Monday, May 21, 2012

Bomb Scare: An anecdote of Chicago during NATO

There was a "bomb scare" outside my building Saturday morning.

I rolled out of my building around 10am to go to services and began to walk down the street. As I walked down, I heard a policewoman yelling.

"Yo, there! Stop! You can't go down there!"

"Why?" I asked. I've walked down Harper at least five hundred times.

"Some jackass left a package under the rails."

For reference, my building is next to a commuter rail line.

My first reaction was "oh shit."

This commuter rail line also goes under where the NATO summit was taking place over the past few days.

The police shut down some of the streets around the rail line and sent in the bomb squad. A helicopter's drone stood over the neighborhood for hours, and sirens sounded at random points throughout the morning. My prayers in the synagogue service - not well-attended due to the difficulty of navigating Chicago during the summit - were broken by the constant sounds of police sirens.

The "package" was an empty suitcase. An all-clear was issued. In the ensuing mess of traffic, a bus rear-ended an SUV and blocked off one of the neighborhood's main streets. Traffic in Hyde Park was a mess for most of Saturday. Walking to and from synagogue was adventurous that day. Snarled traffic, police officers everywhere, sirens, bomb-search dogs on tight leashes. Not exactly a peaceful Sabbath.

I'm pretty sure it was some prankster who thought that it would be a fun joke to cause a hullaballoo.

On the one hand, I'm really happy that the police reacted the way they did. I know that not every package is a bomb, I know that paranoia does significant damage to a society. I'm Israeli-American and South African-American; I've bridged three paranoid cultures for my whole life. But the fact that that response can happen in the city - just in case, G-d forbid, that something should happen - says a lot. Because I'm damn glad that someone reported it, and they went to look at it. Because if it had been a bomb, I would've been pissed and sad if I couldn't live in my building because some horrible person blew up the Metra line. I'm grateful to have the protection I do.

On the other hand, the past three days have been a bit much for the city of Chicago. We're all paranoid. The police presence, road closures, and helicopter drones feel strangely eerie. The reaction to protesters downtown - with whom I am not necessarily in complete accord - has left much, much, much to be desired of the CPD. The University was strangely silent today - many staff and faculty were not able to attend classes or meetings due to the road closures and transport reroutes throughout the city.

The bomb scare added to this sense of paranoia. I'd thought of the NATO-related chaos as something that would be taking place downtown, and at McCormick place. But it actually took place where I live, work, study, and move. It hit home.

I'm not against NATO, or the summit. I might not be the biggest fan of NATO, but I'm not anti-NATO - it should be noted that for some activists, for some causes, NATO is an ally, not a foe. I'm not the world's biggest fan of the summit being in Chicago, but that's more because I don't think that the summit serves the city's needs. NATO would do much better for itself - and cities - if they held summits in smaller, more easily secured locations.

However, I am quite glad that Chicago will return to some sense of normalcy soon.  Even for someone who didn't venture downtown, who spent most of the weekend doing schoolwork, who didn't have something invested in the summit or opposing it, the disruption to the life of the city and the bomb scare was not that really that great. I, and three million other residents of Chicago, want the city back.

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