Don't worry, Chicago - our city's finest will not be armed, decked out in riot gear, and glowering at you as you attempt to exercise your right to vote in the upcoming historic election.
But that's the visual image I got when I read the following bulletin in Wednesday's Chicago Sun-Times:
ELECTION NIGHT - POLICE WILL BE WATCHING. Police say they are preparing for the unlikely possibility of having to control unruly crowds on Election Day. The historic Nov. 4 election - Barack Obama is the first presidential candidate from Chicago and the first black candidate - required the department to plan for celebratory crowds if he wins or rioting if he loses. Gang and tactical teams, the Targeted Response Unit and the new Mobile Strike Force would be called to quell any disturbances. The closed circuit camera network also will monitor the city.
Because black folks can't be trusted to vote without making a fuss? Because some shady Republican conspiracy maneuvered a way to use scare tactics to keep minorities from voting? Because someone thought that there's an outside possibility that, if Obama won, Lincoln Park residents would have a massive brie and champagne toast that might get ugly?
None of the above.
Alarmed by the news, I blew in a call to Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Monique Bond who promptly told me, "I don't know where that information came from, but I thought the same thing!"
After laughing nervously over our shock from the bulletin that implied voters would have to cross police barricades to vote, we cleared this all up: "I don't know where that came from but it's a little aggressive. The plan we have in place is a fluid, preliminary framework that would depend on intelligence reported on the day of the elections," Bond said. "This is the same level of planning we'd have for a rally or a march."
It's not a completely crazy thought, after all. I took the same flight of fancy just last week, predicting that if Barack Obama loses the presidential race to John McCain by a hare's breath due to something like a hanging chad or other voting snafu, the streets will be flooded with angry people enraged, a la Rodney King circa 1992, at a second Republican regime squeaking in on a technicality.
And if Obama won? Would our streets flood with overjoyed citizens who, in their zeal, pulled the sort of scene that saw taxi cabs overturned and looting and rioting in our neighborhoods after the Chicago Bulls won the 1992 Championship? That strikes me as doubtful. Either way, the CPD's got our backs, after the polls close.
"We won't know until the day of the election but either way, our targeted response units, the tactical teams, those are the same units we would deploy for any other event, again, based on need," Bond reiterated.
She was not able to verify what, if any, special plans the CPD made for the 2004 presidential election but allowed that the circumstances are different this time around, "I guess it's because this candidate is from Illinois, but we're treating this as a normal election night."
Calls to the Detroit and Atlanta Police Departments - two of the top African-American populated cities - to see if those police departments were also planning ahead were not returned.
Aside from a New York mayor who in 1854 gave the entire police force the day off on Election Day (he won, by the way), my Lexis clip search pointed me to no other presidential contests in which police presence was pre-planned for Election Day.
We're living in interesting times - though, apparently, not as interesting as the Big Apple at the turn of the century. Tensions are rising in advance of the big day. Maybe early voting isn't such a bad idea after all. Not that there's anything to worry about.
"It's all fluid," Bond reassured me, "that notice made it seem like we've already made some sort of decision, but it's not so. We have no celebratory information."