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LOCAL News :: Civil & Human Rights : Crime & Police : Elections & Legislation : Protest Activity

Latest Versions of Mayor's Anti-Protester Ordinances on the Eve of the City Council Vote

CHICAGO – Early morning, Jan. 18 — Over the past few days, opponents of Mayor Emanuel's "sit down and shut up" ordinances have faced a moving target. In response to a firestorm of protest, the administration has dropped some of the more widely publicized repressive measures, but has often over-sold, if not directly lied about, the magnitude of its concessions to public pressure.

Case in point: At a City Council committee meeting this morning, the administration made much of its dropping of increased penalties for resisting arrest. Left unsaid, though, was that Chicago's unique interpretation of "resisting" makes many forms of non-violent civil disobedience subject to punishment under the statute. This would be in addition to more conventional charges, like trespassing, that one would be likely to get for such non-violent protest.

The City has made getting accurate information about its proposed ordinance changes a chore, even for experienced reporters. At a briefing for the press last week, they made many verbal promises about what the revised proposals contained, but refused to go on the record or release printed copies of them to the media at that time. At one of today's City Council committee meetings, they said that the City Clerk's website had up-to-date versions of the Mayor's proposals, but as of midnight tonight, only the out-dated versions were there.

The following is thus a perhaps imperfect accounting of the serious problems that remain in Emanuel's "sit down and shut up" ordinances, as gleaned from today's City Council committee meetings and discussions with aldermen. If there are inaccuracies in this account, a large part of the blame is due to the City's appalling non-transparency throughout this whole process.

Here are the highlights of why Emanuel's proposed ordinances should be rejected:

1. The minimum fine for violation of the City's parade permit ordinance would jump four-fold, from $50 to $200. A "concession" rolled out today by the administration would keep the maximum penalty at $1000 and/or 10 days in jail. However, given that the new version of the ordinance offers so many new ways to violate it, this "victory" for our side may be illusory.

2. In advance of a demonstration, organizers would be required to provide the City with a list of all signs, banners, sound equipment or "attention-getting devices" that require more than one person to carry them. It is unclear whether such information would be required on the permit application (i.e., months in advance), or at some later time in advance of the demonstration. Either way, the proposal is totally unworkable and a license for the city to "ding" organizers with absurd fines.

The City's grand concession is that its earlier proposal demanded that all signs, banners, etc. be registered. This is now replaced by a requirement that "only" those such signs, etc. that require two or more people to carry them be registered. A mayoral representative, Michelle T. Boom, the Commissioner of the Department of Cultural affairs and Special Events, tried to soft-pedal this provision by implying that there would be no penalty for violation of it. But if that's so, why include it in the ordinance at all?

3. The no-bid contracts provision for G8 / NATO activities, an invitation to rampant graft and contract favoritism, remains intact.

4. The provision allowing deputizing of "law enforcement" by the Chicago Police Department remains intact. After listing a bunch of different bodies that would be subject to deputizing, like the DEA, the FBI and the Illinois State Police, Emanuel's latest proposal also includes "and other law enforcement agencies as determined by the superintendent of police to be necessary for the fulfillment of law enforcement functions." In other words, anyone he wants, be they rent-a-cops, Blackwater goons on domestic duty, or whatever. For a city that has great problems keeping its directly sworn officers in check, this looser authority is an even greater license for abuse.


5. The proposed, huge financial burdens for virtually all downtown street demonstrations would remain in the latest version of the ordinance proposals. Virtually all downtown protest marches would require that organizers get $1 million insurance coverage, "indemnify the city against any additional or uncovered third party claims against the city arising out of or caused by the parade," and "agree to reimburse the city for any damage to the public way or city property arising out of or caused by the parade."

In other words, someone not at all associated with you or your organization could decide to crash your event, cause damage to city property, and the City could insist that you pick up the tab. While the financial requirements can be waived by the Commissioner of Transportation, this decision would be up to his/her discretion.

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At one point during this afternoon's committee meeting, a member of the public raised concerns about the permit requirements for public assemblies (i.e., rallies, pickets, and sidewalk marches that do not require street closings). Boom responded that the language for the new public assembly ordinance, 10-8-334, is taken directly from public assembly provisions of the current 10-8-330 permit ordinance, and that thus no one should be alarmed about it because "they [the police] don't enforce a lot of it."

But that just highlights a major reason why the current permit ordinance is deficient, and that the mayor's new proposals make it much worse. While "they don't enforce a lot of it" against very disruptive events like the St. Patrick's Day parade and other events that have City Hall's favor, "they" – the Chicago Police — very much enforce it against anti-war protesters and other 1st Amendment messages that they disagree with. Selective enforcement of the current ordinance already gives police officers plenty of arbitrary authority to take out their personal animus on messages and individuals they loathe, and the additional requirements of Emanuel's new ordinances give them even more license for abuse.

During this afternoon's meeting of the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation, mayoral spokespeople occasionally cited as a major reason for their ordinance revisions a decision decision by Federal Judge Richard Posner condemning the City for its handling of a mass anti-war march on the start of the Iraq War (Vodak v. City of Chicago, et al). But the City's citing of the Posner decision was entirely disingenuous, and their "solution" – the new ordinances – is not what Posner said should be done.

"The indifference of the superintendent and his subordinates to the danger to public safety and convenience of a mass antiwar demonstration cannot be attributed to the ordinance, defective as it undoubtedly is," wrote Posner [emphasis mine]. The defectiveness in the ordinance, Posner implies, is due to its convoluted nature. To add even more requirements, then, would be to go in the opposite direction that Posner proposes as a solution.

The City may disagree with Judge Posner. That is their right. But they cannot cite him in their defense of an even worse ordinance, which ironically, they want to impose just weeks before this major class action suit against the City for alleged wholesale police abuse of protesters goes to trial.

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Previous articles in this series can be found here, here and here.



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