Pro-Palestinian group seeks larger protest route near Democratic convention as city raises safety concerns

March organizers were denied a route mostly on Washington Boulevard. The city pitched a route on smaller streets near the United Center.

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Thousands of pro-Palestinian and Palestinian Americans march toward the Israeli Consulate over the alleged bombing of the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in the Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian and Palestinian Americans march toward the Israeli Consulate in October.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Pro-Palestinian protesters and City Hall battled Tuesday over a march route during the Democratic National Convention, with organizers pushing for a route on wide streets close to the United Center and city officials countering by raising safety concerns.

Organizers with the U.S. Palestinian Community Network applied for a permit to demonstrate along Washington Boulevard, Damen Avenue and Lake Street near Union Park and the United Center, where the convention is planned Aug. 19-22. The city denied the request and proposed an alternate route taking marchers along smaller streets, such as Hermitage and Maypole avenues, instead.

City officials said the two main reasons for denying the application were interference with the security perimeter established by the Secret Service and concerns about a large group of people gathering near a fence where people could get crushed.

Organizers challenged the denial, landing the two camps at a court hearing before administrative law judge Dennis M. Fleming. Fleming has 48 hours to decide whether to uphold the permit denial.

The organizers’ attorney, Chris Williams, argued that the city didn’t have enough information at the time of the application and could have told organizers they would decide after the Secret Service finalized its security perimeter.

“They don’t know, the city doesn’t know, it doesn’t have the information to make the denial,” Williams said. “When they do know, then we can have a conversation.”

City attorney Christopher Dionne said the city is required to respond within seven business days.

Williams countered that the response didn’t have to be an approval or denial but that a decision would be made once the perimeter was set.

Assistant Chicago Transportation Commissioner Bryan Gallardo said he’s been told the perimeter would line up with Washington Boulevard, where the march is planned, but the official perimeter won’t be released until later this month.

The street will have a scale-proof fence, Chicago Police Deputy Chief Gabriella Shemash said, creating more safety concerns if a large gathering takes place near the fence.

“I wouldn’t put my officers or anybody else in that situation,” Shemash said. “At this time, we don’t believe there will be fencing along the alternate route. It won’t cause any of those potential crushing issues.”

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Hatem Abudayyeh, an organizer with the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, is seen after a court hearing about his group’s planned march during the Democratic National Convention.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Hatem Abudayyah, an organizer with the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, said the group is considering route options that haven’t been presented publicly yet. He said the route proposed by the city doesn’t allow enough space for the thousands of protesters expected, and there are certain turns along the route that would cause a bottleneck and potential safety concerns.

“We have a number of ideas,” Abudayyah said. “We can’t say everything about our conversations with everybody right now, but we have some other ideas that we believe can make this manageable for everybody.”

Previously, the city had suggested Columbus Drive as an alternate route to the Washington Boulevard march, causing organizers to file a lawsuit claiming the route denied them the constitutional right to protest near the delegates gathering at the United Center.

Williams said Tuesday the new proposal near the United Center is proof that the details can change and the city should wait until it knows all the necessary information to make a decision on the permit.

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