“I think we should appreciate that we live in a free democracy where it is constitutional to participate in demonstrations and express your views,” he said. “I have seen posters with slogans, based on which I can tell you that I don’t agree with the protesters. But that’s also a constitutional right, to express views that contradict” with his own.
Some media outlets have called Chicago a “police state” since the arrival of NATO delegates late last week. Police have shut down major roads into the heart of the city to create a security perimeter around the summit site at McCormick Place, a sprawling convention center near the lakefront.
Eight-foot tall, anti-scale security fencing has been erected downtown, and police reinforcements have been sent in from as far away as Philadelphia.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported on a “secret suburban Chicago” police-control center where officials from more than 40 different agencies watch a giant screen to view video feeds from security cameras around the city.
Mr. Obama downplayed the protests, in which dozens of demonstrators were arrested over several days in clashes with police that sometimes turned bloody.
“With respect to the protesters, this is part of what NATO defends, is free speech and freedom to assemble,” he said. “Outside of Chicago, folks really weren’t all that stressed about the possibility of having some protesters here, because that’s part of what America is about,” Mr. Obama said.
He added that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his former White House chief of staff, “obviously was stressed, but he performed wonderfully.”