NEAR WEST SIDE — Donald Trump said he made the decision to cancel his rally in Chicago Friday night after consulting with law enforcement so no one got hurt, but added "our freedom of speech was totally violated."
Chicago Police, however, said they were notified by Trump's campaign that the event would be scrubbed. Neither Chicago Police nor University of Illinois-Chicago police recommended the cancelation, a police spokesman told the Associated Press.
The GOP presidential candidate was supposed to speak before 10,000 people at the University of Illinois at Chicago's sports arena at 6 p.m. Friday. The arena was about 80 percent full when the rally was called off 30 minutes after it was supposed to start, amid confrontations between protesters and supporters.
Trump spoke with CNN's Don Lemon 90 minutes after the cancelation.
"I got to Chicago tonight a couple of hours ago," Trump told CNN at 8 p.m. CDT. "And we had 25,000 people for tonight. We were going to have a lot inside and outside. A tremendous gathering of real supporters. At the same time, we had some protesters outside, which was probably 2 or 3,000.
"I met with law enforcement. I don't want to see any one hurt. ... So I met with law enforcement, and I think we made the wise decision to cancel. Now it's pretty well broken up and no major problems.
"And we made a decision, even though our freedom of speech was violated totally. We made a decision not to go forward. I don't want to see anyone get hurt. You would have had some people possibly getting hurt or beyond. So I made the decision, in conjunction with law enforcement."
In a statement, Chicago Police said: "Shortly before 6:30 pm, the Chicago Police Department was notified by officials that the Trump campaign had cancelled their scheduled event. We are continuing to work with our partners in the United States Secret Service and the University of Illinois at Chicago Police to protect people's First Amendment rights and ensure everyone is able to disperse the area safely."
CPD superintendent Escalante: We didn't tell Trump campaign to cancel. CPD had adequate resources for event. pic.twitter.com/s09QhmPOow— Buns of March (@Rxbun) March 12, 2016
Trump said he was confident the decision to cancel the rally was correct.
"I think I did the right thing. You know, I came here and met with law enforcement, and I said 'What do you think?' They were very professional. They said, 'It would be better not to do it, because if you do it tonight, you could have a clash and people could get hurt.' I did not want to see people get hurt."
Other candidates in the race for presidential nominations condemned Trump for creating a culture that leads to violence and clashes. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and John Kasich said outright that Trump's divisive rhetoric is at fault. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz stopped just short of accusing Trump, placing some of the blame on protesters as well.
Trump said his campaign was prepared for the event, and called the root of the protests "a largely economic problem."
"We were prepared, but you can be prepared as you want, but when you have thousands of people, you don't want to see a clash," he told CNN. "There were minor skirmishes, but no major clashes.... We have a very divided country. It's been that way for a long time and it's very sad to see. It's divided among very many groups, and frankly it's terrible."
Asked if he felt his tone on the campaign trail led to the problems Friday, Trump said no.
"I don't take responsibility. No one has been hurt at our rallies. I've had 25,000, 35,000 people... and we've never had anyone hurt, or certainly seriously hurt," he said.
"We have protesters stand up and be very, very abusive. Unbelievably abusive and in some cases, swinging, punching and swinging. Not a good situation. I think overall, we've been very mild with protesters. Some will stand up and we'll just usher them out. It's not me that ushers them out, it's the police force. And the police have done great jobs. Until today, we've really not had much of a problem.
Asked by CNN if he regretted comments at previous rallies including how combative protesters should be punched or taken out on stretchers, Trump said no.
"I don't regret it it at all. Some of these protesters were violent. They were swinging. They were hitting people and they were really doing damage. And frankly the crowd turned on them or the police turned on them," he said.
The controversial Republican presidential candidate never took the stage before his campaign called off the rally. Fights broke out inside and outside of the University of Illinois at Chicago's arena as Trump supporters and protesters squared off.
"For the safety of everyone gathered in and around the pavilion, the Trump rally will be postponed," an official said from the stage shortly after 6:30 p.m.
"Total chaos" was how one observer called the scene before Chicago Police officers swept into the arena and cleared it out. One protester rushed the stage and was wrestled away.
A source said at least two people were arrested inside. Several people involved in fights could be seen being escorted out.
Protesters inside dance and cheered after the cancelation announcement was made — and then two or three fights between members of both sides broke out. One protester could be seen swinging his fist at a Trump supporter, but didn't appear to connect.
"Get a f----- job," one Trump supporter yelled. "F--- Trump," someone yelled back.
Trump supporters had come in from hundreds of miles away. One Trump fan in a red "Make America Great Again” hat said, "Is it really canceled? F---, I drove three and a half hours for this."
A slew of Chicago Police officers then came inside and everyone started to clear out of the 10,000-seat stadium.
Protesters screamed at Trump supporters as they walked outside. One Trump supporter was followed and appeared to be pushed as protesters yelled at her.
Another witness said he saw a man being arrested by a group of police officers. One officer left the group holding his head and headed toward an ambulance. The ambulance then sped off.
Earlier, thousands of protesters and supporters had faced off outside before the rally.
"Trump! Trump! Trump! Illegals are Illegal," some men chanted as they went inside the stadium at Harrison Street and Racine Avenue.
Protesters shouted back, "Thanks for visiting Chicago!" and "Why racist? ... There's no room for you guys!"
Inside, supporters held signs saying "Veterans for Trump" and shouted "Trump '16"; protesters shouted back, "Get out of my country!"
But hundreds of protesters or also got inside as tickets were distributed to anyone who requested them.
As those inside waited for the rally to start, three students wearing shirts saying "Muslims United Against Trump" were escorted out of the pavilion as the crowd chanted "USA! USA!" Eight to 10 protesters were taken out, a law enforcement source said.
Those in line had to pass through metal detectors to get inside, and couldn't bring in food, folding chairs or even the sticks attached to small flags they held.
Julie Contreras of the League of United Latin American Citizens, was first on scene at the Trump rally Friday morning. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]
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