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Liar's Poker: Rahm's Minor Concessions Leave Gaping Holes In Our Civil Liberties

In response to a firestorm of protest, the Emanuel administration has dropped some of the more widely-publicized repressive measures of its proposed anti-protester ordinances, but has vastly misrepresented the magnitude of its concessions, say protest organizers.

Here's why:

1. While the administration has made much of its dropping of increased penalties for resisting arrest, left unaddressed was Chicago's unique interpretation of "resisting" which 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.

2. The minimum fine for violation of the City's parade permit ordinance would jump four-fold, from $50 to $200. A "concession" rolled out yesterday by the administration would keep the maximum penalty at "only" $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 protesters may be illusory.

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[Beachwood Addendum From Martin Luther King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail":

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.]

3. In advance of a demonstration, organizers still 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 repeated fines.

Yesterday, City representatives made a great deal over a minor concession regarding this provision. Its earlier proposal demanded that all signs, banners, etc. be registered. This is now replaced by a requirement that "only" those signs, banners, etc. that require two or more people to carry them be registered. Speaking at the Special Events committee meeting, Michelle T. Boone, 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 the provision in the ordinance at all?

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

5. 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. For a city that has had great problems keeping its directly sworn officers in check, this looser authority is an even greater license for abuse.

and,

6. 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 disrupt an event by causing damage to city property, and then the City could insist that organizers of the event pick up the tab for the damage. While the financial requirements can be waived by the Commissioner of Transportation, this decision would be up to his/her discretion.

At one point during yesterday 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). Boone 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, say protest organizers, and why 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 others with First Amendment messages with which they disagree. 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 yesterday 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 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 ours]. 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 direction opposite to that which Posner suggests.

"The City may disagree with Judge Posner," said Andy Thayer of the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8). "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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[Beachwood Addendum: In fact, according to the Tribune, "Posner blasted the 'idiocy' of the city's protest rules . . .

["Posner said the city's puzzling permit rules and poor decision-making by police led to mass confusion during the demonstration on March 20, 2003, with police informally deciding to let the march take over Lake Shore Drive with no firm understanding of where it would end.

[But when police drew a hard line at preventing access to Michigan Avenue, hundreds of confused demonstrators who were unclear about the order became trapped at the intersection with Chicago Avenue. Although most told police they just wanted to go home, more than 800 people were detained for hours, with more than 500 of them arrested, held overnight and charged with crimes, Posner noted. All of the charges were dismissed in court, he wrote.

[Posner said the evidence suggests that police "perhaps in some panic, resorted to mass arrests without justification."]

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[Additional Beachwood Addendum. From the Trib:

[But some on the City Council say that though they support improving the permit rules, they are concerned that higher fines and other changes will do little more than antagonize demonstrators.

["If people come here to break windows and commit crimes, we have laws right now on the books that deal with that," said Ald.Proco "Joe" Moreno, 1st, who was himself an activist on death penalty issues before he was appointed to the council. "I would rather err on the side of allowing people to freely assemble and protest rather than err on the side of moving toward a lockdown."

[The restrictions risk creating more problems than they solve by taking the wrong tone with demonstrators, he said.

["I don't get it, because this mayor is a pragmatist," Moreno said. "The thing about protests, the more you antagonize (protesters), the more they're going to want to push back."]

Memo To Moreno:

1. He's not a "pragmatist," he's a cynic.

2. He's not only a cynic, he's a control freak. None of this should come as a surprise, except to the naive. Just look at his record. He's Rahm Emanuel!

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See, among much else in the record: Reading Rahm Part 1: The Master Media Manipulator.

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See also: The Rest Of Chicago Fights For Its Rights.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on January 18, 2012


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