The Last Chicago Lockdown

The last time an event this big came to Chicago was the 1996 Democratic National Convention.

Chicago, which has held more political conventions than any other city, had been shut out since 1968, when Mayor Richard J. Daley’s cops beat up anti-war protestors in Grant Park. His son was determined to use this gathering of Democrats to rehabilitate the city’s image. Nonetheless, police supply stores were selling t-shirts that read “We kicked your father’s ass in 1968 -- wait till you see what we do to you.”

The 1990s were not an era of street protests, like 1968 and 2011, but police were nervous because of two recent bomb incidents: the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people, and the Atlanta Olympic bombing, which killed two.

Police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled outside the delegates’ hotels, which were also equipped with closed-circuit surveillance systems.

“Police superintendent Matt Rodriguez promised that demonstrators would be given space and time to protest without interference,” wrote Ald. Edward Burke and R. Craig Sautter in their book, Inside the Wigwam: Chicago Presidential Conventions, 1860-1996. “He also requested special powers to bring back police infiltration and surveillance of potentially dangerous groups, particularly terrorists, domestic or foreign.”

Since the convention was held at the United Center, it didn’t disrupt downtown as much as this spring’s summits will. But the Secret Service set up a “secure zone” for four blocks around the arena, and cordoned off the area around the Sheraton Hotel, where President Bill Clinton stayed. Near West Side residents, including those at the Henry Horner Homes, had to place security stickers on their windshields so they could get into their neighborhood. The Coast Guard patrolled Lake Michigan, and police were trained in mass arrests and using gas masks.

Hosting the DNC wasn’t all bad. We still have those fancy Chicago flag fences over the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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