Peaceful NATO protests come with a large price tag

Daniel Perret-Goluboff

The Chicago Police Department certainly holds a largely negative reputation when it comes to dealing with protesters within the city limits. It’s not as though they haven’t earned it, considering the massive amounts of violence they have inflicted upon protesting groups throughout the history of the city — most notably the bloodshed at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

This reputation led many to fear the worst in the days approaching the recent NATO summit in Chicago last weekend, but analysis of the weekend’s events have left many with a growing sense of hope for police-civilian interactions in the future.

The numbers certainly favor that line of thought. According to **Reuters**, over the entirety of the week’s worth of protests that followed the NATO summit, police made fewer than 100 total arrests. Apparently, almost all of these arrests were for minor infractions, and the offending parties were typically released within a number of hours.

Sunday, following the largest protests surrounding the summit, roughly two dozen protesters were injured after police lines advanced on demonstrators who refused to disperse.

In the big scheme of things, I suppose, these numbers aren’t all that bad. Nobody died, very little property was destructed, and the peace was generally maintained. There is, however, one number from the weekend that is truly alarming: the price-tag.

Though no final figure has been released following the protests, the city estimated that the total cost to police and to secure the NATO summit would fall somewhere between $55 and $65 million dollars.

This is where I’m torn. I understand that money — exorbitant amounts of it, at that — must be spent to secure any event with as high-profile an agenda as the NATO summit, but I can’t help myself from feeling that the money could be better spent elsewhere.

This money could be filtered into public education, civil infrastructure, housing, shelters, etc. The list of things that we could have put that money into more logically than policing a protest seems endless.

Obviously, had money not been spent to ensure the safety of all involved, the damage that the protests could have caused, had the protest turned violent at all, might be immeasurable. But is such a truly outlandish amount of money necessary?

Why couldn’t the city of Chicago have spent $30 million on ensuring the safety of all those around the protests, the summit and the city that weekend and then taken that extra $25 to $35 million dollars and used it to improve the quality of life for all those who live there full-time?

I recognize that the money was indeed well spent in that it prevented the protests from growing too out of hand, but perhaps the relatively calm nature of the demonstrations is indicative of an entirely different social occurrence.

Perhaps we have merely evolved enough as a people to understand that protests can indeed be peaceful and that violence exists only as a last means to an end. Nonetheless, I would happily take a $35 million dollar price tag for the city with four dozen arrests over last weekend’s figures.