By Bernard Harcourt
With Nato delegates arriving Saturday night, the City of Chicago has been turned into a police state. Courtesy of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who several months ago began implementing new draconian anti-protest measures, Chicago has gone on security lockdown. Starting early Friday night, 18 May 2012, the Chicago Police Department began shutting down – prohibiting cars, bikes, and pedestrians – miles and miles of highways and roads in the heart of Chicago to create a security perimeter around downtown and McCormick Place (where the Nato summit is being held).
Eight-foot tall, anti-scale security fencing went up all over that perimeter and downtown, including Grant Park; and the Chicago police – as well as myriad other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the US secret service – were out in force on riot-geared horses, bikes, and patrols – batons at the ready. Philadelphia Police Department is sending over reinforcements to help out; Chicago has also asked for recruits from police departments in Milwaukee and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC. Meanwhile, F-16 warplanes “screamed through the skies as part of a pre-summit defense exercise” andhelicopters hovered incessantly.
The Chicago Police Department has spent $1m in “riot-control equipment” in anticipation of the Nato summit. According to the Guardian, “The city of Chicago’s procurement services website shows that in March  $757,657 was spent on 8,513 ‘retro-fit kits’ to be fitted to police helmets. In February  673 of the same kits, which include a face shield and ear and neck protectors, were purchased for $56,632.” Plus, the Chicago Police Department will be deploying its two, new, expensive long-range acoustic device (LRAD) sound cannons – which it bought at $20,000 a pop. These are the type of devices that were used by the Pittsburgh police to deliver high-pitched alarm tonesduring the G20 summit meeting there in 2009.
Then, there is the “secret suburban Chicago” police control center where “officials from more than 40 different agencies sit side by side with a giant central screen before them,” as reported by the Chicago Sun Times. From the multi-agency command center, all different types of federal, state and local law enforcement can “view live video feeds from security cameras that are already up and running throughout the city”.
As one commentators suggests, Chicagoans are experiencing the “New Military Urbanism in Nato-Occupied Chicago”. The extensive nature of these security measures (as reported by the US secret service), road closures and pedestrian restrictions included dozens of road closures (at least 7.5 miles of closed roads, by my calculation), beginning Friday at midnight and going through evening rush hour on Monday, 21 May. There will also be airspace restrictions over Chicago (the flight advisory is here). In addition, there will be marina and waterway restrictions, with the creation of special “maritime security zones”, and an increased presence of US Coast Guard during the summit.
So, welcome, Nato, to the Chicago police state 2012. It may be hard to see or experience the security measures from within the perimeter, but for Chicagoans, the new experience is chilling. As one Chicagoan reportedly told NBC Chicago, the mass of security equipment “made her feel like she was on ‘lockdown’.”
A few further points are worth mentioning. First, it is astounding – but sadly, not surprising – that the City of Chicago would deny protest permits or make protest so difficult in Chicago because of alleged inconveniences to traffic and ordinary business. Our new Chicago lockdown belies any suggestion that the city cares about such inconveniences. While Mayor Emanuel has bent backwards for Nato, first amendment free speech receives dramatically less accommodation.
Second, this police state serves, in reality, as our new welfare state. The security mania represents our truly unique way of stimulating the economy, of employing piece labor, of creating government jobs and subsidized contracts. Just think of the amount of overtime pay that we are disbursing with all this policing. Instead of investing in schools and education, in job training, or in re-entry programs, this is how we invest in our future. And we never think of it as government welfare because it falls in that sacred space of security – because, essentially, of theAmerican paradox of laissez-faire and mass punishment.
Third, and finally, all of this is, sadly, here to stay. Nato will come and go, but the new anti-protest laws, the new riot-gear, the two LRAD sound cannons, and all the normalization of this police state … that will be with us for a long time.