Scuffles and fights broke out between supporters, protesters and police after the event was canceled at the last minute at the advice of law enforcement.
Donald Trump postponed his rally in Chicago at the last minute on Friday evening, over “safety concerns”, provoking angry outbursts from an already mixed crowd of anti-Trump protesters and supporters of the billionaire Republican candidate.
As unruly scenes spilled into the Chicago streets, leading to arrests including that of at least one reporter, Trump took to the airwaves to tell his side of the story, telling MSNBC: “It’s sad when you can’t have a rally. What ever happened to freedom of speech?”
Scuffles and fights broke out between Trump supporters, protesters and police. Protesters crowded the sidewalks, pushing at barricades formed by police. A spontaneous blockade of a parking garage formed, creating a standoff between screaming Trump supporters in the multi-level garage and screaming protesters on the ground below.
The rally was due to take place at the University of Illinois’ Chicago Pavilion. Inside, protesters expressed their opposition to the presidential candidate’s positions on immigration, race and more while supporters shouted back.
After the postponement was announced, a Trump campaign statement said: “Mr Trump just arrived in Chicago and after meeting with law enforcement has determined that for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed to another date.
“Thank you very much for your attendance and please go in peace.”
Subsequently, Trump called into MSNBC and Fox. On MSNBC, he went on to the defensive, saying: “We are not even allowed to have a rally anymore in this country. You can’t even have a rally in a major city in this country anymore without violence or the potential for violence.
“It’s sad when you can’t have a rally. What ever happened to freedom of speech? The right to get together and speak in a peaceful manner?”
The atmosphere in the building was tense long before Trump was scheduled to arrive. Violent incidents have occurred at and around a number of Trump rallies recently, including one in downtown St Louis on Friday afternoon.
In Chicago, dozens of protesters, wearing shirts with slogans such as “Muslims united against Trump”, were kicked out.
Police walked up and down the arena stairs, holding sheaves of plastic handcuffs.
Attendees grabbed signs from each other’s hands while cursing and exchanging vulgar gestures. At least one section of young people was cleared out by police long before the event began.
Finally, a half-hour after the event was scheduled to begin, the announcement came that Trump was not coming. The crowd erupted. College students shouted “We shut it down” while loyal supporters of the Republican frontrunner shouted “We want Trump”.
Another round of fights broke out as protesters swapped blows with Trump supporters and activists eager to celebrate their apparent victory shouted “Bernie, Bernie” and “Si se puede”, while waving signs supporting Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
Protesters shouted “Fuck the police” and flipped fingers at police officers trying to keep the peace while Trump supporters shouted racial epithets in return. Police and security desperately tried to keep order.
Outside, more than a thousand protesters gathered, shutting down the streets. Chanting “We are not tired”, they blocked a street intersection and set up a microphone and speakers. Police helicopters whirled overhead in an outbreak of political violence unprecedented, in Chicago at least, since 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Trump, who repeated previous criticisms of protesters at his rally as “extremely dangerous and extremely physical”, made the connection himself, telling MSNBC: “I think a lot of people said that it was wrong that we were really stopped from holding a rally. It didn’t have to be stopped.
“But if we held it people would’ve potentially been hurt and I didn’t want to see people hurt. Chicago’s the home of some very very bad rallies. Just look back at the conventions here … people were killed.”
At the venue, one protester gleefully mocked Trump. Violet Ornelas, 28, told the Guardian: “If he can’t even handle Chicago, what makes think he could handle Isis?”