Chicago police say fines won't go up for summits

January 17, 2012 3:30:33 PM PST
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is backing off on a proposal to raise fines for protesters arrested during the upcoming G8 and NATO summits in Chicago this spring.

The city says it plans to protect 1st Amendment rights, as well as keep the peace, but some believe civil liberties may still be in jeopardy.

The G8-NATO weekend in Chicago is 17 weeks off-- not a lot of time to plan for the expected, as well as the unpredictable.

The mayor's plan to broaden government restrictions, and heighten the fines on those who break the protest rules, has run into some loud opposition -- loud enough that the mayor is backing off a bit, but not enough to satisfy many of those who plan to protest.

The template Chicago is using to plan for the G8 and NATO summits is built -- in part -- on what has happened in other cities that have hosted. Based on that, the city is preparing for as many as 10,000 protestors the third weekend in May. The challenge is finding balance between public safety and freedom of speech.

"We don't want to give the impression that we're looking to do anything about the 1st Amendment except protect it," said Chicago Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy.

The police superintendent made his case Tuesday for changes in city code. One of those would give McCarthy the ability to deputize out-of-state police officers for the G8-NATO weekend if there is a need for them.

"I don't anticipate that we're going to do that. It's not something that I want to do," McCarthy said.

But if it is necessary to call on out-of-state sworn police to come to Chicago, they would not, McCarthy said, be placed on the front lines or in the city's neighborhoods.

The Emanuel administration has backed off another more controversial plan to double the fines for protesters who get out of line. The maximum fines would stay as they are now.

"That was the result of a lot of our constituents reaching out to us immediately and saying this doesn't work, that you can't put an inflation price on 1st Amendment rights," said Alderman Scott Waguespack.

The Emanuel administration has also removed other proposed changes -- one that would have slightly curtailed the maximum time for marches -- and another that would have required a parade marshal for every 100 protesters.

Still, even with those items off the table, protest leaders like Andy Thayer say the remaining restrictions are too onerous, and if the council green lights them, "All bets are off."

"Why should people respect the law if the law does not respect them," said Thayer.

Past city hosts of G8 and NATO conferences where protests occurred have said that it is critically important to maintain dialogue between the city and protest leaders. If that fails, there is usually a lot more friction.

The problem is many of the protesters expected to come to Chicago are international and may be more interested in making a statement instead of discussing ground rules as to how to make it.