Chicago backs off tough measures for world summits

January 17, 2012 - 9:55 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — It looks like Chicago won't be as tough on protesters as Mayor Rahm Emanuel said it would be — or at least not hit them so hard in the wallet — when the city hosts two major international summits this spring.

A City Council committee passed an ordinance Tuesday without a hefty increase that Emanuel had proposed in anticipation of May's NATO and G-8 summits, after the mayor's office backed off his proposal to increase the fine for resisting arrest from between $25 and $200 to between $200 and $1,000. That all but assures that the ordinance will pass when the full council votes on it Wednesday.

The move sidesteps a contentious issue in a city still dogged by memories of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when club-wielding police beat protesters, and a 2003 protest of the Iraq War that led a judge to characterize the arrests of 500 people as "a gross violation of people's constitutional rights."

"Why create an argument that you're trying to chill First Amendment expression," Alderman Joe Moore said. "The political cost wasn't worth the benefit and I think ultimately the mayor agreed with that assessment."

A spokeswoman for the mayor said the changes in the ordinance were the result of concerns raised by aldermen, activists and community groups in recent days.

"Like when the mayor put forth his budget and was open to suggestions, there were some reasonable suggestions made on these ordinances and we listened, and ultimately we made some changes to accommodate them," said Sarah Hamilton, the spokeswoman.

Another committee also approved an ordinance that aldermen and critics say is not nearly as harsh as the one Emanuel proposed, saying it is absent language they say would have required anyone applying for parade permits during the summits to provide detailed information about the signs they planned to carry.

Michelle Boone, commissioner of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs, said city officials never intended to demand such information about the signs and even what the signs would say. But some aldermen said that is exactly how they read the proposed ordinance and after Tuesday's committee vote, Boone acknowledged that "the language just wasn't clear" and needed to be changed.

The ordinance does, however, quadruple the minimum fine from $50 to $200 for anyone who disrupts a parade, though it keeps in place a maximum time that a parade can last to 2 hours and 15 minutes. Emanuel had proposed that time be cut to 2 hours.

The changes add up to a "victory ... for all of the forces in the city of Chicago who spoke out about the right to protest," said Joe Isobaker, of the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda.

But he and others agreed that it was only a partial victory, that there will still be provisions in the ordinances that are troubling — including allowing the police superintendent to deputize out-of-state law enforcement personnel during the summits.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Tuesday he did not anticipate bringing in officers from other states and said if he did, he expected to deploy them only in support roles and not on the front lines of any disturbance.

Protesters were skeptical about that, however, as well as of assurances by city officials that a provision in the other ordinance that calls for protesters to provide the city a description of large signs will not result in the arrest of people who show up with large signs at the last minute.

"We're talking about enforcement on the ground," said Patricia Hunt, another organizer with Isobaker's group.