Bucking the wishes of his own police department and the Illinois State Police, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday he supports allowing protesters — led by the Rev. Michael Pfleger — onto the Dan Ryan Expressway on Saturday for what’s expected to be a significant anti-violence march.
Emanuel said he believes the march will raise awareness of anti-violence efforts.
“They should be allowed, yes, because they’re going to be talking about anti-violence,” Emanuel said. “And I think there’s a proper way to raise that awareness. I don’t think there ever should have been a doubt about that effort.
“Think about this: They’re going to raise awareness that’s important if we’re going to also make progress in making sure that our streets are safe.”
In a tweet Friday afternoon, Pfleger thanked Emanuel for his support and called on Gov. Bruce Rauner to do the same.
Emanuel’s comments came even as top cops from the Chicago and the Illinois State Police have asked Pfleger not to march onto the Dan Ryan and instead to keep the march to neighborhoods.
On Tuesday, Leo Schmitz, director of the Illinois State Police, who previously was commander of the Chicago Police Department’s Englewood District just north of St. Sabina, said that the idea of marching along the busy expressway poses too great a threat to public safety.
“This call to protest on the Dan Ryan, however well-intentioned, could be considered reckless and must be strongly discouraged,” Schmitz said. “The potential of death or injury to pedestrians on the expressway, no matter how righteous the cause, is enormous.
Aside from Lake Shore Drive, all expressways within city limits are under the jurisdiction of the state police.
“We’re not looking to arrest people,” Schmitz said. “If people break the law, we may have to arrest people. But that’s not what our goal is here.”
Asked whether state troopers would restrain people from walking onto the expressway, Schmitz said, “That’s one of our plans, yes.”
Also earlier in the week, Anthony Riccio, Chicago’s first deputy police superintendent, said he sympathizes with the purpose of the peace march and understands Pfleger’s desire to use disruption and inconvenience to bring maximum attention to his cause.
But Riccio said that by shutting down the Ryan, Pfleger might inadvertently bring more violence to the gang-plagued neighborhoods he is trying to help.
“We talked to the state police. They said it would have to be a complete shutdown of the expressway. They can’t do a partial or leave a lane open,” he said earlier this week.
“Emergency vehicles. Somebody who has a medical issue. Ambulances. Police cars. Fire trucks. We just think it’s a very dangerous idea.”
Asked about Emanuel’s endorsement of Pfleger’s plan, police Supt. Eddie Johnson said at a separate public appearance that the focus of the police department is to ensure safety.
“We support peoples’ right to demonstrate their First Amendment rights. We support that,” Johnson said. “So our mission at CPD is just to make sure that individuals that protest do it peacefully, and we keep them safe.”
Johnson said that any disconnect between the mayor’s office and law enforcement is “how it goes in this stuff sometimes.”
“Because we’ve dealt with [protests] so much as an organization, we understand that sometimes it has to be a game-time decision in terms of what you do and how you do it because you can make the best plans that you want to, and things will go a little differently,” Johnson said. “But just know we’ll be out there to make sure everybody’s safe.”
The mayor, facing serious competitors in his bid for re-election next year, made his comments during a news conference to announce major new construction plans for the Chicago Public Schools.
Contributing: Fran Spielman