Broken window at Whole Foods store on Chicago Avenue courtesy of the City of Evanston.

Evanston Police Chief Demitrous  Cook spoke in support at a Nov. 2 City meeting of his decision to bring in outside assistance to help quell a demonstration in downtown Evanston on Halloween Night, Oct. 31, in which officers had to use pepper spray to subdue some protesters.

Responding to questions at the Human Services Committee meeting, Chief Cook said police turned to the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System (NIPAS) mobile unit for help at the scene, because they needed additional manpower.

Police estimate that a group of 150 protesters, including some Northwestern students, had gathered in downtown Evanston at Sheridan Road and Clark Street.

Members of the student group NU Community, Not Cops have been organizing the demonstrations, as part of a month-long series of protests in support of the abolition of the Northwestern University Police Department.

In the Oct. 31 protest, police said the crowd marched into downtown Evanston, with some protesters throwing rocks and bricks at police officers; lighting fireworks in the direction of officers; pointing lasers at police officers’ eyes; using umbrellas to cover individuals’ graffitiing streets, stop signs and electric boxes; and damaging property. 

In a release issued after the incident, officials maintained that when it was clear the event “had transitioned from a peaceful protest to that of intentional destruction, officers deployed pepper spray to prevent injury to bystanders and police officers.”

One officer from NIPAS was injured and transported to a local hospital with an eye injury from a firework, police said their release. One arrest was made of a female Northwestern student who hit a police officer, they said. There have been 18 reports of criminal damage to property, they said.

Contrary to misinformation being circulated on social media, the Department said in its release, no tear gas was used and that the smoke seen in some photographs of the event was from fireworks used by the protesters.

‘Extra Manpower Needed’

Asked about the use of an outside agency, Chief Cook told aldermen that NIPAS’s purpose “is to provide immediate extra police manpower and equipment at the scene of a police emergency.

“It is also to provide for an automatic and systematic response of police manpower change,” he told Committee members.

Chief Cook said the Department called the NIPAS team for assistance because “we would not have been able to control the situation with the limited manpower we have on the police department and still cover our responsibilities in other parts of the City.”

He said a regimen of about 40 members from the mobile task force joined Evanston police, numbering another 35 to 40 officers, at the scene.

“When we have these mass demonstrations, with the police department, we’re probably dealing with 25 or 30 personnel that we have on hand,” Chief Cook said.

“So in order for us to manage these large crowds, we request the assistance of NIPAS, and the mobile field force aspect of NIPAS in order to help us have that specialized training and professional training ,and managing large crowds, disorderly crowds, things of that nature.”

Different From Previous Protests

In dealing with civil disturbances, the Chief told Committee members, “we have tried to judge what we think would be appropriate in terms of having the appropriate amount of personnel on the scene. 

“Now, we went through protests. We had protests here all summer in front of the police station. .And up until Saturday, we had approximately 20 protests,” he said of the NU student-led demonstrations. “And we have not made any arrests. But none of those other situations had elevated to the level of violence, which was perpetrated Saturday night.”

He said the incidents included criminal damage [to property], graffiti, “windows broken out and things of that [nature], and we didn’t make any arrest. But we drew the line when our officers started to get injured.

 “It was dangerous…,” he maintained. “We had people throwing bricks; we had lasers being pointed in our officers’ eyes. We had public destruction of our business district. 

“And as we all know,” he told Committee members, “our business district is really in a turmoil, not only financially but trying to maintain.

“We don’t think it was unreasonable,” he said of police response. “And we’ve limited our arrest to that one person that did injury to a police officer.”

Escalated By Police?

One organization, Evanston Fight for Black Lives, in a posting on social media the next day, Nov.1, condemned police actions. “When EPD and NUPD used violence against protesters last night,” the group wrote, “they uphold the system that Northwestern Community, Not Cops sought to abolish — the marginalization of Black Evanston residents by the policing system.”

The group maintained  that the “brutality” used in such a case  “highlights the fact that police are fundamentally unequipped to de-escalate situations.

“When protesters use their voices to peacefully denounce racism and are met with riot gear and lethal weapons, the situation has already been escalated by police,” the group maintained.

Speaking at the Human Services Committee meeting, Chief Cook told aldermen that “my job as a police chief here is to protect all citizens – Northwestern students and everyone else.

“And that was my goal that night – to minimize what possible conflict could have resulted in someone getting seriously injured, not only Northwestern students, but the police officers and the police departments that came in here to assist them — to make the situation as pleasant for everyone.”

In such a case, he told the Committee, his philosophy is “Do your First Amendment right. Once you start injuring police officers, vandalizing businesses, using  lasers [where] they could damage someone’s eye, I think that’s where we had to draw the line.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.