T. Mannis / The Bench
CHICAGO – March 19, 2008 – Police officers, in riot gear and on horses, were ready. The protesters seemed ready to take a stand.They numbered in the thousands. The Bench does not have an official estimate, but a guess is well over 10,000 people marched north along Michigan Avenue. They started with a rally and speeches at 5:00 p.m., then walked from Dearborn and Monroe to Walton and Dearborn. It was loud, boisterous and peaceful. But the ending was a cliff hanger. It looked like a riot might break out, and the Chicago Police were not backing down.
The protesters arrived at their destination, between Oak Street and Walton Street on N. Dearborn, just off of Chicago’s famous Rush Street bar district, at approximately 8:30 p.m. There, they chanted and sang and danced. It was approximately 8:30 p.m. The police patiently looked on from the sidewalks as the protesters commanded the streets.After 15 to 20 minutes, the police attempted to clear the road. But, unexpectedly, a red headed young woman refused to move. Police officers tried to negotiate with her for about 10 minutes.
All the while, a dozen or so drummers beat a frantic tempo, appropriate to the tense moments. A man who identified himself as her attorney told The Bench that she insisted her name not be released, even though bloggers and major news outlets alike were taking her photograph. Eventually, she relinquished and it looked as though the crowd would break up. That’s not what happened.
The crowd moved in tighter along the street, refusing to allow police and street sweepers move through. About 60 police in riot gear stood just off to the side, ready. Another dozen mounted police lined up on Walton, facing north toward the protesters. Now the tension was very high. The mounted police did not blink, they did not advance. Their very presence was enough for the sensible in the crowd, and after about 10 minutes the crowd dispersed. Almost.
Suddenly, there was the red headed woman again, standing near a man who was laying in the middle of the street. Cameras moved in, tight shots. The mounted police still stood motionless, ready. A police officer calmly spoke to the man. He did not move for a few more moments, then got to his knees, and was helped to his feet by two officers.
The man turned to his left and embraced one of the officers, who returned the gesture. People cheered, and what may have been an ugly scene became a happy ending. [To go to The Bench, go here.]