Today a judge dismissed the charges against more than 90 demonstrators arrested last October when Occupy Chicago made two attempts to set up an encampment in Grant Park. More than 300 protesters were arrested in the park last year and charged with violating city park curfew. Most opted to for a community service deal with the city, but the National Lawyers Guild filed suit on behalf of 92 demonstrators to dismiss the charges on grounds that they were unconstitutional.
Cook County Court Judge Thomas Donnelly ruled that the curfew violated demonstrator’s First Amendment rights, saying in part that the curfew unconstitutionally restricts free assembly:
“Grant Park’s history makes clear: it constitutes the quintessential public forum. Indeed, it was dedicated as ‘a public square, accessibly at all times to the people.’ Because Grant Park, as we have seen, provides the only logical and realistic place for such assemblies, the Curfew fails to allow ample alternative channels for such large late-night assemblies.”
Judge Donnelly also cited inconsistent curfew enforcement, as well as the history of contradictory instructions, rules and regulations from Chicago Police towards Occupy Chicago demonstrators:
“Viewed in isolation, the rules and regulations appear reasonable, but viewed in the larger context of the Occupy movement’s presence in Chicago, they give rise to an inference that the City was attempting to discourage this particular protest. The police would promulgate a rule; when the protesters would comply, the police would change the rule.”
“While the City arrested everyone remaining in Grant Park during the Occupy Chicago rally, the City arrested no one at the Obama 2008 presidential election victory rally, even though the Obama rally was equally in violation of the Curfew. That violates the Defendants’ right to equal protection because it treats similarly situated citizens differently.”
In a press release from the People’s Law Office, National Lawyers Guild attorney Sarah Gelsomino said “Judge Donnelly made the right decision by declaring the city's ordinance unconstitutional and by dismissing the remaining cases brought by the city against activists legitimately engaged in free speech. Hopefully this sends a clear message to the city that they must better respect the First Amendment rights of protesters no matter what their message might be.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, a spokesperson said City lawyers are "disappointed" and plan to appeal the decision.
Andy Manos, one of the protesters arrested Oct. 23, 2012, was quoted in a statement released from Occupy Chicago,
"The whole city is getting tired of Rahm's abuse of power. This is what we saw with the immense community support for the teacher's strike. This what we saw back in January when we were able to mobilize the community against Rahm's "sit down, and shut up" ordinances. And this is what we see now with the charges being dismissed. Grant Park has a long history of being an open political forum in the city of Chicago and for Rahm to try to restrict political activity in this park with unconstitutional arrests, is not only an insult to the political history of Chicago, it also goes to prove that Rahm, not really being from Chicago, does not understand Chicago, and the rights of the people who live here."