NEWS

What it Took to Protect Obama Last Night at Grant Park

By Matthew Harwood

As more than a hundred thousand people descended on Grant Park in Chicago to watch Senator Barack Obama's victory speech last night, layers upon layers of security protected the president-elect.

Workers erected bulletproof glass around the speaker's podium Monday morning, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Just last week, the FBI arrested two young white supremacists for plotting to assassinate Obama as well as dozens more African Americans.

Before the event, the city closed streets, blocked access to the park, and put its entire 13,500 police officers on duty, according to Bloomberg.com. Police also coordinated crowd-control strategies with the U.S. Secret Service. Chicago firefighters who were not on duty were told to go home with their full gear on Monday in case they needed to respond to an emergency, according to the Chronicle.

The 75,000 people lucky enough to get tickets to the Obama party at Hutchinson Field were greeted by metal detectors. Ticketholders had already been "freshly vetted by security," according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Those without tickets were directed north to Butler Field to watch Obama's speech on a Jumbotron, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

All told, it is estimated that well over 100,000 people flocked to Grant Park to take part in the Obama victory. Above, the only sound was of Secret Service helicopters as all of downtown Chicago was declared a no-fly zone all night, reported the Herald.

The security precautions, reports the Chronicle, cost the city about $2 million. The Obama campaign says it will reimburse the city for the expense.

What transpired on the lawns of Grant Park last night, reminded Bloomberg.com, was the polar opposite of what occurred the last time Grant Park was in the national spotlight. In 1968, Chicago police used force on anti-Vietnam War protesters during a rally as the images were televised across American homes and the world.

Retired journalist Lois Wille wondered aloud to Bloomberg yesterday whether an Obama victory could scrub clean what happened in the park in 1968:

"1968 was protests, angry people protesting the Vietnam War and the angry cops who were slugging them over the head,'' said Wille, who is author of ``Forever Open, Clear, and Free: The Struggle for Chicago's Lakefront,'' a history of Grant Park. "If it is a great big huge happy evening, maybe it will wipe the memory of 1968 and the riots out.''

A safe and secure night, Wille may just get her wish.

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