May's NATO summit in Chicago is still weeks away, but residents of the Windy City can expect to see armed federal agents patrolling the streets in preparation much sooner than that.
Three weeks before international heads of state will converge in Chicago, Illinois for the annual NATO conference, the US Federal Protective Service will send armed officers into the city’s downtown district to prepare for the swarm of protesters expected to arrive in time for the event, slated for May 20 and 21.
Both the NATO and G-8 summits were initially scheduled to occur back-to-back in the major Midwest city, but the meeting between the world’s eight leading economies has since been relocated to Camp David, the fortified presidential retreat in Maryland used as a getaway destination for many of America’s past commanders-in-chief. As of now, however, the NATO summit will take place in Chicago and, citing concerns over how demonstrators may respond, law enforcement is being called in early to size up the city.
Beginning May 1, the Federal Protective Service agents will be in Chicago for “Operation Red Zone.” Although the officers will not necessarily be restricting residents from accessing any public spaces that they are normally permitted to enter, the agents will be patrolling — in complete battle gear.
“Will you see a highly visible police force? Yes,” the FPS’ Cleophas Bradley told federal employees, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. “But we will not be preventing anyone from entering the red zone.”
Bradley adds that the officers on patrol will be outfitted with weapons that can fire off “non-lethal” projectiles, much like the firearm that cracked the skull of war veteran Scott Olsen during an Occupy Wall Street protest in Oakland, California last year.
The Sun-Times explains that the move is meant to ensure that a large section of the metropolis will be safe from unruly mobs during next month’s conference, but not even the city’s own elected officials and leaders were made aware of the agency’s plans to put fully equipped federal cops into town in advance.
“A lot of us were surprised to read that. Obviously, the federal government doesn’t consult with the city when they do this. Everybody was unaware of this,” NATO Host Committee Executive Director Lori Healey tells the Sun-Times.
Even at the top of the city’s political structure, Mayor Rahm Emanuel — a close, personal pal of US President Barack Obama and former White House chief of staff — was allegedly unaware of the government’s game plan.
“This was a security decision and we were not involved,” the mayor’s communications director, Sarah Hamilton, explains to the Sun-Times.
Failure by the Federal department to inform the host city of the security initiative is believed to be a pretty good indicator of what to expect. Although federal agents were assumed to be dispatched to Chicago for the conference, sending armed officers to patrol the city unbeknownst to the town’s own management sends a message that the government is not willing to give local law enforcement a chance to let any incidents upset the NATO Summit.
When the first agents roll into town next week, the Sun-Times say they will begin patrolling a perimeter in Chicago’s downtown “Loop” district that includes the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, the Kluczynski Building, the RH Metcalfe Building and the Metropolitan Correctional Center, as well as a handful of federally owned buildings located on what is called the “State Street cluster.”
The Sun-Times has also published an information sheet that outlines the agenda of “Operation Red Zone,” which includes preserving the peace, minimizing disruption, and protecting government property from damage and destruction. Also included on the list is the item “Ensure protection of individual rights to peacefully assemble and express opinions,” although some who plan on protesting the summit have expressed concern over how their First Amendment rights will be protected. In the state of Illinois, it is illegal to make any audio recording of a law enforcement officer without permission, essentially stripping away the right to film during the event.
Additionally, the recent passage of H.R. 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 dubbed the “Trespass Bill” by some pundits, will make it a crime to engage “in disorderly or disruptive conduct” or “impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” during the summit — even if one isn’t aware that they are doing so.Under H.R. 347, any event that the United States Secret Service is assigned to monitor is placed in a category where protesters arrested by the armed security unit could be lobbed with hefty criminal charges.
The Sun-Times adds that, in the event of “civil disobedience,” federal agents will shut down access to the “Red Zone” by putting the Loop in lock-down as authorities attempt to restore order.
“The reality is that FPS deals with protecting federal buildings, so they do have their work cut out for them,” Jeff Cramer of consulting firm Kroll Inc. adds to the paper. “There are a fair amount of federal targets for protesters to make a point with if they wanted.”
Earlier this year, the city issued property owners detailed instructions on how to handle mobs and riots expected for the event.