Demonstrators allege 'excessive force' used to clear encampments; law enforcement on alert: records

ByBarb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones and Chuck Goudie WLS logo
Thursday, May 9, 2024
Demonstrators allege 'excessive force' used to clear encampments
Chicago law enforcement groups are on alert for college protests, records shows. Demonstrators allege "excessive force" was used to clear encampments.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Encampment protests at university campuses in Chicago and across the state of Illinois are raising red flags for law enforcement, as well as excessive force complaints by the public.

The ABC7 I-Team has obtained an internal Illinois State Police memo that has been distributed to law enforcement concerning "increased urgency levels" as pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli protests continue throughout the state.

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According to the intelligence bulletin, the "situation is fluid and rapidly evolving," and authorities warn that "demonstrations could pose a threat to public safety, especially when groups or individuals with opposing viewpoints are in proximity."

The four-page brief was prepared last week by analysts at ISP's Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center in Springfield, known as the STIC. The center monitors threats and violence across Illinois in real time and acts as an intelligence clearinghouse for public safety menaces and potentially violent trends.

Demonstrators have also alleged excessive force by Chicago officers responding to clear out college encampments.

READ MORE | CPD was on standby when University of Chicago police shut down pro-Palestinian encampment: Snelling

Following the past weekend's clashes with police at several locations in Chicago, six allegations of brutality have been lodged against CPD according to complaints obtained the I-Team in response to our public records request.

Five of the complaints filed with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability were from the protest in front of the Art Institute of Chicago on South Michigan Avenue, and one complaint followed a demonstration at DePaul University in Lincoln Park.

"Many officers acted violently, pushing against a metal barricade" stated one complainant in the COPA paperwork, related to the Art Institute demonstration.

Chicago Police were called to the Art Institute after a security guard was shoved and their keys to the museum and radio were taken, according to a statement from the school and CPD.

Police records obtained by the I-Team show after hours of negotiations with demonstrators -- which included the Art Institute providing a new location for protesters to relocate to -- no one agreed to leave and Chicago police moved in, arresting 68 people on trespassing charges, which were eventually dropped.

The next day, records show another complainant that attended the DePaul University protest filed a complaint with COPA, stating a "[Chicago Police] officer was shoving peaceful protestors unprovoked. Her actions caused psychological and emotional damage towards multiple protestors who had hoped law enforcement would protect them from anti-protestors. Rather, her actions made protestors feel unsafe as she continued to instigate violence among a crowd of women, children, and students."

All six complaints are still under investigation by COPA and police internal affairs. No officers have been disciplined.

In the state police intelligence alert, officials said they are watching for large scale protest events planned for a specific site and announced time being moved to another location at the last minute, creating a "possible public safety concern due to potential location changes off campus, large crowd sizes, or disturbances."

Among the intelligence points in this latest alert is a concern about false threats of violence.

"The STIC is aware of the potential for hoax threats or swatting to the education sector related to or amidst the pro-Palestinian events nationwide. During demonstrations at a Midwestern university on April 25, the following emailed bomb/shooting threat was sent to the university president's office: 'Hello. Consider this my manifesto. Highly lethal lead azide devices have been hidden throughout the library as well as a dorm building. They are going to explode soon, at which point I'll start shooting. Free Palestine'!"

There was no chemical weapon attack that day or anything threatening found, although on the same day, a similar threat was also received by a university in Illinois and the president of a university in Georgia, according to the STIC bulletin.