Will police's 'snatch and grab' tactic for NATO hurt communities already heavily policed? Some worry it will

Will police's 'snatch and grab' tactic for NATO hurt communities already heavily policed? Some worry it will

The Chicago Police Department, and the hundreds of state troopers coming into town to police this weekend's NATO summit, have a plan. According to police superintendent Garry McCarthy, their tactic will be to “extract people who need to be extracted.”

Commonly referred to as snatch and grab, the strategy will be used instead of tear gas or kettling, which normally affect large groups of protesters, police representatives have said.

But low-income communities that routinely face heavier policing--more than 20,000 people were arrested in one South Side district in a 13 month period, a Chicago Reporter investigation found--and plan to protest on Sunday, say a strategy that targets "suspicious people" leaves a bad taste in their mouth.

"The entire idea that these crazed anarchists are heading to our city, and so we need a heavier police presence, ignores the reality of the situation," said Kelly Hayes, an activist with Occupy Rogers Park and Occupy Chicago.

"Rahm [Emanuel] has created budget cuts that affect the poor and communities of color, and when he has given these communities more reason than ever to rise up and raise their voices, he then uses NATO as an excuse to target those he is already seeking to victimize."

"Snatch and grab" can be used if a person is committing a crime, says John Stainthorp, an attorney with the People's Law Office.

"But, if they're not actively involved in breaking the law at that time, you cannot extract people. Extracting is an arrest, and it doesn't matter whether you hold them for an hour or ten hours or ten days. If you start to take action against them, [and they're doing nothing wrong,] that's illegal."

And when there is "historically a problem with the police engaging in stereotyping of people," particularly communities of color, it presents a problem, says Stainthorp.

When Emanuel initially introduced his changes to the protest ordinance, coined "Sit Down and Shut Up," two local Occupy groups said they were concerned that the ordinance would chill their right to political speech by doubling the fines for those arrested while demonstrating, mandating a bigger police presence, and restricting the duration of protests.

The letter the groups released in January, urging the alderman to vote against the ordinance, said:

This ordinance does not exist in a vacuum. After all, political speech is not about speech itself. It is about issues of public policy that affect citizens who wish to convey their concerns in the public space. While the city's leadership has talked of tough choices, and the need to balance the budget, communities of Color have been forced to endure the greatest losses in areas of education, medical care, and access to living-wage employment. Restricting our ability to speak to those concerns would be unconscionable.

Now, with sound cannons, aerial surveillance devices and police in riot gear getting ready for Sunday, how are Harris and her fellow protesters preparing?

"Protest carries risks, particularly at a summit like this," said Harris, but nonetheless "we fully expect to be targeted."

"Everyone who steps up is risking arrest," she continued. "But we feel with the world paying attention to these issues for the moment, we now have the opportunity to direct the cameras as to what is really going on."

And their message?

"We are spending $7 billion plus on the war machine while we are allowing our clinics to close due to a $3 million issue, and having poor people be sent to kill other poor people abroad."

But she says that many of these concerns about communities of color and their right to political speech aren't just about Sunday's events.

"My biggest concern with the "Sit Down and Shut Up" ordinance," said Harris, "is that it extends beyond the NATO summit."

Photo credit: Megan Byrd

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  • What exactly are these people complaining about? That criminals are being arrested? This is the dumbest of the dumb protests yet.

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