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May 21, 2012

The Pacification of Protest. (Photo by Nina Berman from the NATO Summit.)

Nina Berman is in Chicago photographing the 2012 NATO Summit. The Chicago Police would have liked nothing better on Saturday — or Sunday evening, when sporadic violence did break out — to go all out smashing heads. As  mitigating factors, however, the city  – having paid out a $6.2 million settlement this past January for the improper arrest and detention of anti-war protesters in 2003 — has lately felt the cost of institutional rage. At the same time, the hardball tactician that the Mayor is, he and his police force seem to have absorbed  some lessons about massive deployment; the strategic control of physical space; and the balancing of an iron fist (mixed with a sense of humor, if you can spare it) with a highest degree of emotional self control. In the photo above, Nina explains that the protester was directly in this cop’s face for a half-a-mile without the cop even flinching. Power and force is unmistakable in the way hands grip baton, but the officer’s face is a more complex portrait. If there are elements of contempt and even smugness, the sound-to-silence ratio and the eyes drilled forward reeks of new conditioning. On their best day now, it seems victory for the riot cop no longer involves cracking open a skull so much as invalidating a demonstrator’s humanity through obliviousness. Between these two faces are also overriding questions about the physical and perceptual battle these large urban demonstrations have become. How much has the focus on social justice (and the right to raise a fist) been usurped by the pacification of protest? And, as much as a police force determines channels for expression, how much of a green light is the protester really afforded now to concentrate on his or her own agenda? PHOTOGRAPHS by Nina Berman/Noor

About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for BagNews here.

  • BooksAlive

    Sunday’s coverage on local news stations was excellent with reporters stationed among the marchers and from one police staging area. Chicago police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy spoke before microphones at least twice, and spent the entire time circulating among the police lines. Even he maintained his composure while being heckled from behind during the early briefing.

  • billyjoe

    Chicago Tribune Columnist John Kass: 

    “The TV commentators describing the scene outside McCormick Place seemed excited, but I’ve been in protests in Greece recently, angry ones without costumes. Instead of half-empty water bottles, there were chunks of marble as big as your fist arcing through the air at human heads.”Greece is in complete economic meltdown, and people aren’t just losing their jobs, they’re losing their pensions and the means to feed themselves. And other NATO countries might face the same. It happens when people are deeply afraid. But they’re not deeply afraid here. Not yet”

  • Scarabus

    In confrontations like this, power is demonstrated through the ability to control the other person. And vice versa. This protestor is powerless. Another way to demonstrate power is to deflate the opposition. Pull back the curtain, like Toto. Mock, like all the great satirists through the years.

    This policeman is showing his own power, and that smile just rubs it in. The policemen who waved at Nina were doing the same thing. They might have been singing a chorus of “Who’s afraid of the big bad journalist (or camera)”.

  • Steve Laudig

    The street is not the power. organized economic activity. boycotts, late pay, buying holidays. on the internet it is “denial of service” attacks. in the corporeal world it would be “denial of serving”. BOA is a target. Mortgagors can simply ask BOA to prove, via documentation that the mortgage payment should be made to them. Particularly if the mortgage note was initially to another entity that “securitized” it. Ask for the documentation. It will take them a year to find it and escrow the payments until then.

  • Chris Schmidgall

    The Scream meets Mona Lisa.

    Check out these links (in blue) to videos from Chicago that present another side of the Police presence:

    “…That presence got especially heavy last night, as Chicago police beat protesters with clubs and bikes, plowed into a group of protesters in a van, and surrounded the vehicle of livestream journalists Tim Pool and Luke Rudkowski  who were cuffed and interrogated by police with guns drawn.”

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