Chicago police superintendent David Brown said Monday morning that officers will wear full protective gear when assigned to future protests after “agitators” hijacked a protest Friday against the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park, injuring 49 police officers.
Brown and Belmont Area Cmdr. Daniel O’Shea also urged people to seek out “both sides” after activists at Friday night’s protest — which Brown said “devolved” into an orchestrated attack on police — said this weekend that officers’ actions left many in the crowd injured, as well.
“What began as a peaceful protest at Grant Park Friday evening devolved into a very dangerous situation in which mob action deliberately sought to injure officers, provoke retaliation and damage property, Forty-nine Chicago police officers were injured. Forty-nine,” Brown said. “Eighteen of whom were sent to area hospitals for their injuries.”
A morning news conference began with overhead video taken by city cameras, in an effort to show that some in the crowd of thousands that had marched toward the Columbus statue in Grant Park had planned an attack on police officers. It appeared at least a dozen people used umbrellas to shield people in the crowd changing into all black clothing, distributed frozen water bottles, rocks, and explosive devices that were thrown at officers and using sharpened PVC pipe as a weapon, O’Shea said.
“I want to point out that we’ve had multiple protests at the statue prior to this event that were all peaceful and we respected everyone’s First Amendment right to protest peacefully, but this was not — what you’re seeing here is obviously an ambush on police officers,” O’Shea said. “They had multiple, multiple restocking of items to throw at the police, weapons, basically.”
Brown said the police response to the chaotic confrontations in Grant Park diverted much needed police resources to other parts of the city where shootings took place at the start of another violent weekend in Chicago. Tribune data show at least 71 people were shot over the weekend, 12 of them fatally.
Brown said officers now must be prepared for the possibility that each such protest could turn into an attack.
“It’s a sacred right to protest in this country and we don’t want to now assume peaceful protest might turn violent ... now we must assume that there may be mobs working with peaceful protesters to inflict violence,” Brown said.
Brown said he’s fielded questions about why officers weren’t wearing full protective gear as they stood near the statue, putting them immediately on the defensive when projectiles flew toward them. He said while most protesters are peaceful, the department no longer has the luxury of assuming that those in the crowd won’t want to hurt officers.
“I was upset about that. Here’s the real answer: We just don’t want to believe people would act this way toward us, that they would take advantage of our sacred right of the First Amendment. But now I have ordered all of our officers to wear any and all protective gear when protest appear ... because of these mob actions, we must protect our officers. We can not assume that protests are going to be peaceful, based on these actions and others.
“We have to protect our officers from projectiles being thrown at them; from PVC pipes being sharpened and stabbed at them; from their kneecaps being broken; from their eye sockets being destroyed. We must protect our officers from this kind of violence from these mobs,” he said.
Brown also warned that those who participate in protests should be aware that these type of violent clashes might be more common in the future and to be careful when bringing children to events.
When asked whether the police investigation has shown that the protest organizers were working with the agitators, Brown was solemn, saying: “God I hope not. But it sure looks like it.”
On Sunday, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability said it received more than 20 complaints against Chicago police officers resulting from the protests in Grant Park.
Ephraim Eaddy, a COPA spokesman, said the complaints included allegations of excessive force, unnecessary use of chemical spray, denial of counsel and "operational violations."
“Preliminary investigative steps led to the review of widespread video shared via social media, body worn camera, (third) party video, tactical response reports and other materials,” Eaddy said in a statement. He said these investigative steps also apply to the widespread video purported to show 18-year-old Miracle Boyd getting punched in the face by an officer.
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The Chicago Tribune’s Claire Hao contributed.
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