How to survive a riot

    Photo by buda de la kalle on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

    While the polls are indicating an Obama smackdown, there is still a slight chance that Obama won’t be moving into the White House come January. If that scenario becomes a reality, Chicago storefronts might see a few bricks hurled through their windows. So for those of you heading downtown this Tuesday for Obama’s sold-out rally in Grant Park, we’ve talked with Assistant Northwestern Police Chief Daniel McAleer and prepared a handy riot survival guide.

    Tip 1: Walk or cab your way out quick. If you can find a cab outside of the chaos, hail it. Tell the driver to avoid all major roads. North Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive are big no-nos. The 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots — some of which took place at Grant Park — and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots were examples of rioters blocking major intersections, making it impossible for cars to get through. If you need to walk your way out of the situation, stay in well-lit areas. McAleer says that while side streets might seem like they are safer when walking, “you might just be taking yourself out of one bad situation and putting yourself into another.”

    Tip 2: Avoid mass transit. The El, especially the parts of Red Line that are underground, is a particularly dangerous place. If enough people clamor in front of an El train, it ain’t going to move. Back in 1984, rioters in India’s 1984 Anti-Sikh protests incapacitated buses and trains running in every direction to use them as shield against police force. Yikes. The situation becomes worse underground. If rioters enter the El’s subterranean level, you’ll find yourself in one hell of a mess. And if the police decide to throw tear gas down there, it’s not going to dissipate anytime soon.

    Tip 3: Don’t head toward police lines. Usually when you find yourself in a dangerous situation, you gravitate toward Officer Friendly, right? Wrong. Walking, running or driving toward police lines can be easily interpreted as a threat in the eyes of a riot control officer. “Officers will be responding to the scene,” McAleer says, “they will be there to stop the situation that’s happening.” Armed with tear gas and riot control weapons, these guys are not the people you want to barge through in order to find safety. And because rioters typically don’t have a dress code that they follow, your best bet is to get away and stay away from the front lines.

    Tip 4: Get inside and stay there. “Generally,” McAleer says, “people tend to do civil disobedience in the streets.” If you can find a building that is still open to the public, McAleer says it is probably best to get inside. Once inside, treat the space as though you were experiencing a natural disaster: Avoid windows and doors. Rioters will tend to want to smash and break them in. While riots can sometimes last for hours — or even days — they tend move like a storm at sea. Once you deem the area riot-free, safely make your way out of the building and onto safer ground.

    Tip 5: Trust your instincts. “If you think it’s okay to stand in the crowd and wait for a riot to pass,” McAleer says, “you’d be making a mistake. You need to trust your instincts and get out of the situation.” With the majority of the police controlling rioters, it will be up to you to direct yourself to safety. Put complete trust in that almost-Ivy-League brain that your parents gave you.

    While McAleer says that he hasn’t heard of any expected rioting in the city (the Chicago Police Department was unavailable for comment on this story), he says that it’s always best to expect the worst. And just because the Gallup polls are indicating a major celebration for Chicago Democrats, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be a riot. After the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title in 2000, L.A. fans rioted. Why? Who knows. Some people just enjoy a good riot. Let’s hope Obama fans don’t fall into that demographic come election night.


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