As they expected, anti-war protestors lost a second-round bid to march through the middle of the Loop as world leaders descend on the city for the opening day of the NATO summit in mid-May.
An administrative law judge Thursday upheld a city of Chicago decision to reject the protestors’ application to march from the Daley Center in the heart of the Loop south to McCormick Place where the summit is being held.
In a written ruling, Administrative Law Judge Raymond J. Prosser noted the protestors planned route would effectively shut down two north-south thoroughfares – State Street and Michigan Avenue – at a time when dozens of motorcades would need those arterial roads along with Columbus and Lake Shore Drive to travel from Near North Side hotels and the Hilton Hotel at 720 S. Michigan to McCormick Place.
“I find that the evidence in this case is overwhelming that the closures referred to [and] caused by the applicant’s proposed parade route will substantially and unnecessarily interfere with traffic in the area contiguous to the activity of the NATO Summit,” Prosser wrote, echoing city officials’ arguments in a Tuesday appeals hearing.
“There will be an as yet unknown number of motorcades for the heads of state and other high-level protectees, and it is reasonable to conclude that the length and numbers of these motorcades will disrupt traffic in a manner never before experienced in Chicago,” he wrote, noting there will be 50 heads of state and perhaps 5,000 other high-level global leaders.
In his opinion, Prosser wrote that an alternative route offered by the city – beginning in Grant Park, near the Petrillo band shell – still allows marchers to pass by two important landmarks that allows them to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest war: a military recruiting station at Harrison and State and “within sight and sound” of a main entrance to McCormick Place on May 20 — the day the summit begins.
While it seems that the march is about freedom of expression, Prosser noted the city followed local ordinance and offered an comparable route.
“[It} seems unlikely that the First Amendment requires that two major thoroughfares in a city hosting a NATO Summit be subjected, along with NATO delegations, the intense [Cubs and Sox] fans attending the Crosstown Classic, and the rest of the citizens out in the neighborhoods of the city, to compromised public safety in order that an organization’s desire to get its message out in what some perceive as a more visible fashion be accommodated.”
Veteran protester Andy Thayer, no stranger to helping organize anti-war and other protests, said of the decision: “well, it stinks.”
He said he would gather with other protest organizers to determine whether to take further legal action. But he’s still puzzled: Why was the May 20 permit application denied when officials gave protestors the green light to march the same Daley Plaza-to-McCormick Place route a day earlier, May 19 – when the G-8 summit was still scheduled to convene here. City officials said police resources will be stretched thin with all the events going on that weekend.
“I think there’s a contradiction in this – the city said it didn’t have the resources to accommodate us, but you heard her at the hearing [Tuesday] Debra Kirby says they do have the resources,” he said of Kirby, the Chicago police department’s chief overseeing national and international events here.
Thayer doesn’t like the idea of moving the step-off for the parade from Daley Plaza to Grant Park, because it’s a longer hike from public transportation and the whole of the route is less visible than marching down the center of the pedestrian-heavy Loop.
In a prepared statement City Corporation Counsel Steve Patton said: “We are pleased with the Court’s ruling. As the Mayor has said, the City’s aim is to protect the First Amendment rights of protestors, while also protecting the public’s health and safety, including that of the protesters. Today’s decision helps us achieve these goals.”
No matter the route, Thayer said there will still be a protest march.
“There definitely will be a march Sunday, May 20th. We are definitely, definitely marching on that day.”