By Joe Macaré
Occupy movements marched and took part in solidarity actions across the United States on Sunday night, responding to the treatment of protesters by the Oakland Police Department the day before.
In Chicago, occupiers gathered at their original “HQ” at LaSalle and Jackson around 7 p.m. and set off on a fast-moving march initially around the Loop. In addition to some of the signs and banners regularly seen at Occupy Chicago actions, there were more hastily assembled signs professing support for Occupy Oakland and opposition to police violence. Likewise, the chants included “the Occupation stands with Oakland!” and even Bay Area lingo: “The system / Has got to die / Hella hella Occupy!”
The relatively low number of marchers (peaking at fewer than a hundred) enabled Occupy Chicago to make sudden changes of direction and lead an initially small Chicago Police Department (CPD) escort on quite the merry dance around the Loop. Occasionally the march drifted from the sidewalk into the street, although initially this only took place on sidestreets with no traffic.
Micah Philbrook, a member of OChi’s Press Committee, says the decision to move from sidewalk to street was spontaneous. He explains: “The tactic of taking the streets is often used to show the reactionary police where the real power lies: with the people.”
Philbrook says that the CPD were initially “unimpressed” but low key, “calmly asking us to get back on the sidewalk.” Relations with the police became tenser, however, after the marchers crossed north of the Chicago River, headed up the Magnificent Mile, and stopped single lanes of traffic on both Michigan Avenue and later State Street. According to Philbrook:
As the march progressed, clearly having no planned route or direction, and clearly not heeding their requests to leave the streets, [the police’s] aggressive behavior erupted. They began to forcefully push and shove peaceful protesters in an effort to get them off the street.
Another protester, Keilah Becker, says she was subjected to aggressive treatment by an Officer Osborn (spelling and rank unconfirmed). She described the incident:
The cop came up behind me, grabbed me by the arm and pushed me onto the sidewalk. I yelled at him, “You can’t touch me, get your hands off me,” to which he responded by pushing me onto a trashcan and starting to yell at me. I can’t remember what he was saying except that he told me, “Shut up, bitch!” I continued to tell him to get off me and that I didn’t do anything wrong. People surrounded him and were yelling “SHAME.” Another officer came up to him and told him to stop and grabbed him. He finally let go of me. I was streaming all of this.
A member of the OChi Social Media Committee, Becker regularly livestreams Occupy Chicago actions and General Assemblies. Arguably even more troubling than the incident in which she was allegedly shoved and subject to sexist verbal abuse is what happened after she asked for the officer in question’s badge number and name:
During this conversation, which I was streaming, a man … told Osborn “Leave her alone!” There was an altercation between the man (Anthony) and Osborn. Osborn shoved Anthony and proceeded to arrest him. I was streaming all of this and then my phone was taken from me. A woman officer grabbed my phone and turned off the stream. She deleted the footage and told me I could not record officers and that it was a class 4 felony.
Becker says she has the badge number of the officer and plans to make a complaint. She is specifically concerned with “bringing attention to the ridiculousness of that law”—the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, regarded as “the most restrictive in the country” and already challenged by the ACLU.
The CPD response may in part be due to details of local policing: By crossing the Chicago River, OChi moved from the 1st District under Commander Christopher J. Kennedy, to Commander Kenneth Angarone’s 18th District. Becker believes this may in part explain why the situation became more aggravated: “The cops wanted us out of the streets in this district.”
But the new level of tension between OChi and the CPD is a reflection of time as well as location. According to Occupy Chicago’s Bunny, a CPD officer asked her “What happened to you guys? You used to be so orderly.”
She posted the following to her @divebunny13 Twitter by way of response (compiled and stripped of hashtags by me, but otherwise intact). It amounts to a brief history of Occupy Chicago, as well as hinting at the future:
You know what happened? We were orderly and you still hassled us daily on the sidewalks. We were orderly and you still took our drums, our food carts, our supplies. We were orderly and you still arrested over 300 of us for trying to assert our rights to peacefully assemble. We were orderly and Mayor 1% still pushed through the Sit Down and Shut Up laws that further stripped our civil rights.
Being orderly has left us colder, hungrier, and angrier than before. So fuck being orderly. You can’t arrest an idea.
And apparently, it takes less than 100 of us to shut down Michigan Ave AND State Street. What are you gonna do when there are thousands?
You should have expected us.