May 19, 2012 / 4:48 PM / 6 years ago

Latest anti-NATO protest in Chicago small, peaceful

CHICAGO (Reuters) - About 500 demonstrators gathered outside the home of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Saturday to protest the recent closure of mental health clinics as part of a series of rallies and marches timed to coincide with a NATO summit here.

But the protest was much smaller than one attended by an estimated 2,500 people at a downtown plaza on Friday. The biggest rally is expected to be on Sunday near the convention center where world leaders will gather.

Fears that violence would erupt have so far proved unfounded although the big rally was still to come on Sunday. Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy said 14 arrests had been made in connection with protests in the past week.

McCarthy said protesters were “making noise and disrupting some people’s lives” but overall events were going well.

While the city of Chicago had not granted a permit for Saturday’s protest, police allowed hundreds of people to return for an impromptu rally at the plaza where they gathered on Friday.

Again on Saturday, the protests stressed economic and social service issues rather than international questions such as the war in Afghanistan expected to be discussed by world leaders at the NATO summit.

Many of the protesters are from the anti-Wall Street Occupy movement that started in New York last fall, which says 1 percent of the U.S. population holds too much of the nation’s wealth.

The protest on Saturday began as a group of about 50 people, including some former patients of six city-run mental health clinics that closed at the end of April to save $2.3 million to help eliminate the city’s $650 million budget deficit.

Shoppers walk along Michigan avenue as police officers patrol the streets in preparation for demonstrators ahead of the NATO meeting in Chicago, May 19, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Hauck

”He (Emanuel) hasn’t talked to us once, not once since he’s been in office,“ said Marti Luckett, 60, a patient at one of the shuttered clinics who is bipolar and suffers from depression. ”We want him to show up.

“I think President (Barack) Obama should be calling Rahm Emanuel and say, ‘Shame on you.'”

Chicago has closed half of the dozen city-run mental health clinics because of budget cuts. The city says patients should be able to receive care at the remaining clinics or some run by outside groups.

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“The administration is committed to promoting the health and wellness of Chicagoans in every neighborhood,” a spokeswoman for the city said.

Small groups of protesters, some carrying signs that read “food not bombs” and “seize the peace,” accompanied former patients of the clinics dressed in green hospital smocks going door to door to talk to residents in Emanuel’s neighborhood. The former patients wore signs saying “welfare not warfare.”

At Emanuel’s home protesters were greeted during the late morning by some 30 police officers who were in a relaxed mood and told protesters to keep moving. Protesters returned to the home after lunch in larger numbers but were kept back by police. By late afternoon the crowd had dwindled to a handful of people.

The protest on Saturday followed the announcement that three men arrested earlier in the week at a house in the Chicago area had been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. Prosecutors said the three self-described anarchists were planning to attack Obama’s campaign headquarters and Emanuel’s home.

Less than a block from the mayor’s home Colette Kelsey, 39, and Doug Anderson, 43, were among the few residents who opened their doors to Saturday’s protesters.

“We can all empathize but when you have limited funds what can you do?” Kelsey said of the clinic closures.

A police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said two likely protesters were arrested for trespassing at a downtown museum early on Saturday morning, but did not have additional details.

Writing By Nick Carey; Additional reporting by James Kelleher; Editing by Dan Burns and Bill Trott

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