Don Zoufal spoke about the safety concerns surrounding violent protests and anarchist groups at the upcoming NATO Conference in Chicago this May to a group of journalism students at DePaul University April 2.
Zoufal, who works as a safety and security consultant, said that Chicagoan’s safety is the city’s main focus during the NATO Summit, May 20-12 at McCormick Place. Groups like Anonymous, as well as various anarchist groups such as Black Bloc, have threatened violence during the weekend of the conference.
“The 99 Percent, Occupy Chicago, and some anarchist groups are planning on holding rallies during the conference,” said Zoufal. “It is important to let them exercise their free speech, but it is also important to protect the dignitaries and the people of Chicago.”
Zoufal said that one of the more dangerous protest groups to be aware during the summit is Black Bloc. This protest group wears dark hoods and attend protests with the sole purpose of inciting violence and causing property damage.
“There is a small core of people coming to partake in the destruction of property- like Black Bloc,” said Zoufal. “I have no doubt they will cause damage. You can bet on it.”
Chicago is expecting 140-170 motorcades for the NATO Summit. This will cause traffic congestion and and major safety concerns around the city and McCormick Place, where most of the NATO Conference will occur.
“As NATO occurs, there will be much concern on how the heads of state will get to and from McCormick Place,” said Zoufal. “It will be further hindered by these protest groups.”
Zoufal was quick to point out that not all the protest groups are a problem. It is the fringe groups, the violent ones, that have city safety officials concerned, he said.
“We know that at big world events like this, there will be protests- and that is fine,” said Zoufal. “It is when these protests operate outside the realm of law and order that we have serious problems that can tie up city services and seriously harm people.”
Zoufal said that while security officials are worried about looting and destruction to property by these fringe groups -both of which could cost the city millions of dollars- officials are most worried about the safety of all those involved.
“Look whether you are pro-whale or not, I don’t give a crap”, said Zoufal. “If we can’t get an ambulance through, we have a real problem- and that is the importance of crowd control.”
Zoufal noted that another issue with the upcoming protests deal with where the protests will actually take place. The city has been reluctant to grant permits to protestors, which may become an issue.
One area of Chicago where there will be a problem is at the city’s parks. Many of the protest groups want permits that would allow them to sleep in parks- such as Grant Park and Lincoln Park. The problem arises because city parks close at dusk or 11 p.m.,- whichever comes first.
“The protestors want permits to be able to spend the night in the parks, but the city will not give it to them,” said Zoufal. “The city cannot show favoritism toward any one protest group- if they bend the rules, they will have to bend the rules for everyone.”
Overall Zoufal hopes that the weekend will yield no problems or injuries.
“Hopefully everything works out and the protest groups are behaved,” said Zoufal. “This is a great opportunity for Chicago to show it is a world-class city. Hopefully a few wayward groups won’t take that away from the city”.