Protesters who descend on Chicago for the NATO and G-8 summits would face extraordinary security measures – including dramatically higher fines for resisting arrest, more surveillance cameras and parks and beaches closed until 6 a.m. – under a plan proposed Wednesday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
As extraordinary as the security measures are, Emanuel insisted that they are only temporary and would be repealed after the May 15-22 event at McCormick Place that’s expected to draw President Barack Obama and world leaders and shine an international spotlight on Chicago.
The last time the G-8 and NATO met in the same city was in 1977 in London.
“I’m doing what is appropriate for a unique event with a unique attention to the city. … This is temporary and this is just for this conference,” the mayor told reporters Wednesday.
“This is not a big deal. This is a one-time event,” he added. “We’re gonna do it in an organized fashion and be able to hold this conference. … It gives us the capacity to organize it and host it. And then, it’s a one-time only for the G-8 and NATO and that’s it.”
The ordinance introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting would dramatically increase fines for “resisting or obstructing” the performance of anyone “known to the person to be a peace officer” as well as the fine for assisting someone in escaping from police custody. Minimum fines for those violations would increase from $25 to $200, while maximum fines would jump from $500 to $1,000
Parks, playgrounds and beaches would be closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The current overnight closing only extends until 4 a.m.
The mayor’s plan would also empower Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to “deputize law enforcement personnel,” make cooperative agreements with a host of state, federal and local law enforcement agencies, and forge agreements with “public or private entities concerning placement, installation, maintenance or use of video, audio telecommunications, or other similar equipment.”
Chicago’s Big Brother network of more than 10,000 public and private surveillance cameras is already the most extensive and integrated in the nation.
New cameras would be “subject to approval by the corporation counsel as to form and legality,” the ordinance states. Participating agencies and their personnel would be “held harmless.”
Yet another provision would empower the mayor or his designees to purchase “goods, work or services” needed to host the event without City Council approval, so long as there’s no existing city contract that could be used.
The same contracting authority was tied to Chicago’s failed 2016 Olympic bid and to the city’s successful hosting of the 1996 Democratic National Convention.
“It’s very specific. It’s only for this. What you have to do is move with speed because you have something coming up in May. Have you ever done an RFP process?” Emanuel said, apparently referring to the protracted procurement process.
Asked why the fines for resisting arrest need to be so high, the mayor said, “Just to make sure we have all that we need. … We’re setting the ground rules. … We’re gonna have a fine that reflects something different for a one-time incident. It’s not that hard” to understand.
Emanuel flatly denied that the sky-high fines and 6 a.m. park and beach opening signaled an attempt to muzzle what’s expected to be an international onslaught of protesters.
In Seattle, about 35,000 people protested a World Trade Organization meeting in 1999 and caused more than $2 million in damage to businesses. There were violent clashes between protesters and police in Pittsburgh during a G-20 summit in 2009.
“People have the right to express themselves – and they will. I also have the responsibility to enforce the law, which we will. Those two are not in conflict,” he said.
Officials with the ACLU declined to comment. But constitutional law experts said the city could be on shaky legal ground.
“If you’re going to have these just for this time, I think he’s treading very close to content-based discrimination, which is a no-no under the First Amendment,” said University of Chicago Law Prof. Craig Futterman.
Aziz Huq, a U. of C. professor of constitutional law, said the city will likely face arguments that it is targeting a particular kind of speech with these temporary high fines.
“The normal rule is that a local government has quote broad authority to place time, place and mannerâ€š restrictions on the use of public sidewalks or other forums,” Huq said. “That power, though, assumes that the government is not acting in a way that is differentiating or distinguishing between different kinds of speech based upon the content of the speech. You can’t, say, have two sets of time-place-manner rules, one set for people who are pro-choice, more leeway, [and] another for people who are pro-life, more strict and onerous.”
But the city will likely argue that due to the demands of providing security for some of the guests and visitors, they will have to divert resources from guarding the protestors, Huq said. The city would say “ ‘we are accordingly raising the price of using public forums because it’s going to cost us more,’” Huq said.
Shortly after taking office, Emanuel, a former congressman and White House chief of staff, used his formidable Washington clout to lure the NATO and G-8 summits to Chicago.
The historic event bumped the giant National Restaurant Association show to another date and forced the Chicago Police Department to brace and train for an onslaught of international protesters that threatens to wake up the ghosts of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Concern that the same onslaught of protesters might come here has prompted high schools and colleges across the city and suburbs to either change the dates of their proms and graduations or consider rescheduling.
The mayor has apologized in advance for the inconvenience.
Contributing: Abdon M. Pallasch