May 15, 2012, 8:04 PM — The Chicago Police Department is ready to give protesters an earful this weekend as the Occupy movement crowds into the Windy City to protest NATO.
The Chicago Police have spent $1 million on riot-control equipment during the last few months to help prepare for an expected onslaught of protests coinciding with the NATO summit starting this weekend, according to British newspaper The Guardian.
It also has a crowd-control weapon that uses sound as a weapon, blasting protesters, pirates and anyone else in the way with a focused hammer of sound well above the pain threshold for human ears. The device, called an LRAD is easily capable of causing permanent hearing loss or other injuries, according to the ACLU and other groups protesting the use of what they call military technology on civilians.
The device is one of a series of sometimes-wacky, sometimes dangerous "less-than-lethal" crowd-control weapons developed and deployed in major cities during the past 10 years.
Chicago's version is a long-range acoustic device (LRAD), a class of device that uses focused beams of intense sound to deter or drive away targets rather than kill them.
The U.S. Navy has reportedly used them to deter pirates off the coast of Somalia.
Because a sound cannon is a LOT more humane than firehoses. Duh.
They were used first on protesters in 2009 during riots surrounding the G-20 summit, causing protesters to back away from the broadcast dish and cover their ears.
Chicago's version can be mounted on a vehicle or – as they are now – at the top of high poles able to draw a bead on protesters over a large area.
The business end of the LRAD looks like a mid-sized satellite dish emits high-intensity sound in a 30-degree arc that seems to victims as if they just opened the door on a tunnel of sound as loud as 150 decibels up to 1,600 feet away from the LRAD.
Noise louder than 120 decibels, which is about equivalent to a jet taking off, causes pain in the ears, according to the Toronto Star.
Sustained noise louder than 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing damage according to the U.S. National Institute on Deafness.
Normal conversation is about 60 decibels.
I SAID: NORMAL CONVERSATION IS ABOUT 60 DECIBELS!
University of Missouri English professor Karen Piper, who participated in the G-20 protests in Pittsburg, sued the city after allegedly being hit with the LRAD and losing part of her hearing.
"The intensity of being hit at close range by a high-pitched sound blast designed to deter pirate boats and terrorists at least a quarter mile away is indescribable," she is quoted as saying in an ACLU press release from September, 2011. "The sound vibrates through you and causes pain throughout your body, not only in the ears. I thought I might die. It is shocking that the LRAD device is being promoted for use on American citizens and the general public."
Police deny the LRAD is dangerous or overtly intimidating, at least not any more overtly intimidating than ranks of helmeted, armored riot cops behind Lexan shields and horses in riot-control armor.
"This is simply a risk management tool, as the public will receive clear information regarding public safety messages and any orders provided by police," police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton told the Guardian.
The LRAD is actually a communication device whose intensity can be turned down to the level of a megaphone that projects sound audibly across distances and in situations that would overwhelm ordinary megaphones, according to a spokesman for Current Corp. of British Columbia, which supplied several to Toronto police in time for the G-20 summit and protest in 2010.
While showing off the two $20,000 devices to local media, Chicago police spokespeople said the PD plans to use the two LRADs to broadcast instructions or other messages to crowds of protesters up to a kilometer away.
PD spokespeople said police will allow protesters about 45 minutes for speeches and demonstrations Sunday when the mass march arrives at the corner of Cermack and Michigan Avenues before using the LRADs to tell the crowds to disperse. It doesn't plan to use the alarm tones that constitute the LRAD's most damaging broadcast
LRADS were developed for the U.S. Navy to fend off small boats like the one loaded with explosives that attacked the USS Cole in Yemen's Aden harbor in October, 2000, small pirate vessels off the coast of East Africa but have also been used on land in Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones.
The Chicago PD bought its following the G-20 summit riots of 2009, but has had no opportunity to use it so far.
"Human megaphone" won't cut it against sound cannon
An array of protest groups are bussing in supporters all this week as part of a long-planned buildup of opposition to what various opposition groups call the warlike policies of NATO.
The protests will pit the Occupy movement – which launched on Wall Street last Spring with the help of Anonymous and other hacktivist groups – against the forces of law and order under the direction of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former Congressman who acted as both strategist and enforcer as Barack Obama's White House chief of staff before resigning to run for Mayor of Chicago in 2009.
On the opposite side will be a cornucopia of activist organizations, including Occupy, which was founded as the Thing That Would Not Leave Wall Street before spinning Occupations to dozens of other cities in the U.S. and overseas.
Occupy will be there to protest what it calls unfair tax policies, rules allowing businesses to profit at the explicit expense of their workers and customers and Wall Street's peculiarly narcissistic Street's eat-the-poor brand of unfettered capitalism.
Joining the Occupation, according to the Associated Press, will be:
- Anti-war groups protesting NATO's involvement in wars and insurgencies in half a dozen countries;
- Unions protesting what they call the undermining of the rights and traditional role of organized labor;
- Civil rights groups opposed to cuts in education and social services;
- A host of activist collectives supporting immigrants, refugees, Palestinians and peace;
- Another host of activist collectives opposing nuclear power, the death penalty, capitalist exploitation of the masses anywhere but on reality TV and legislation reserving the right to marry only to those whose sexual compasses point to Heterosexual (1 only, please).
- Bringing up the rear with sour expressions and rapidly filling recyclable bags will be environmental activists whose principals will have eroded by Sunday to the point of supporting the death penalty for protesters making their mark on the world with litters of discarded Respect the Earth signs, lost iPhones and organic snack food wrappers.
On the other side, will be contingents of the 12,000-member Chicago police, dressed in $1 million worth of new riot gear (for both cops and their horses!), trying hard not to look like the hippie-beating Chicago cops of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
In addition to new armor, shields and hippie-beaters, the CPD will be reinforced by a series of measures approved or championed by Emanuel himself including:
- A host of brand-new surveillance cameras in areas likely to attract protesters;
- Permission for the chief of police import and deputize police from out of state;
- Rules requiring anyone taking out "large parade" permits to buy $1 million in insurance and promise to reimburse the city for any damage done by the parade;
- Longer and more heavily enforced closing times for local parks.
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