history for not tolerating "outsiders" of any kind over the decades, and three neighborhoods that many police officers call home. As strategy goes, this was entering the belly of the beast and, with media attention in Chicago on alert in anticipation for this weekend's NATO summit, they wanted to use it to their advantage.

No less esteemed a journalist than NBC 5 political editor and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin offered her opinion that the protesters' "fuck the police" mantra took away from their message.

"Call me MSM...but the marchers on Tim Pool's excellent feed...need a little more creativity than f... the police. It diminishes protest."

Marin has a point and the Police Department, for what it's worth, quietly handled crowd control with a stoicism comparable to yeoman guards at the Tower of London.

But this is Chicago, a city that has paid $20 million to date to settle lawsuits related to the torture practices of former Police Lt. Jon Burge; a city that's already shelled out over $1 million for security related to the NATO summit, including new riot gear for horses; a city whose police department just demonstrated an LRAD earlier this week they say they'll only use for crowd control; a city whose police department will be under investigation for its handling of a murder case where the suspect is a relative of a former mayor; a city where some police officers still wear the actions of the department during the 1968 Democratic Convention as a badge of honor; and a city that had three cops allegedly tell Occupy Chicago protesters they "couldn't wait" to see them protesting the summit, I can understand why the marchers (and some residents who joined them along the route) embraced the vulgar sentiment.

The message for the marchers was clear. By the time they reached Bridgeport they encountered a possibly unforeseen adversary in neighborhood residents. Their response to the march was also clarion: "Get the fuck out of my neighborhood!" Any fears about police antagonism went by the wayside when confronted by a group of working class xenophobes.

Video streaming by Ustream (Video by Tim Pool)

Aggressive marchers found willing sparring partners in men and women from this neighborhood that has spawned seven of Chicago's mayors. Men and women who sometimes eye even people who have lived here for decades with distrust, simply because they weren't born here, let the marchers know in blunt terms they considered the whole lot of them to be nothing more than dirt farmers who needed a shave, a haircut, and a kick in the ass. It's the same thing residents in the Lawndale neighborhood told Martin Luther King, Jr. in the mid-60s when he marched for fair housing in Chicago. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

For one night, the neighborhood many of us call "The Community of the Future" for all its untapped promise sank back into the mire of its dark and dirty recent past.

As the marchers massed on Halsted across the street from the police station, they dealt with more catcalls from the locals. One man behind me studied the throng and said, "Look at this shit. This is Obama's seed money. This is (David) Axelrod's doing." (I'd bet a month's salary that man has only voted Democrat his entire life, except for when Harold Washington was elected mayor.) Protesters said similar things about the residents viewing the evening's festivities: that they were plants by the city to intimidate them.

On the east side of Halsted a man in a white t-shirt and red hat continued yelling at the marchers to leave. He was with an older man, a well-built man in a newsboy hat and white t-shirt, and a rotund, tattooed man. The guy in the red hat was tried to go after a couple of protesters, while one of the march's leaders—as much as a march like last night's has one—seemed to have gotten things back under control.

Then this happened:

The scuffle was over almost as soon as it began. The old man and the hothead in the red hat were escorted away by police; they would not be charged with anything. Locals yelled, "Who's violent now?" as some marchers asked if this behavior was typical of Bridgeport. Looking back at the video I shot a few hours after the scuffle, I'm actually surprised this didn't get more violent, that's how tense things were on the ground.

Back on Halsted, the protesters engaged in another "People's Mic" and asked those who remained to "de-escalate" their actions. Any goodwill that was built between the residents and marchers was unraveled with the scuffle. Suddenly, a group of masked anarchists found themselves on the wrong side of already agitated locals and a group of gangbangers who were waiting for an excuse to start throwing fists.

One gangbanger stood in front of the strip mall across the street from the police station and showed his solidarity with the neighbors who, on any other day, would just as soon hang him from a street lamp by his ankles. "I agree with these guys: fuck the police," the banger said, "But where are these motherfuckers every other day of the year?"

"If I had to choose between the police and these motherfuckers, I'm riding with the police," he added.

By 8:30 the march dispersed along with the rain and wind that rolled in. Some of the protesters jumped the turnstiles at the Halsted Street Orange Line station, chanting "we own the rails."

And it's gonna be a long week, if Tuesday night is an indication.